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Do you ever experience such extreme hunger that you feel completely out of control with food? As if you’re never full even when you’re eating regularly? When this happens, you may be quick to blame yourself – you might say you have no willpower, no sense of control, and feel you’re not able to stop eating. Extreme hunger like this is incredibly common if you’ve been dieting or restricting your food intake. This is not your fault!

When you are faced with extreme hunger, it is purely your body trying to communicate with you that you need fuel to make up for past restrictions. Extreme hunger is common after periods of dieting or restrictive eating and can last from days to months. Ignoring your natural hunger signals (even if they seem extreme) when they come up may work temporarily but they will likely come back with a vengeance and leave you stuck in the eat-repent-repeat diet cycle.

 

What is Extreme Hunger? 

Extreme hunger is an intense feeling of hunger – as if you don’t feel full no matter what you eat or you feel hungry again shortly after a meal. Your stomach may growl, feel empty, or you may feel dizzy or fatigued. When this happens, it can be hard to think about anything else until you eat something again.  

Extreme hunger is often the human body’s response to being deprived of food. Even if you feel as though you ate enough that day, and are questioning why you might be hungry, it could be past deprivation that is fueling the massive hunger you’re feeling that day.  It is basically your body trying to communicate with you, reminding you to nourish it and satisfy that hunger – without guilt.  These feelings of extreme hunger can be challenging, but can be overcome.

What Causes Extreme Hunger?

Extreme hunger occurs because the hunger hormone ghrelin increases to signal you to eat more. If you have been restricting certain foods for a long time or limiting your overall food intake, your body will try to counteract that by sending you signals. If you ignore these signals, they will only get more intense until you eat. It’s important to know that this extreme hunger can occur even if you ate enough that particular day. This feeling is more of a result of long-term dieting, and not necessarily a reflection of your current eating habits.

After a long period of restricting your diet, your hunger hormones can become out of sync. This can often be difficult to ignore, and for good reason. Your body will always try to protect you, encouraging you to nourish yourself. 

But, if the desire to lose weight or to follow a diet is very strong, you may have tried to ignore these signals. However, if you do continue to ignore them, your ghrelin levels eventually go down and stop giving you those warning signals. This is not what you want.

Low ghrelin can lead to a temporary cycle of appetite suppression – where your body “adjusts” to the restriction and you no longer receive signals to eat. Long-term, this can decrease your hunger cues to the extent that you aren’t sure when you are actually hungry. This can make things particularly challenging when you’re trying to break away from dieting and e  resume normal eating again.

In the beginning stages of diet recovery, your hunger hormones, like ghrelin, will ramp back up and you may begin to feel this extreme hunger and diet backlash. You may have difficulty differentiating between actual hunger which is a physical need to eat and appetite, which is the desire to eat. While this may feel frustrating, there are several ways to tackle this and overcome it.

 

How to Handle Extreme Hunger

Here are a few tips for how to best honor your hunger to prevent binge eating or feeling out of control with food:

Honor Your Hunger

Extreme hunger often resurfaces in the recovery process once you allow yourself to eat more again. As you start to eat more, your body then remembers that you need that food, especially after all that dieting! 

Listen to your body and honor that hunger, without any guilt! I know this may seem scary, but I promise it gets easier. Honoring your hunger means eating when you feel hungry and not waiting, and paying attention to how that food makes you feel. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever it is you are craving when you feel hungry.  When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat it will be easier to work on strategies that will also allow you to not respond to emotions with food.

When your body is in a semi-starvation state like in the case of chronic dieting, you actually become more obsessed with food. This has been shown in a classic study called the Minnesota Semi-Starvation study. After being in this semi-starvation state, participants came out of the study feeling more obsessed with food, more anxiety, fatigue, depression, and general irritability. The term “hangry” doesn’t really do this justice!

Don’t Be Scared

If you feel scared to eat more, know this is normal! You may feel afraid that your eating will get out of control as you start to incorporate more variety back into your diet. It’s important to remember that this is a normal part of the process and is what repairs your relationship with your food. In time, you’ll start to see that one food won’t make or break your health and that all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle. 

In time, you will naturally start to crave the foods that nourish you and make you feel good so you don’t have to worry about what you’re eating right now. Categorizing foods as good or bad will only bring back a restrictive diet mindset. 

Be Patient With Yourself

At the beginning of your intuitive eating and recovery process, it can seem difficult to control your food intake and you may feel like you want to eat everything in sight.  Be patient with yourself and your body’s ability to relearn hunger cues that it hasn’t had for some time. As you start to eat more regularly again and continue to listen to your body, those hunger cues will come back and will be less intense. 

Depending on how long you’ve been dieting, it may take some time for your hunger cues to normalize. For some, this may be a matter of weeks, for others, it may be months. There are many factors that come into play. Give yourself grace and know you will recover from this.

Don’t Restrict If You Feel You Overdid It

If you restrict after eating because you feel guilty, this can restart the binge-restrict cycle all over again. Let go of any guilt – your body needs this food, and you are doing your body good by feeding it.

If you are tackling your extreme hunger and are feeling out of control, read how my mindful eating strategies can help you achieve more of a balance. Make sure you are eating often, listening to your cravings, and honoring them. As you do this more regularly, your body will start to adjust and resume a more normalized way of eating – with less intense hunger pangs.

Additionally, get the support you need to talk things through. Talking with a professional or with others who have gone through it can serve as a reminder that you will overcome it. If you need help relearning how to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, schedule a free strategy call with me to get the support you need.

Dina Garcia, RD, LDN
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