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How to Handle the Fear of “Overeating” in Eating Disorder Recovery

As a culture we’ve been taught that overeating is a bad thing: something we shouldn’t do. The reality, however, is that eating when you have passed the point of fullness is actually a part of normal eating.

It’s especially an important, even critical, part of normal eating when we haven’t been feeding our bodies enough or allowing ourselves to eat what we really want to be eating. Even knowing these truths, if you’re in the recovery process, the fear of overeating for most is very real, valid, and also again, normal.

To help manage the fear of overeating, here are 3 things to keep in mind:

 

1. Your body is designed to be fed frequently and consistently throughout the day

Generally speaking, bodies like to be fed every 3~ish hours, starting within an hour of waking. This stable eating pattern mimics natural hunger, fullness, and appetite cues, and provides needed reassurance for your body, nervous system and brain that they will be fed.

In recovery, as you build connection with your body, it is helpful to keep in mind that you may not be hungry much (or at all) and you may feel full easily. As a result, you’ll likely need to eat from a place of self-care (with the help of an eating structure or meal plan) rather than relying on body cues. Although this has its own challenges, it can be soothing to know that your meal plan is designed as a support for resetting your hunger, fullness and appetite. With time, proper nourishment and consistency, following this strategy will move your body into a practice of more internally-regulated intuitive eating.

With that shared, if we go hours without feeding ourselves, it’s totally normal for our bodies to eat a lot of food. That’s what your body is doing to keep you alive, nourished and functioning.

Eating more is a healthy response to not eating enough.

The other nuanced part of this in recovery is that it’s typical for appropriate amounts of food to feel like “binges” or like “a lot of food.” This happens because you’re not used to eating the nourishment your body needs. If “portion distortion” is something you’re curious about, I encourage you to bring it up with your treatment team – specifically your registered dietitian.

 

2. Normal eating is overeating at times!

Ellyn Satter, MS, MSSW, is a dietitian, family therapist, and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding. I love her definition of normal eating. If you haven’t seen it, you can take a look here.

Part of Satter’s definition of normal eating is that “Normal eating is overeating at times, and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.”

What if overeating for you was just a normal, healthy part of being human? Something that everyone experiences?

If you began to internalize that there’s nothing wrong, shameful, or bad about it, what would be different for you?
 

3. Your body still needs nourishment (and kindness), even if you feel like you ate too much

For many of the individuals I work with, the tendency to eat less, exercise or engage in other unhelpful behaviors after an episode of feeling like “I ate too much” is high. If you have a tendency to do this, I encourage you to explore this pattern with your therapist and/or dietitian and to please be gentle with yourself. What you’re doing is hard but your body needs you to be a friend.

Pre-planning around a challenging meal or food experience is something that can be useful to help reduce anxiety. Here’s a handout that may be helpful. It’s something you can do alone or in a session with your dietitian or therapist to help support an eating experience you’d more like to have.

The reality is your body is strong and resilient – it needs nourishment. And your body will need even more nourishment a few hours after you feel like “I ate too much.” That is just how bodies work.

Feed yourself. Take care of yourself. Try to be with yourself. And please, please, be gentle with yourself. Recovery work is some of the bravest, most challenging work you can do. And you’re doing it in one of the most challenging times ever.

Sending strength, love and support,
Corinne