One important part of fully committing to recovery is starting to eat without any restrictions. But what do you do when you're constantly hungry? Is it ever going to stop?
No calories. No macros. No weighing, measuring, calculating, timing, and of course, no diets. That's what full commitment looks like.
Saying no to any food rules is the best thing you can do to get your recovery started. Getting your mind to that point might be difficult though. You basically need to restart your brain, deleting words like calories and diets from its memory. Once you get there and start eating freely, then congratulations – you just took a huge step toward recovery!
I Want to Eat All The Time!
The next thing you may realize is that all you want to do is eat. No matter what or how much you eat, you're still constantly hungry and never seem to get full and satisfied. You may be confused, because it doesn't make sense: You're not (hopefully) even exercising anymore, so where is this hunger coming from?
I think that very many women who have hypothalamic amenorrhea have some sort of dieting history. It is possible that your hypothalamic amenorrhea is a result of just overtraining or too much mental stress, but it's probably safe to say that most women have dieted in the past. That's important to realize because this is the main reason why you're constantly hungry now.
Physical Hunger and the Hunger Hormones
First of all, you may feel hungry all the time because you actually are hungry. I know, it doesn't sound exactly mind blowing, but that's what's going on.
When you start giving yourself more food, your body loves this abundance! But because your body is not sure how long this party is going to last (because it has experienced maybe for years that it often doesn't last that long!), it's turning those hunger hormones up a bit to make you even hungrier. It wants to get in as many calories as possible.
You may also crave something badly, usually things you haven't given yourself. Like Anna said in her recovery story, she just couldn't stay away from full fat foods.
I wanted to eat peanut butter ALL THE TIME. And avocado. And whole eggs (not just the whites). And full fat yogurt. Its like my body was being deprived of fats for so long it just wanted EVERYTHING.
Before she started her recovery, her diet was very low in fat, so when she finally let all restrictions go, she was able to listen to her body's voice and give it what it needed, in her case, all the fat.
You may wonder, why you seem to be so much hungrier now as you aren't working out. You were less hungry when you were training all the time!
I experienced that also. One thing that I used to do was training on an empty stomach. I may have started the workout little bit hungry, but by the way I was done with my HIIT, I wasn't that hungry anymore, if at all. That's because high intensity exercise can suppress appetite.
There are several hormones whose levels change during the exercise and that affect our hunger levels. For example, ghrelin is the hormone that increases appetite, but exercise, especially high intensity exercise, can suppress ghrelin levels.
Another hormone is peptide YY, and this hormone decreases appetite. When you workout, levels of peptide YY will increase.
So when your ghrelin levels are lowered and peptide YY levels are high, you don't want to eat, which is often what's happening in your body after any high intensity workout.
Now as you have stopped exercise, you don't get that kind of hunger hormone fluctuation, and you feel hungry when you actually are hungry.
If you have restricted your eating for a while, you've definitely been also psychologically hungry. There were foods that you actually really, really wanted, but because you thought that they're bad for you, you never allowed yourself to eat them.
We've all seen what happens to little kids when you tell them NOT to do something. The more you tell them they shouldn't do something, the more they want to do it! I believe that adults aren't much different. It's in our psychology. When something is forbidden, we want it even more. Remember the forbidden fruit story?
When you now realize that you can eat whatever you please, you may feel like a kid in a candy store for a while.
I can eat anything? Really, anything I want?
And you eat and eat and eat, because you've never (or at least in the past future), had this experience.
This is exactly where deprivation gets you – overdoing it. Always! But don't worry about it too much for now, because this step is necessary to get you back to normal eating habits. The novelty of being able to eat whatever you want, lasts maybe a few months and then gradually slows down.
The Magic of Abundance
If you're worried that your constant physical and / or psychological hunger will never come to an end, I promise you that this is not the case. It will stop.
Here's what happens to your physical and physiological hunger: When you constantly keep eating enough food, over time the need for it decreases. You sort of have to earn your body's trust back, so there's no more need for it to turn the hunger hormones up every time it gets some food. Because after a while, it knows that that's not the last time it's being fed, there will be more food coming later. To get to this place, it's important that you eat consistently and don't let yourself get very hungry (you don't have to eat non stop or every two hours, but just don't let the breaks get too long).
Also, at first, there's a ton of repair work to do in your body. Over time, your body won't need to be flooded with that much food anymore. But that's something you can't decide, by saying I guess I'm done with this over eating! It's something that your body tells you. If you're still hungry, you should still eat.
From the psychological standpoint, the key is keeping in mind that there's no forbidden foods that you need to avoid. You've tried it already, and you saw that nothing good came out of it. When you don't restrict anything, you don't create this deprivation that takes over your mind. So, if you feel like eating ice cream, eat ice cream, then move on with your life. If you never allow yourself this ice cream, that's all you're going to want. And when you once you run out of willpower and finally eat it, you can't stop, no matter how hard you try.
When you start eating everything and anything, think about it as giving your body much needed medicine. It may need a lot of it at first, which may be confusing. But the reality is that you probably really need this much, because both your body and mind are deprived. Trust what your body asks. This hunger won't last forever and it will stabilize later, 100%!
If you need support on your journey to recover from overtraining or hypothalamic amenorrhea, my ebook, programs and FREE 20-minute coaching calls are available for you! I get back to every email, so let me know if I can help.