Overshoot in Eating Disorder Recovery

Overshoot in Eating Disorder Recovery 25

This blog post is going to address overshoot in eating disorder recovery. It is the first of a couple that I have lined up on this incredibly important topic.

Here’s the deal with overshooting your pre-eating disorder weight in recovery: you need to do it.

In scientific terms overshoot is referred to as “Poststarvation Hyperphagia” and there have been a number of studies done to explain why this happens and why it is important.


Minnesota Starvation Study


The first to note it as such was the Minnesota Starvation Study in which the men who had been starved, once put on a recovery diet, overshot their pre-study weight. So after being starved, their bodies reached a heavier weight than they had ever been before.

How much more? An average of 10 percent.

Did they stay at the new heavier weight? Yes, initially, but then they pretty much all naturally and without decreasing the amount that they were eating returned to the pre-study weight.

Why is this important? It demonstrates that the body, after a period of starvation or malnutrition, if given enough resources in the way of calories, will initially gain more weight than it finally settles at. As eating disorders create a starvation environment for the body, it is important this concept is taken into account when helping a person who has suffered malnutrition make a full recovery.


The challenges that face a person in recovery today:


  • You have to learn to deal with the thin ideal in society and you have to learn to say “sod that.” You will not fully recover unless you can come to terms with the fact that you need fat on your body in order to be healthy.
  • Pre-weight restoration you will struggle immensely with the thought of having fat on your body. Ironically, once weight restored, you will not care about it as much because you are thinking clearly. This is a catch-22, and there is no easy answer, you simply have to eat your way to a place of being about to deal with it. There is, however, support available for you to help you get though the toughest parts. Use it!Β 
  • You have to stay there. You cannot reduce the calories that you are eating. You have to allow your body to return to your pre-eating disorder weight naturally. You have to trust it. If you interfere by reducing the amount you are eating you will not fully recover.
  • Weight restoration to your pre-eating disorder body weight is NOT necessarily full recovery. Sorry. You are partly recovered at this point. In order to reach full recovery you should aimΒ to overshoot your pre-eating disorder weight.
  • Your eating disorder is freaking out as you read all this. Your eating disorder thinks that overshoot is the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. Your eating disorder has every right to freak out about overshoot, because if you are successful in getting there, you have killed it.


Overshoot in eating disorder recovery: TL;DR

  1. People whose bodies have been starved need to put on weight in order to be able to think clearly and logically.
  2. Once weight restoration starts is is both natural and advisable to overshoot the pre-starvation weight.
  3. DO NOT REDUCE INTAKE if overshoot happens. The body will naturally return to the weight it needs to be when it is good and ready.
  4. Fire any therapist who tells you that you have “put on enough weight” if you reach your pre-eating disorder weight and you still feel that your body wants to eat more. You haven’t.
  5. My rule of thumb is a 10lb buffer. Aim for 10lbs over your pre-eating disorder weight when you are in weight restoration and aim to stay there!
  6. Don’t suffer alone or in silence. Talk to a ED specialized therapist, a friend who is invested in your recovery, or join our peer support group where you can get the support of others who have made it though.

I am going to be addressing the topic of overshoot in the next couple of blog posts. Please contact me if you have specific questions or a story to share.

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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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25 thoughts on “Overshoot in Eating Disorder Recovery

  • Adelle lewis

    Hiya if you could message me or just post on here, is there a limit to overshoot? I’m probably a 30% overshoot but my mum is really against my recovery for this. I’m pretty sure this is normal and just where my body needs to be but she doesn’t seem to think so.

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author


      Yes, great question, and my next blog post touches on this. I think no limits. You have to allow your body to do what your body needs to do.

      What is your mum saying? Feel free to get her to email me if she has questions etc. It is important that she understands there should be no upper limits on weight restoration.

  • samanth

    Tabitha just found out about you fro a support group for ed carers, My d is 16 and has spent 2 years with this horrific illness. Im in the UK which you know is pretty much diabolical for ed treatment and FBT looked upon as some weird american rubbish. *GRRRRRRRRRRRR
    Any way – do you have access to any scientific studies about remission rates from ed with weight overshoot I can show to my d therapy team – They are more than happy for her to remain at 90% w4h BMI 18-19 range in fact her dietician told her she shouldn’t gain more than 1kg as an adult ( bangs head against wall) What i would love to do is print off the scientific evidence for remission rates for anorexic patients in recovery those who reached (almost) wr and those that overshot it and see how many of the study group ended up in true remission compared to those who needed further hospital treatment or ( remained in phase 1 of FBT if that makes sense) . You are absolutely amazing by the way to have fought such a debilitating illness and to reach out and help others … I only wish the bloody powers that be in the UK actually understood an eating disorder and how best to treat it both in adults and children.

  • Roj

    Hi, im a 17year old female and ive been diagnosed with anorexia for maybe a year or less. Ive been eating excessively for a month and a half.. when i checked my weight.. it has gone up by 20lbs and still counting! Ive been freaking out since i didnt want to gain all the weight ive been trying hard to avoid! All the weight seems to be in my stomach,thighs and face, im afraid it will take a really long time to distribute. All the foods ive been craving lately are carbs, fast food, chocolate and salty nuts! Do you think i will gain a lot of weight and when will this all stop? I do not want to be the same weight as i was before my eating disorder, so do u think i should start decreasing my calorie intake and start to workout? I eat about 2500cals a day and sometimes more.

  • Sara


    Thank you for posting this. I found it very helpful. My question is what if you have over-shot your pre-ED weight by 30 pounds. Does this happen? I was anorexic for 7 years. My body started to gain weight on 400 calories. When I entered treatment my body shot up within 3 months to 30 pounds over my pre-ED weight. My Pre -ED weight is also what my doctor and dietician agreed is most natural for me (about 155). Is this very unusual so overshoot this much? They all say it will go back down, but it’s hard to find other cases where this much of an overshoot happens and goes back down.

    Thank you!

      • Sara


        Thank you for your response. You have NO idea how much this calmed some of my anxiety. I’ve really been trying hard to trust the process. People just don’t write about overshooting 30+ pounds and then going back down so its hard to be at peace about it as I recover. Especially because the stories I do read they have binged to that point, and I have never done that. My body just packed on the weight in a short time on normal food! Thank you so much. I will just keep eating and waiting for my body to get it together πŸ™‚ Have a great day!

        • Alexandra

          Hi Sara
          Hope you are doing well. My daughter is going through exactly what you describe – weight gain despite only eatiing 600-700 calories and fear of eating any more than that. Depresses as no one is taking her seriously and that she must be over eating. Trying to join a club for social exercise but confused by other suggestions she should not exercise to recover properly and yet the doctor is telling her to exercise more to help prevent depression. Such a minefield.

  • Lee Miller

    Your words were invaluable for me. I have had an eating disorder for so much longer than your 10 years. I seemed to stay so controlled for so long, I guess it just became my way of life. I never starved by any means, but ate very healthy foods and obviously not enough (restricted). As I got older, several health issues arose due to my obsession with acidic dressings, bloody Mary’s, etc., that I had a bleeding small intestine and couldn’t keep much of what I tried to eat in my body. It took quite awhile for the intestine to heal and as a result, I lost even more weight on top of being extremely thin anyway.

    Much like you described, I knew when I saw myself in the mirror, that I was pretty skeletal. I think a lot of my problem stemmed from the trauma of losing my mother suddenly, a bad marriage, and overall, just not feeling good about myself. My size matched the feeling about ME!

    I’ve ended up in the hospital due to severe dehydration and addressing the ED problem slapped me in the face. It was my wake up call! I had always lived in the world of denial, using excuses like the bleeding intestine, etc. to explain my thinness. I finally reached the point that I could say out loud that I knew I had a bad problem. Accepting that was the starting place for me in terms of getting better.

    I’ve been out of the hospital for about 3.5 months and gained a ton of weight while hospitalized. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I, like you, am major suffering from the huge stomach syndrome and I look like I did when I was 4-5 months pregnant. I had heard from a few people before I read your post, that the abdominal area is the prime spot for weight gain when eating a lot more food. It is uncomfortable, unattractive, embarrassing, and prevents me from wearing clothes. One doctor told me just a few days ago that the body puts on weight there as a way of saving itself by protecting the organs in the body that were under siege from the ED.

    You said it took you about a year to stabilize, so that gives me hope!!!

    Here are my questions:
    I definitely overeat everyday, but primarily really delicious healthy foods. However, I add tons of pretzels to that and even crave chocolate a lot and eat some regularly. I feel like I’m doing the binge eating thing and when I really want something, heaven help me, I eat it. How do I handle getting that more in balance????? Did you find yourself doing that???

    I have fat deposits at the top of my thighs and upper arms too. Did you feel like that?

    I know your advice will probably be to just roll with it and eat, but I don’t look good the way I am right now at all. I have gotten my head around being larger and can accept and embrace that; however, my body just looks deformed.

    Please take in what I’ve said and I would love your advice. Your post really helped me. Many thanks! I am a female. My name confuses people at times!!!

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi Lee

      There were times when I would be eating a hell of a lot, but somehow still restricting. Often, for those of us who have been struggling with a restrictive eating disorder for a long time, restriction isn’t obvious once we get to a point. It can be money-related. Only buying foods that are cheaper rather than those you really want. It can also be to do with still participating in too much exercise. You have to really really rest.

      And eat without conditions. Like I said, sometimes we can eat a LOT of food, but still not really be eating the food our bodies are craving – and for reasons other than calorie restriction. The key is finding them.

  • Louise Costella

    Hi Tabitha, the problem I have with overshoot and pre-starvation weight is that I don’t really know what my weight was before or what my set point should be.

    As I child my diet was heavily restricted to everything low fat as my mother had been an overweight child and didn’t want the same for me and my brother and sister, so food was planned and restricted from day one. Mum was always dieting and I would often follow her diets, I attended Slimming World age 14 even though I didn’t need to loose weight!

    When I left home at 18 my weight remained stable for a couple of years, I was in an abusive relationship and made to eat in the toilet, I know it’s mad but then that three year relationship was crazy, there was nothing normal about it.

    Then after I left that relationship my weight sky rocketed to 16 stone, I was officially obese and started on slimming tablets by my GP. I managed to loose some weight only to put it back on again. I joined weight watchers at 25 and lost four stone but once I reached my target weight and left the weight crept back up again at 30 I joined weight watchers again and managed to loose 7 stone and continued going there for some years to maintain my weight. But slowly over time my weight went down and down and I’m not really sure at what point I went from dieting to anorexia, this is very unclear, but probably for longer than I realised.

    Anyway I am now in treatment and have started gaining weight much as I don’t really want to I know I have to. So from the perspective of understanding what weight I should really be I guess I’ll never know. I think I have to just keep eating and trust that my body will know what I need. So hard to accept after so many years of dieting.

  • Jane

    Thank you so much Tabitha you have no idea how much you’ve helped me with getting my head around recovery πŸ™‚
    Just a question my mum doesn’t think my weight needs to go all the way up to what it used to as I was slightly overweight before (I was 144 pounds at age 13) but it seems to me that if that wasn’t the case (ignoring the possibility of overshoot here) I would not only have to get back to my pre-ED weight but above seeing as I’m still growing. What do you think? Like I said I was a little overweight by my bmi before so is that weight still ok for me? (I’m also quite large framed for my age and have always been in the heavier side before my anorexia) Thanks πŸ™‚

  • Lucy

    Thank you for all of your overshoot articles. I am currently a stone or so over my pre-ED weight, and still seem to be hungry/gaining. After reaching my pre ED weight, I didn’t give my body a chance to fully heal – I went through an immensely painful breakup and lost my appetite (not ED… I just found it hard to eat anything that wasn’t cereal!), and when I gained it back I tried to eat intuitively too early. Fast forward two months later, I finally got the memo my body still wanted around 3,000. I actually feel more miserable than I ever did before, but rereading your articles are helping. Thank you.

      • anna

        Hi Tabitha,

        I am 45 years old and I had bulimia/anorexia for 20 years. I am 5.5 and I stayed at a weight of 115lb for all of those years. I am now over 5 years into recover following the Minnie Maude guidelines of 3000 a day and I am now 147lb, which I reached in the first 3 months of recovery and have styed there over the last 5 years. I have an identical twin sister who never suffered with an ED and her natural weight was and still is 120 pounds, so I presumed once I got into recovery I would, initially overshoot but I presumed I would come back down to pre ED weight which is and was somewhere at where my twin sister sits at 120-125 lb. As much as I know I’m doing all the right things in recovery, I am still struggling to accept the way my body looks and I truly believe that I have damaged my meablisilm for good. For 5 years now I have had this overshoot with fat deposits all over my body from my feet to my face, I don’t look normal (and I’m not just saying this). Although my weight went all over my body, I still have a rally large extended stomach and a large middle. I am so fed up with playing by the rules and yet there is no sign that my overshoot will ever go, especially after 5 years!
        I have read so many articles that say just be patient and it will eventually go back to normal but nothing seems to change. I really don’t want to sound negative but this feels just as painful as when I was in active in my ED, I feel like I have been lied to (not on this site) by so many of the blogs I have read that say things will improve.
        Do you know of anyone who has been in a similar situation to me where things have started to improve and where their overshoot has lasted over 5 years and then come down?

        I hope you are able to reply, many thanks in advance, Anna

        • GINGER

          Hi Anna, I just wanted to say I relate so much to you as I’m 40 and suffering from AN for +20 years as well. You are so brave. The longer you have had AN the harder it is to choose recovery, because we haven’t really experienced nonrestrictive eating and lack of relate compulsions, so this half living is all we know. But I’m attempting recovery again, too because I ‘m really tired of this disorder. The previous time I tried i got the bloating and the uncomfortable fullness, the puffy face etc but that was better than this constant pain
          I just want to say that I really admire you and that im sure it will pay off for you as it did for Tabitha and many others.

          Lots of love.

  • Alexandra

    Hi Tabitha – your posts are fascinating. I would be so grateful if you could guide me and my daughter to some guidance so she can start to understand what is happening to her body. She developed anorexia nervosa when she was 14 , partially recovered some weight but then during her first year at uni her weigh plummeted and she ended up having a hospital stay which included some naso gastric feeding. She returned to uni a year ago still pretty underweight but ok, then 6 months ago she underwent a massive weight increase – 18 kg over 6 weeks.She is absolutely clear that she was not overeating and after her being at home over the summer I fuly believe her. Over the last three months her weight is stable – however she is only eating 600-700 calories a day and exercising a lot. She has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome during this period as well, All the health practitioniers she sees clearly do not believe she in not overeating and are always trying to give her an opportunity to tell them she is binging – a bit like one of the other posts here, as a result she feels no one is taking her seriously and is in danger of becoming depressed. Is there some scientific information about this that we can refer to/ She thinks if she understands what is going on she can cope better. Is it possible she only needs 600-700 calories per day or will she be malnourished? Any help guidance please.

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Sounds to me that because she is eating so little, her metabolism is very low. I would, however, get her checked out and seen my a Dr who really gets eating disorders and is going to give her both the help and respect that she needs.