At the height of my struggle with my eating disorder, I always went to bed hungry. The physical sensation of my stomach feeling empty made me feel accomplished as I climbed into bed. I started to view that familiar ache of hunger as a sign that I was exercising enough discipline throughout each day, that I was working out hard enough, and that I was doing an overall “good job” of keeping my appetite and body “in check.” My recovery journey – and maybe yours, too — has been marked with notable physical, emotional, and mental challenges and changes. Becoming comfortable with the feeling of fullness in eating disorder recovery has been one of the most significant challenges I continue to face.
When you begin recovery for your eating disorder, you find yourself in a space where you are forced to confront fears, uncomfortable emotions, challenges, and triggers that have had a grip over your relationship with food and your body. The discomfort of experiencing fullness in eating disorder recovery can trigger the desire to revert back to old eating disorder behaviors.
When I started to eat to the point of fullness, I would find that I would feel like I had lost control over my mind and body. I would feel guilt and shame for overeating, and my mind would frantically start thinking of ways I could make up for the perceived damage I had just done. It was uncomfortable to the point of being distressing at times. Maybe you can resonate.
Understanding the Uncomfortable Feeling of Fullness
Feeling full after a meal is a natural and healthy response to eating. It’s your body’s way of signaling that it has received the nourishment it needs. However, for those in eating disorder recovery, feeling full can trigger feelings of anxiety, guilt, and a desire to regain control by returning to our eating disorder behaviors.
I would (and still sometimes do) find myself thinking that I should be able to find a “balance” between feeling full and feeling hungry. Like, if I can just not feel like I am *starving,* that should be good enough. Certainly, I don’t need to feel entirely full to be nourishing my body and mind. I learned and now know logically that these thoughts and emotions are a result of the deeply ingrained beliefs and habits that my eating disorder has fostered, but it takes a lot of time, healing, and practice to actually believe this.
4 Strategies for Making Peace with Fullness in Eating Disorder Recovery
One of the essential steps in overcoming the discomfort of feeling full is to find helpful coping and healing strategies to help us in moments of discomfort and in times where we are tempted to restrict in order to avoid the feeling of fullness. The goal is to shift from viewing fullness as a threat to seeing it as a positive indicator of progress and healing on your recovery journey.
If you are struggling with making peace with fullness on your own recovery journey, tune into these four strategies to help you continue moving towards healing:
1. Sit with the Physical Sensation of Fullness
Allow yourself to fully experience the physical sensation of feeling full. Pay attention to what it feels like to feel full. How does your stomach feel? How is your energy level? What other physical sensations do you notice as a result of feeling full? Simple noticing these can be helpful in disarming what your body and mind initially register as a “threat.”
2. Challenge and Reframe Negative Thoughts
When the discomfort of fullness triggers negative thoughts, work toward actively challenging them. Our minds perceive sensations, experiences, and thoughts that are familiar with sensations, experiences, and thoughts that are safe. So it makes sense that the familiarity of feeling empty and hungry may feel better than feeling full. It will take time to rewire our brains to understand that fullness is safe. Remind yourself that becoming comfortable with fullness is an important step in your healing journey, one that is worth the discomfort you are currently experiencing.
Hear directly from Dr. Colleen Reichmann on
3. Distract and Engage
If the physical discomfort of feeling full becomes too distressing (which, for me, it does at times), engaging in activities you enjoy after eating to the point of fullness can help shift your focus away from the discomfort of fullness. Whether it’s reading, going for a walk, meeting up with a friend, or simply turning on a show, doing something that reorients your mind from feeling full to something unrelated to food can be a helpful strategy to alleviate the tension or anxiety you are feeling in the moment.
4. Give Yourself Time
This piece of advice may feel dismissive if you are in the midst of intense discomfort. I promise this is not intended to dismiss your feelings! I have truly found that, throughout the time I have been working on my relationship with food and body, giving myself time and grace to “try again next time” when I don’t deal feeling full (or another aspect of recovery) particularly well one time has been something that helps avoid guilt and fear of “failing.” It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like struggling with fullness today means that you will always struggle to the degree you are right now, but I can tell you that it does get better and it does get easier as you continue to move forward on your healing journey.
Hear about these tips and more directly from Dr. Colleen Reichmann in the below video:
Remembering Your Strength in Recovery
Making peace with the feeling of fullness in eating disorder recovery is challenging. From my own experience, I have experienced this process as entirely nonlinear, sometimes exhausting and discouraging, but one that has been and continues to also be fruitful and redemptive.
By reframing your perspective, using coping strategies, seeking support, and acknowledging your progress, you can gradually learn to navigate this discomfort without turning to old destructive habits. Remember, recovery is a process, and every step forward is a victory worth celebrating. Even when your eating disorder works overtime to convince you otherwise, you are stronger, more capable and more resilient than it wants you to believe.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
How Can Eating Disorder Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?
If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of emotions you may experience while on your eating disorder recovery journey, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help! In fact, you can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA
Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.
We offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!