Hunger, Cravings And Extreme Hunger in Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery
When I suffered from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea I really believed I wasn't feeling hungry. My stomach was not rumbling, so I could not be hungry, right? I guess the body gave up this signal a long time ago. However I was still experiencing a lot of hunger signals, I just did not understand them. In this post I'll walk you through what hunger in Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery may look like.
I doubt you would strive after ignoring the body when it is signaling to you it has to pee. So why deny the body of it's need to eat if it is telling you this is what it needs? if you read this, I am guessing you have become quite an expert in ignoring hunger. And yet hunger is something so natural. The body has a quiet wide spectrum of signaling hunger:
Being easily distracted
Being tired and/or feeling sleepy
Difficulties to concentrate
Difficulties to fall asleep
Hangry and/or irritable
Low blood sugar
Stomach gurgling and/or rumbling
Thinking about food
Waking up hungry
Hunger occurs when your blood sugar drops below a certain threshold, or because your body is sensing a lack of energy (remember, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is caused by a relative energy deficiency).
Cravings occur when a certain element, or rather food group, is missing (see my post What Should I Eat During Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery for more information). If you are craving something sweet, your last meal probably missed out on carbs or meat. If you instead crave something fatty, the last meal came short in veggies or dairy. The craving usually kicks in about 30-60 minutes after the meal.
In my personal opinion, it makes no sense to distinguish between mental hunger and craving, even less so for someone with a background of restrictive eating. If your body is telling you it needs a certain food or food group, there is an actual need behind. Since you read this I am quite sure you have been up to restrictive habits (excluded food or food groups, only allowed to have certain food under given conditions or on specific times/occasions, always go for the low calorie option, ...). Probably these kinds of foods will be the ones you are craving the most at the beginning of your Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery. But it will even out! I really encourage you to embrace your cravings and not be scared of them.
As i mentioned in My Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery Story, I had quite strong cravings for energy dense food rich in carbohydrates when I started Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery. Logically, given that my brain was given way to little carbs from my diet and needed to compensate for that. Eventually, these cravings evened out. After a few months they more or less disappeared. I would never have believed this was to happen! I had always identified as a sweet tooth. Nowadays it is more common for me to crave cheese, salami and animal based products. Usually because I came short in the previous meal.
Extreme Hunger and how it is different from Binging
As you start recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, and the body realizes it is actually listened to again, you might experience that you are hungry a.l.l. t.h.e. t.im.e. That regardless of what you eat you are not satisfied. This is perfectly normal!
Once again I'd like to mention the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. In this experiment, the daily caloric intake for thirty-six young men (thoroughly vetted for physical health and mental soundness) were intentionally restricted to only 1800 kcal. This was done to study the effects starvation has on body and mind (I intent to do a comprehensive post on this experiment in the future). During the unrestricted rehabilitation phase after the starvation, the men were observed to consume on average 5000 kcal a day (prior to the experiment the average consumption was about 3500 kcal). And on occasion, some of them consumed up to 11.500 kcal in one day. For many months, the men reported having a sensation of hunger they couldn’t satisfy, no matter how much they ate. Eventually, the extreme hunger evened out and the hunger stabilized on "normal" levels.
"Hang on, 11.500 kcal in one day. Is that not bingeing?!" You might ask. It for sure sounds like you would eat more than the usual amount within a shorter time, probably also become uncomfortable full. But here comes the important part. It only becomes a binge if you feel bad about it afterwards. If you engage in restrictive behaviors afterwards to make up for it. And why should you? You have given in for a need that your body has signaled to you! Your body need the energy to heal itself and repair. Among others your reproductive system. Although it might be scary, I really encourage you to allow yourself to eat. To embrace your hunger in Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery will benefit your recovery both mentally and physically.
To ignore hunger means energy restriction. If you restrict your intake in the name of health, and realizes your periods are missing, you have proof that what you're doing is not healthy. That whatever you're doing is not done in the name of health, in fact you're trapped into fear. Reach our to me for help overcoming this fear.