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!
- 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 aim 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
- People whose bodies have been starved need to put on weight in order to be able to think clearly and logically.
- Once weight restoration starts is is both natural and advisable to overshoot the pre-starvation weight.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.