Dealing with a wonky metabolism

It's well-known that people in recovery from restricting anorexia--even after weight restoration--need significantly more calories just to maintain their weight. Some of this may be an ongoing metabolic dysfunction; some of it may also be the body continuing to repair itself, although the repair is not reflected in weight.

It also, in a word, sucks.

I've been weight restored for about a year and a half now, and I'm pretty active, all things considered. Still, I need to eat a lot more now than I ever remember needing to eat. Physically, it's not all that easy. And it's not exactly cheap. The biggest toll, however, is emotional.

For almost a decade, I prided myself on eating less than everyone else. Now, I have to eat more. I've gotten the comments of "Oh, you're so lucky to be able to eat whatever you want." But if I ate whatever I wanted, it wouldn't be this much, let me tell you. Eating what I need to is a total reversal of everything I've thought and done these past years.

In our culture, women are NOT encouraged to dig in and eat up. Food should be approached with caution. It can make you fat, after all. And I don't think there will be "Hungry Women" entrees in the freezer aisle anytime soon. There is a kooky diet site called "Hungry Girl," but it's basically low-cal substitutions for the foods you really want. Want some Halloween candy? Try a "pumpkin crunchie," a little meringue thing. So if a woman IS hungry, she certainly isn't going to honor that and have a Snickers bar.

So here I come, into this environment, not only receiving a quasi-cultural cringe, but also from the inside. I can't help but compare what I eat now to what I ate at the height of my eating disorder. And I feel this knee-jerk response, this intrinsic oh-you-fat-weak-pig, that makes me panic just a little. Knowing that these abnormal caloric requirements are normal and have been verified in a research study could very well be keeping me sane- and in recovery.

Yet I keep eating. I don't know what else there is to do. I am trying to surrender to the process, to run with it. Grudgingly, perhaps, but I also know it's the only way out.

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Lisa said...

I've recently been feeling the urge to restrict again. It horrifies me to think about how much more I'm eating than I used to. I caught myself thinking about starting a food journal again, even though I KNOW it's a one-way ticket back to a very bad place.

Sorry, this doesn't have much to do with metabolism. It's just hard for me to deal with giving up control.

Cammy said...

I feel your frustration, Carrie, I have been meaning to mention this in my blog also. My metabolism has really revved up over the past couple of months, and it can be a pain in the ass. No one likes to give much sympathy to people who complain about fast metabolisms, but it can be hard when you're already self-conscious about food. I can eat a breakfast that's bigger than what I used to consume in an entire day, and my stomach will be growling less than two hours later. It's ironic, sometimes I feel like I spend more time hungry now than I did when restricting.

Anyway, I feel your frustration on this, but hang in there and try not to be self-conscious. YOU are the only one that has to live in your body, so there's no need to feel guilty for fueling it. It's hard to deal with other people's comments, but just keep in mind that they probably wouldn't dream of making those remarks if they knew the whole story.

Keep hanging in there, and thanks for bringing up this issue! It's a part of recovery that isn't mentioned very often.

Libby said...

I saw your title and I actually audibly sighed in agreement. I've got 2 endocrine disorders plus 20-zillion allergies added to the mix. My metabolism doesn't know up from down. Sometimes I just wish I could wear a sign around my neck... "Don't judge me or my food... I have a wonky metabolism!" But then I remember that most of the people around me aren't judging anyway... *sigh* Is it Friday yet???

Carrie Arnold said...


Oh, I hear you there. It does have a bit to do with metabolism- or at least your feelings about it. I try (and I do mean try here) to think about all of the other things I'd rather do than be stuck in the eating disorder. It makes the trade off easier to make.


And in this respect, peanut butter is saving my life and sanity. I think you mentioned liking it, and I have to say, it does keep me satisfied and less crazed.


I can't imagine how hard it would be to deal with all of the allergies on top of everything else. So, so crappy.

Emily said...

Thank you for this post! I was starting to fear that I was totally abnormal, as I seem to have eaten the entire city of Miami over the past week and am only just maintaining my weight when I should still be gaining. Over the past year, I was completely unwilling to eat a bite more than the number of calories prescribed by my doctor, and that number kept going up and up because I just wasn't gaining. Then I said "screw it" and decided to eat whatever I wanted without counting calories, and am now eating MUCH more and still seem to need more. For now, though, I'm seeing it as a gift rather than a burden, as I get to eat all the things I couldn't even think about for the past few years. Yes, I do feel self-conscious eating so much in front of others, but I've found that most people are more jealous (jealous that I CAN eat so much, without realizing that I am only able to eat so much now because I'm coming off of years of starvation) than actually critical.

Carrie Arnold said...


I, too, have never received any criticism for my eating habits. Yet it goes against all of the social mores out there about women and food- and it's weird.

I think it's great that you're using this experience to explore new foods- I'm slowly trying to do that, too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carrie, I really like your blog. I hope its okay that I leave you a comment.
I was so so happy to read this post. Even though, my eating problems were not that severe and my weight was probably just about in the normal range when I stopped restricting, I have totally been experiencing this too. To hear it said that it's well known to occur makes me feel so much better and confirms my hypothesis that this might be true based on what I noticed about other people who I knew or thought might have had EDs and just intuition.

Is the research study that you're referring to the Minnesota experiment by Ancel Keys? That did make me feel so much better aswell.

I feel self conscious for eating a lot too. In brave moments I kind of feel eating is a tiny bit revolutionary though. screw you beauty myth! type of thing.

I really admire you for your progress in recovery and for your blog.

sarah-j :)

CookieGirl said...

Hi carrie, I've always found this so interesting. Do you know why this happens, scientifically? Or why needing more calories tends to happen to people recovering from anorexia but not bulimia? I admit I've tried to search pubmed for these answers but haven't had any luck. mysterious or not, I think you should try to enjoy it! : )

Carrie Arnold said...


Yes, this is the Keys' starvation study.


I don't think they know. I would think that it would be something to do with the purging behaviors and how they affect the metabolism. I also know that people with the binge-purge type of AN need fewer calories to gain weight as well, but your guess is as good as mine.

Bron said...

Hi Carrie and everyone else

Just wanted to add to Carrie's comments and say that I didn't realise this was a common phenomenon, but I've now been a near-normal weight for a couple of years and eat more than I ate pre-anorexia (even though I weigh less), and obviously far, far more than when I was restricting.

It does feel weird to eat more than others, and to have them envy you, but I loved Emily's approach of treating it as a gift - a far more cheerful way to look at it! If we all realise this is a normal part of recovery and silently raise a fork to each other in tribute as we tuck into what seems an unfeasibly large meal, then we will all continue to get better. Thanks for bringing this up Carrie, and thanks to everyone else for their comments.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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