“If start eating I won’t stop” and other anorexia recovery worries

I know that one of the things that used to worry me when I had anorexia was the fierceness of my hunger. My hunger could be absent physically until I started eating something. And then I wouldn’t want to stop. Of course, the mental hunger was there pretty much all of the time. But I was used to that and so it didn’t really register with me (until the end when I started to respond to it). The presence of physical hunger, and the intensity of it if I did start to eat something that I usually restricted, would scare me. Hence, I would rather not start eating at all, and not kick the hornets nest.

Take chocolate cake for example. I could go to a birthday party and watch everyone else eat cake and not even feel hungry for it physically (mentally I would be) unless I had a bite. If I ate some, I would want to eat the whole thing. Which, if you think about it, would have been entirely appropriate. I was in malnutrition, after all.

But in my anorexia-brain, wanting to eat a whole cake didn’t feel appropriate at all. It just felt scary as shit. Scary, because it wasn’t “normal.” My hunger was not normal. Case to point: everyone else in the world would be happy with one slice, two maximum, and then there was me. Me, wanting to eat infinite slices of cake. Me, wanting the whole bloody thing, and more. Me, a bottomless-pit-cake-eating machine.

So, rather than have one slice and be tourtured with thoughts of wanting to eat more, I would opt for none at all. That solved that problem. Except it didn’t. Not at all. In fact, the only thing ultimately that solved the problem I had (malnutrition) was to allow myself to eat the whole cake. And more. To allow my under-nourished body to eat and eat and eat. That was what was appropriate when I was in malnutrition. That is what eventually solved the problem.

Imagine my poor, malnourished, confused brain thinks I am in a famine. I am underweight and don’t get enough food, so famine is the only logical explanation as far as my brain is concerned. If we are in a famine, what is the point in wasting energy on hunger cues? Nah. So your body doesn’t bother. Until … until, you start to eat something. Then your brain is like “FOOD IS HERE AND I WANT IT ALL! Which is, again, entirely appropriate if you are underweight, have been restricting, are in energy deficit, or malnutrition, or any or all of these things.

But then your anorexia brain is all like “See. Binge eater. BINGE EATER. Can’t be trusted around food. Can’t have nice things. Can’t be trusted not to eat too much. Don’t have any at all.”

Which is total bollocks. If you are in malnutrition, of course your poor body wants all the food.

Listen, malnutrition is abnormal. That is why your appetite is abnormal. Eating a lot of food — an abnormally high amount of food — is how mammals get out of malnutrition. Your desire to eat the whole kitchen is totally to be expected.

Another thing I would worry about a lot (because anorexia turns you into a worry wart) would be:

But what about when I am no longer underweight? When will my body know not to want to eat everything all the time?

Talk about teaching Grandma to suck eggs!

Ahem … your body knows what it is doing. You don’t need to micromanage it.

Your body knows it is underweight. Therefore, it is trying to get you to do the sensible thing and eat a lot of food. That is, it would be doing that if you would get out of its way and stop restricting. When your body is no longer underweight, it will no longer feel the need to make you eat the whole house. Your body’s only objective is HEALTH. And it knows what it is doing.

My desire to eat a whole cake disintegrated as I nutritionally rehabilitated. I can’t even imagine doing that now. But I did. I know I did, plenty of times, when I was in recovery.

Your body has got this. Now, get out of its way.

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What do you think?

  1. Loved rereading this! I wish you were in my head telling me what to do and reassuring me 24/7! 😉 You’re the best seriously i cant say it enough!

  2. I’m no longer underweight. Sometimes when I eat I don’t feel satisfied until I’m bursting not all the time but more often then not. I kept reading in this article if your malnourished I don’t feel as if I am anymore … as I’ve been eating recovery style for 3.5 – 4 months. I guess I am worried I’ll eat and gain forever.

      • Thank you so much I will. Gotta keep up the fight. I know you don’t give yourself a lot of credit but please keep making blogs you have helped so many people.

    • I still binge, after 1.5 years of recovery. Hit the highest weight and still gaining. You are not alone. A few months of binge is minimal . I know how hard it is.

  3. This is SO true and i wish i would have understood it in rehab. This was about 15 years ago…they took us out on a filed trip to Dairy Queen. We all had to get “something” and eat all of it. All the other anorexics got a small single cone and i got a blizzard (large). Yes i felt guilty but i craved ice cream and i knew i could eat 15 blizzards! So as everyone else was struggling to get theirs down, i was long done with mine and I was struggling because i REALLY wanted another one! since i wasn’t allowed to have one i was thinking in my mind that i was a binge eater and could not be trusted to do this on my own because id eat the whole house. I’m just wondering why i was the only one? Maybe i wasn’t.

  4. I actually have those thoughts and fears of becoming a binge eater tbh. I’m trying to work through them right now.

  5. Hey Tabitha, I just wanted to say “Right On!” in response to this blog. I currently am in recovery and working hard to get back to energy balance. Interestingly enough, my current food obsession is CAKE, and I have struggled to keep my cake-eating to 4 slices (big ones, but whatever) a day. What is up with that, since many of your past blogs and your own experience have offered solid proof that eating several entire cakes in one day is a-ok? It makes a ton of sense that the desire to eat several cakes in a row, regardless of physical hunger, would be more “normal” than “abnormal” for someone living in a malnourished body. So, forget the 4-slice limit (totally arbitrary and anorexically contrived) and give me 2 or 3 big cakes. I mean big, too, like wedding-cake sized, ha! Thank you, again, for putting this blog out there for those of us still holding on to the fear that the unlimited cake-eating (or whatever food of choice) is damaging physically and mentally, binge-eating, or anything other than what a malnourished body SHOULD be doing. Finally, someone (you, in this case) offer a truth that I think a lot of others working in the world of recovery from malnourishment are finally starting to realize, too: limits on intake amounts should be banished, as these limits only empower the brain’s belief that food is restricted and that famine awaits just around the corner. The brain will only believe the famine is truly over if the body is allowed everything it screams for, even if the screams are distant and hard to hear behind anorexia’s loud and obnoxious speeches about everything food-and-movement related….Yes, indeed, thank you, Tabitha!! (P.S. Actually getting around the speeches anorexia constantly brays in one’s head is HARD, but blogs like this one help override the anorexic crap….)

  6. Hi
    I’m so scared that I could have binge eating disorder. I’ve binged for 1.5 years, no compensation, eat regularly. Hit highest weight and size. It still makes me binge. Is it an addiction, an habit just formed. What’s your thought on the method in brain over binge. Thank you. I sometimes even feel like it’s the end of the world and I’m so depressed.

    • Hi, yes I think its a habit, you can read the book Brain over Binge by Kathryn Hansen. If you are at a healthy weight already I think this book will help you.

  7. Hi Tabitha! Thanks so much for your posts. I just bought both your books, too, and am loving them. Such good info in there.
    Anyway, I have a question in regards to overshooting. I’m one week into recovery and have been eating all the things. Like, allllll the things. Probably consuming about 5-6000 cals a day. My body is already feeling and looking better. But then I stepped on the scale to find that I had gained 15 pounds. And of course my ed screamed at me but I kept eating and not restricting. How much of this can be expected to be water weight? I’m scared of overshooting too much and I know it’s impoissible for a human to gain 15 pounds of body fat in one week. Do you have any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

    • I’m not Tabitha, but I know from researching this very topic that it is very normal to gain anything up to 17-18 pounds in water weight in the first couple of weeks of recovery. I remember this happened to me- I went from 48kg to 55kg in only a week or two.

      • Thanks for getting back to me Lara! That’s what I researched too. How long did it take for your water weight to drop?