Recovery has changed the way I feel hunger

I didn’t realise how much my eating disorder had warped my basic biological functions until I started healing

ABOVE: Diana Polekhina

This article contains potentially triggering discussions of disordered eating and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). Viewer discretion is advised If you are reading this to try to trigger yourself or look for ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’ on how to further contribute to your own eating disorder, I implore you follow these links to get help. You deserve to get better. About Eating Problems / Beat Eating Disorders / Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder / Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

[This article was originally written for and published by Concrete Newspaper.]

Hunger has changed for me. One year ago, I was in the depths of an eating disorder I didn’t realise I had. Though my friends and family were mostly none the wiser, my mentality was very black and white: food is the enemy, meals should be avoided, and hunger is the uncomfortable but better alternative to being full. 

Back then, my days were structured around going for as long as possible without eating a substantial meal. I did what my therapist would eventually call ‘grazing’ – nibbling on small snacks, bits of fruit, and tiny portions of food to coast through the day. Usually, evenings would come with a huge binge of food, which I hated myself for. In truth, this was my body desperately trying to get enough calories to function before the day ended and I went to sleep. I was, unknowingly and unwittingly, in starvation mode.

The effect of this, a behaviour that I had learned over a number of years of disordered eating and negative body image, is that my body never really felt hunger. I would get pangs of it, here and there, but they’d pass. Because my stomach was used to getting drip-fed all day and then having a huge meal in the evening, the hunger messages it would usually have been sending got confused and suppressed. 

In April of this year, I started my therapy with an eating disorder treatment specialist. The first thing she did was put me on a strict plan, which meant I had to eat at six different times throughout the day – three meals and three snacks. When she told me this, I burst into childish, terrified tears. It felt like more food than I could ever handle. I was scared of ruining my schedule, of disrupting the comfort of my routine, and of getting fat – which was, at the time, the absolute worst outcome I could imagine. 

There were many things which shifted dramatically when I followed my therapists’ advice. The most shocking change, though, was how quickly my body got used to the new, healthy, steady routine. My appetite and hunger patterns adjusted within two weeks or so, which, considering the ten years over which my eating disorder developed, is an almost comically short time for my biology to return to its natural rhythm. Mother Nature is a hell of a thing.

Having not really experienced true, full hunger for many years, I was suddenly hit with a ravenous, all-consuming, demanding hunger. Now that my body knew when it was meant to be getting food, it got very upset if I didn’t fulfil my obligation. I’d adjusted to coasting through an entire day on a low-level, there-but-not-quite-there hunger. Now, when my stomach is empty, it’s difficult to do or think about anything else. I can’t focus, I get incredibly irritable and nervous, and I’m overcome with a tiredness I can’t shake until I eat. I bring snacks with me everywhere now, so that I’m not caught short.

The shocking part is, despite how alien it feels, this sudden, primal craving for food when I’m running on empty isn’t a new feeling. This is the exact same hunger I was dealing with throughout my eating disorder. The brain-fog, the anger, the anxiety, and the fatigue were all there, but they were stretched out into a constant state of being. I truly can’t believe I existed in that headspace, for so long, and thought it was the only way to live. Life is so much better now that my body and I get along. She finally gets to tell me, directly and loudly, what she needs, and I’m finally paying attention. About Eating Problems / Beat Eating Disorders / Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder / Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

[This article was originally written for and published by Concrete Newspaper.]

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