I get asked this question a lot — by clients, via email, via Youtube — and it is one that tripped my up from time to time in my own recovery. Until, one day, I realised that there is one simple answer: If you are asking the question, “how do I know if I want more food?” ... you want more food!
I know it sounds too simple to be possible, but seriously, eat more.
Similar questions people in recovery often ask:
“How do I know if I am actually still hungry, or if it is just emotional eating?
“How do I know if I have eaten enough?”
“How do I know when it is time to stop eating?”
“How do I know if I am eating the correct amount?”
“How do I know if I am hungry, versus if I am just habitually eating?”
Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah … see a theme here? It’s all eating-disorder-brain doubting bollocks. It’s all the “what if I’m eating too much” fear creeping in.
First off, I don’t believe in emotional eating. Or if I do, it’s not the type of emotional eating that most people think of. Malnutrition is pretty bloody harsh stress on the body, and your body is exhausted and overwhelmed, so of course you are going to feel emotional. We are always in some sort of emotional state, everything is emotionally guided on some level. That’s appropriate. That’s not an issue. I certainly ate emotionally in recovery and I had every reason too considering I had been restricting food for a very long time.
The “emotional eating” idea where people just get fed up of adulting and sit around eating all day is the type of emotional eating I don’t believe in because it suggests that this eating is frivolous, superfluous and dangerous — which it is not.
People often worry that they eat more, or differently, in times of stress, and this often gets hijacked by the “emotional eating” story. Well, I’d say that eating more and/or desiring more caloric food choices in times of stress is exactly right, and by design, not some personal flaw. Stress is stressful on the body. You operate in a higher gear when you are stress. Stress is depleting. So eating food in response to stress is pretty fucking appropriate. I made a video on emotional eating here –> https://youtu.be/PKp9xBfVgmc
Furthermore, if that stress is generated by malnutrition then it is even more appropriate to eat in response to that stress. So be it. Do it. You need to. Oh, and then your anorexia brain is going to get all “but what if I develop an emotional eating habit and never stop?” Give me a break. You have a problem with restriction to the point that your body is in a state of malnutrition, and you finally eat appropriately for a couple of days and now all you can worry about is having a problem with excessive eating? That is sooo typical eating-disorder-brain worrying about shit that doesn’t really matter and isn’t going to happen. Stop it. Focus on the present. Focus on what is actually happening and what is actually true. Where are you now? Right now, you are in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. Stop future-tripping about what your reaction to stress might be 5 years from now.
And yes, I thought all these thoughts when I was in recovery. Yes, I thought I would develop an emotional eating problem. Yes, I thought I would get in the habit of eating 10,000 calories a day and not be able to stop. No, none of these things actually happened.
Because my body knows what it is doing. Turns out I was desiring to eat a ton of food because … I needed a ton of food.
How do I know if I am still hungry?
If you are asking that question, you are still hungry.
In recovery from anorexia you are going to likely want to eat far more than what is a “normal” amount of food. This is what happens after you have been eating a low amount of food. It’s common sense. You have been eating abnormally small amounts of food, and you will need to eat abnormally large amounts of food to get into balance.
Here’s something incredible: now that I am recovered, I don’t think of food the whole time. My mental hunger is no longer present — other than when I am hungry. Say I am eating some cake, I’ll eat cake, and if I want more I will have more. If I don’t want more, I won’t continue to think about the cake. My mind wanders onto other things. It’s not like I have to sit there and ponder over it. I know if I want more and I have more. If I don’t want more, I’m not even asking myself that question. If I am thinking about the cake, I obviously want more cake.
And its not like when I had anorexia when I would spend 20 minutes convincing myself that I was not thinking about the cake — because that is still thinking about the fucking cake, isn’t it? That’s still mental hunger.
He’s the acid test question I used to ask myself when I was second guessing if I wanted more food in recovery: “if this food had zero calories in it, would I eat more?”
Aha! So now we have it! If there was no caloric opportunity cost, would you eat more? That is how you know if you really want more or not.
When I was in recovery, the answer to this question was always “yes.”
Now, years fully recovered, and with a long-term nutritionally balanced body, I never even have to ask this question. If I am hungry I eat more. No stress. No guilt. No what ifs. It really is that simple.
TL:DR: if you are wondering if you want more food, you probably do.