Eating Disorder Recovery: Aim to Overshoot 18

This is my second post on Overshoot. The first one is here. The first post focused on what overshoot is and why it is difficult for a person in recovery. This post explains more about why it is important and why a person in recovery from an eating disorder should actually see overshoot as an aim.

Overshooting the pre-eating disorder weight (and often whatever is considered to be a person’s target weight) absolutely is something that we should be talking about more. I know that it is not spoken about enough in most recovery centres because this is the sort of thing that recovering sufferers email or message me about a heck of a lot.

Often, they do so in a rather clandestine, undertone way as if they feel that they should not really be asking about overshoot, or as if it is a slightly taboo topic. It’s not.

Overshoot is normal. Overshoot is optimal. Overshoot means you are recovering. Overshoot means you are exactly where your body needs you to be right now.

Overshoot should be aimed for.


What is overshoot?


Overshoot is when a person who is recovering from an eating disorder eats enough to put on weight that is more than their pre-eating disorder weight, or more than the “target” weight that they have been set as a recovery goal. I put “target” weight in inverted commas because frankly I think that at a certain stage in recovery the target weight becomes redundant and should be thought of more as an absolute minimum.


Why is it important to allow the body to overshoot in recovery?


Once that minimum target weight is reached, the body should be allowed to increase weight to wherever it deems necessary for recovery operations to take place. Let’s remember, a body that has been starving for a prolonged period of time has a lot of repair work to do internally. Just because you cannot see the effects that starvation has on the internal organs when you look at a person with an eating disorder doesn’t mean that they are not there. They are there, and the body — once given the resources it needs — will want to spend some time fixing the damage.

Think about the way that babies grow. First of all, they get all chubby and lovely and fat. Then, almost overnight, they grow in inches. Then, they get fat again, then they grow upwards.

While a person in recovery from an eating disorder may not be growing in height still, they are growing and rebuilding the body in other ways. When it stores fat, the body is preparing for repair and growth. This fat storage is optimal and important.


Why does it need to store fat first?


The same reason you need to save money in the bank before you make a big purchase: It has to know it has enough in resources before it commits to a growth or repair effort. Most of us can’t just book a holiday to Hawaii without planning and saving money first.

If calories were money, your body has been on the poverty line for however long you have had your eating disorder. Just because calories have started coming in finally doesn’t mean it can use them all up immediately. Nope, your body needs to do some saving first, and it needs to quietly mend things (think of that like someone paying off bills that have piled up).

It stores fat so that it can use those energy reserves in getting your internal organs and systems working well again. It holds onto fat because it needs to protect your internal organs (hence why it often stores around the abdomen area as I discuss in my “fat tummy” post).


Is there an overshoot maximum?


In a word: no.

I’ve known some people overshoot by 5 percent, I’ve know some people overshoot by 40 percent. Your body is in charge and your body will determine what it needs to do in order to recover fully.

While this is scary and feels rather like “blind trust” it also removes your opinion from the mix. You are simply going to have to relax and go with it. The good news is that mindfulness practices can help you do this. Seriously, your job now is to prepare yourself to accept overshoot and accept your body at any weight. Focus on that more than worrying about what your optimum overshoot weight is or when it will happen.


What happens next?


That depends on you. If you go into overshoot and get all freaked out and cut calories then the chances are you will not make it into full recovery from your eating disorder. That’s a shame, as you were over halfway there. If you reduce the calories you are eating at this point, you will enter a negative energy balance again and the eating disorder will become stronger in your brain again. Even at your new, higher bodyweight.

If you chose to keep eating and allowing your body to overeat when it wants and gain weight when and as it wants, the chances are that you will reach a full recovery. You will have allowed your body the additional calories it required to repair both physically and mentally.


How long does overshoot last?


Apologies in advance for not giving you the answer that you want here in terms of exact days; hours; minutes … no two bodies are the same. But, they are similar enough for me to tell you that for most people it is longer than a year but less than two.

In the Minnesota Starvation Study the weight loss subjects, when allowed to eat again, all overshoot their pre-study weight by around 10 percent. They all returned to their pre-study weight after that, mostly between 12 and 16 months.


Will I return to my pre-eating disorder weight after overshoot?


In most cases, yes, if you don’t reduce the calories you are eating prematurely. If you stop eating enough however, the body will (and quite reasonably so) go back into fat storage mode. Often, however, the pre-ED weight isn’t representative of what the body’s natural resting weight actually is.

In circumstances when onset was in adolescence or childhood, it is likely that you never really knew what your adult bodyweight would be.

If you were overweight before you had an eating disorder than the concept of returning to even your pre-eating disorder weight will be difficult and terrifying for you. I mean, it is both those things for all of us who have eating disorders, so the ED has even more ammunition to throw at you if you were overweight before. Simply knowing that the eating disorder will try and sabotage your recovery by telling you that you were obese without it and that you will be obese again if you recover can help. This is classic ED bullshit and you should not allow your mind to indulge in it. Remember, the eating disorder has nothing helpful, truthful, or logical to say to you.

It may be easier to think of yourself as returning to a pre-ED state of mind and pre-ED state of physical health rather than a pre-ED weight. Remember when it comes to the wire, the number doesn’t matter. Your mental and physical health is what matters.

If you are looking for reassurance and are unable to trust your body this is more difficult. I cannot give you are guarantee about how your recovery path will be, and neither can anyone else. (If they do, don’t trust it!) What I can tell you is that I have known many people with eating disorders, and nowadays I am happy to say I have known many people who recovered. I do not know any fully recovered people who are unhappy about being recovered!

(I am going to write more on this in another post)


Why am I so terrified of overshoot?


It’s not you who is scared of overshoot. You eating disorder is.

Your eating disorder will tell you that you won’t ever return back down to your pre-eating disorder weight. Your eating disorder will tell you that you will be fat forever and nobody will love you. Your eating disorder will tell you that fat is bad and that you will get diseases such as heart disease if you allow fat on your body. Your eating disorder will tell you that you are different from anyone else who has an eating disorder and while overshoot is fine for them it is not fine for you. Your eating disorder will tell you that … blah, blah, bullshit.

Isn’t it time you stopped listening to your eating disorder already? I mean, no offense, but look where listening to your eating disorder has got you so far. 😉

Your eating disorder is the reason you are so scared of overshoot. It’s not logical, but it disguises itself as logic in your brain.

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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18 thoughts on “Eating Disorder Recovery: Aim to Overshoot

  • Rachael

    Hi Tabitha,
    Great post! I have been terrified of gaining more weight. Almost one year into recovery and although substantial weight gain has occurred for me, my ED thoughts are still there. I know I need to eat more to extinguish the ED but have failed to trust my body.
    This post has definitely given my the reassurance I need to keep going. So once again, thank you.

  • Harriet

    I have been in treatment since April of 2015. I was in intensive for 9 months, discharged May 17, 2016. In all this time, no one ever talked about overshoot. Why not? Are they afraid to? Did they not know? I don’t see my dietitian for another 8 days but I am burning with curiosity. I also wonder if insurance has anything to do with out. I was in and out of intensive multiple times last winter, at the whim of my health insurance. (Currently, I am suing them). If my weight went up even a tiny bit, they decided I was “cured”. I was kicked out of treatment when I was sicker than a dog and suicidal as well. In short, insurance is evil. Anyway, I wonder if overshoot was never discussed because my treatment team knew I would never get to stay in treatment long enough to get there. This was a fascinating blog, but raised more questions than it answered! ( :

  • Amanda

    Thanks, Tabitha–this is incredibly helpful to hear. I’ve been recovering for about eight months now, and my body seems to have settled at a weight a fair bit higher than the “ideal weight” suggested by my treatment center. It’s been pretty uncomfortable to watch my shape change, wondering if I’ll just continue to gain weight forever, which is exactly what the eating disorder told me would happen! It helps to know that this is a normal stage of recovery. I wonder why my treatment team never mentioned this?

  • Hilary

    The first hospital programme I was in, my weight went over ‘target’ and continued to rise. Week after week I was taken into Ward Round, humiliated and told to go away and think about what was causing it. They were convinced I was secretly binging. Only after a year did they send me to have my metabolic rate tested in a lab… To discover that it was only 55% of ‘normal’ hence the continuing gain on a maintenance diet.
    Whilst being ‘overweight’ did a lot of emotional damage, this was nothing compared to being told that it was my fault, it had to be something I was doing and being told to sort it out. But you’ll be discharged if you use behaviours!
    In the end I discharged myself after the metabolic tests, lost all the weight again and a bit more to be sure. Thankfully I then went through a Recovery Programme at Glasgow Priory Hospital, where my compromised metabolism was factored in. I have been recovered since 2002, my metabolism has increased not as far as ‘normal, but enough to maintain a healthy weight on a healthy diet.
    Hopefully treatment has made progress…. Overshoot was so unheard of that I was told that if I wasn’t doing anything to cause the gain I must be a freak of nature, or must be photosynthesising like a plant, or have the energy needs of someone in a coma.
    Long time ago, but still feel the emotions!!!!!

  • Maggie K

    Hi Tabitha,

    Thank for so much for this helpful post. I am wondering if you’ve seen this phenomenon occur with ED sufferers who were not classified as “underweight” while in the grips of the disorder.

    I was never “underweight” but looking back at the dizzy spells, weakness, brain fog, irritability, and general gnawing feeling in my entire body, I was clearly malnourished.

    Could I be experiencing this phenomenon?

      • Maggie K

        Thank you! This is such a relief as so much literature is directed toward sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa. Since one of the diagnostic criteria of anorexia is being underweight, my ED brain has been struggling to allow myself to relate. I felt excluded. Your reply helps me to accept my weight gain as a necessary part of recovery even if I was never underweight! I could jump for joy right now!

  • Maggie K

    You are a beautiful soul. I come back and read these overshoot articles from time to time when I’m struggling. Thank you.

  • Emma

    Hi! This post is very informational but terrifying at the same time. I’ve only had an ED for three months. We caught it right in time before I got too low of a weight. My weight was never underweight, but I had to gain 3-4 because of what the growth charts told them. I have a range I’m supposed to be in, but for some reason, no matter how much I eat (and I’ve been eating a lot so that I can go back to swim team), my body refuses to gain more weight. It’s staying at the same spot! It’s frustrating. Do you know what’s going on? Is all the food I’m consuming going to magically come out of me in fat?

  • Claudia

    Hi I have come from an on and off restrictive diet, for about nine years. I am assuming this has built up to a pretty significant deficit. Though I steadily gained weight the whole time, and once I began treatment I was already overweight. I am 164cm and now I am 83kg. When I lost my period for the second time, I was 73kg. I have put on 10kg since starting treatment, and that was about 5 months ago. But I am still putting on weight and still have huge uncontrollable urges to overeat.

    Is this something that is normal? My urges to eat are usually emotionally driven and my treatment team think that they are binges.
    Should I look at them as binges? Or residue from my old disorder? I am definitely weight restored now, and I am inclined to agree with my treatment team. But as soon as I consider eating a more “healthy” diet or taking away the calorie-dense food I shudder, and I don’t particularly want to, since I spent so long trying to avoid them.

    I don’t want to gain any more weight obviously because my body is becoming heavy and lethargic. I am also extremely depressed by the weight gain. I try to stay positive, but being on the obese side of the BMI spectrum is no song and dance. Why did my body gain so much weight over the years? The amount of restriction I put on my body was really quite high and I don’t understand why my body didn’t lose weight. Since it never lost that much weight, why is my body holding on to so much fat now? I am still gaining every week and I’m already obese.

    • Elizabeth

      This is completely normal. Rest up and eat. The mind will catch up, but it takes time. There will be so many people that are out there ready to love you however you look when healthy. Your health and becoming your authentic healthy self is worth so much more than anyone’s approval of how you look. I promise, you will thank yourself one day. Keep it up, this takes lots of courage and strength, so pat yourself on your back!!!!

  • Eva

    I have had an eating disorder since i was 11 it stunted my growth and I’m still growing at 28! I’ve had to overshoot and my mother called me fat and so have others. I’ve tried not to let the haters get me down but it affects me. It’s not cool. Ive been fighting so hard to be healthy and tell my eating disorder to shut up! I love seeing my hair and skin look healthy. I just want people to shit up I’ve seen people laugh at me for being heavier and buying certain foods it’s like you people have no idea what I’ve gone through with food.

  • Elizabeth

    As always, thank you for this. I am not at what I dreamed of as an ideal weight, but my happiness and peace of mind has been beyond worth it. Being the authentic me and being loved for who I am, versus the body I have has been an eye opener. And I’m only 9 months in! Worth it!!!!!!!