Monday, July 8, 2013

Feeling Empty vs. Feeling Full

Carrie Arnold, the author the ED Bites blog, wrote an excellent post on fullness cues over the weekend and although I say this with every new post of hers, this one really might be my favorite to date. During recovery, we constantly hear about hunger cues and how it takes time for our bodies and brains to adjust to being filled with fuel again. I have heard it can take anywhere from six months to a few years, depending on consistency of eating and the individual's metabolism, before hunger cues can be trusted again. 

On the flip side of hunger cues, as Arnold describes, are fullness cues. 

"Part of my problem was that I figured that not actively feeling I was going to immediately starve meant that I was full. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. So I would eat a little bit of a meal or snack and feel full. Of course, I wasn’t actually full, I just got confused and thought that I was full."

After a few days of processing this fullness cue idea, however, I'm still left questioning why is it so gosh darn difficult for those of us in recovery to feel full? Sure, there is physical discomfort in constantly being stuffed to the max, but there is also a psychological component that, in my opinion, has a much larger impact on the recovery process.

Feeling empty provides a temporary high; a short term fix for our daily problems. This feeling becomes comfortable, which makes straying from it seem impossible. While I was in treatment we made two lists; one contained the "benefits" of feeling empty and the other the feelings associated with being full.

Numb-Out    Strength    Controlled
Superior    Attractive    Safe
Comfortable    Disciplined

Worthless    Weak    Out of Control
Anxious    Irritable    Restless
Miserable    Gross    Lazy
Awful    Scared

Basically what this means is feeling empty provided a feeling of accomplishment in my ever disappointing world. Feeling empty meant I was in control. Rather than feeling the pain I had bottled up inside, I could numb it out for the time being if I knew I was in my safe and comfortable "empty zone."

The tricky thing is, however, while I was stuck in the eating disorder I didn't realize that not only was I physically empty, but I was also empty in every other aspect of my life. My relationships suffered, trust was broken, a loss of interest in everyday life developed, and an overall lack of purpose in life were all the result of this emptiness I craved. My face constantly held a vacant stare due to the lack of life inside me. I was empty in every sense of the word.

Sure, being full and gaining weight might make us anxious at first, but it also has the potential to fill our lives with meaning. Being at a healthy weight has allowed me to be full of life again. Those feelings of weakness and worthlessness still linger from time to time, but I think I have slowly been able to separate those feelings from my eating habits.

Through recovery, I think we slowly begin to learn that feeling empty isn't all it's cracked up to be. As Carrie Arnold pointed out, it just as difficult to rediscover our fullness cues as it is our hunger cues, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. There is a good chance I will sit down to a meal today and still be full from the meal before, but maybe if I can switch my thinking and tell myself I am filling myself with life it won't be so bad.



  1. oh gosh this is something I think I still struggle with. It is a feeling that I still have that thought of - it is wrong. but at the same time I feel the need to be overly full to justify recovery - does that make sense?

    1. That makes perfect sense. Sometimes when I do feel hungry it's almost triggering haha. I think no matter what stage of recovery you are in this is a mind game that is hard to escape.

  2. I'm currently trying to gain weight and thsi post helped a lot... I always feel full and (very!) fat but I hope these feelings were just a phase in my road to happy living and body acceptance. I want to be free and reach a weight where I feel confortable and not anxious.
    Thank you so much kelsi <3

  3. You're very welcome! The weight gain process feels like the end of the world while you're in it, but thankfully it will end. I found it helpful to remember that even healthy women aren't 100% happy with their bodies, but they still live happy lives free from dieting. Keep up the good work! Best of luck to you! <3

  4. I remember in high school one of my biggest goals was to get through the day on as few calories as possible. I ate enough to not pass out--I was on three varsity teams after all! I look back and I wonder, if I had seen food as fuel instead of my mortal enemy...would I have scored a goal in field hockey/defended our side more effectively...would I have run more sub-six minute miles or won more races...would I have had a stronger serve in tennis and more mental strength to win matches? Of course, yes!!! But I can't go back.
    High school was half a lifetime ago, so I need to catch myself quickly when I start to "embrace emptiness". It does have a unique, strangely exhilarating feeling, but then I think about the impacts on my mood and my ability to be a good mom and wife. If I choose healthy amounts and kinds of foods, I feel strong, clear-thinking, confident, energetic, and happy! I know the balance: I can eat, enjoy, and not feel stuffed. It is a great freedom!

    1. Wow! It's so refreshing to hear that such a balance exists. There is a definitely a love/hate relationship with that empty feeling, but the benefits of having fuel in our bodies greatly outweigh the alternative. xx

  5. The past couple of days I have read every single one of your posts. I am recovering from anorexia and depression and finding your blog has been such a relief! I got my mum and dad to read some of the posts because they expressed everything I am thinking or feeling at the moment. To know that someone else has experienced the same thing, but managed to get through it is so inspiring!
    You have become one of my biggest inspirations to fight for recovery and I cannot thank you enough!
    And a huge congratulations for how far you have come in recovery! It's truly amazing x

    1. Goodness, thank you so much!! I feel very honored to have helped you along in your recovery journey, but please keep in mind that YOU are the one doing all of the hard work. I also find it very comforting and encouraging to know that others are fighting the same battles, so thank you for such a lovely comment. Best of luck to you. I'm so happy to have you on this journey with me! <3

  6. I was struggling with this this morning. Thanks for always posting amazing posts(: