Myths, Fears, and Triumphs of the Overshoot
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Megan Bazzini is a writer—an aspiring YA novelist, cringe-worthy poet, and mental health essayist. She’s also a business school grad who has lived in LA, Hong Kong, and Milan. Now she’s returned home to New York, where she is a proud chihuahua rescue mom and works in technology strategy. Megan’s eating disorder recovery mantra is, “Keep going. Recovery is worth it.” You can follow her on Twitter (@BazziniBooks), visit her portfolio, or read more of her work on her blog, Butterfly Mind.
Why do we never speak of the “overshoot,” the bottomless hunger, the terror of body changes during recovery from a restrictive eating disorder? It is natural to overshoot a pre-eating disorder weight during weight restoration. Seemingly impossible-to-satiate hunger is a commonly recurring phenomenon in people with eating disorders. During weight gain and waves of what felt like never-ending extreme hunger, teaching myself about these changes was instrumental to avoiding relapse during weight restoration.
The science and facts eased my fear about my changing body. For many, overshoot is an essential part of the body’s healing process after prolonged periods of starvation and malnutrition. It was observed in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, a controlled scientific study during WWII to understand the physio-psychology of starvation. It’s a survival mechanism to feast after a famine, dating back to when humans were hunter-gatherers. The body temporarily gains weight beyond its “set point.” Then, after internal physical healing, the body may let go of some of this weight. But this only happens naturally, without restricting intake. This process goes against societal notions about regular weight loss and calorie deficits––that is, the commonly heard “earn and burn” mindset. But those often misleadingly harmful notions don’t apply when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Weight restoration is a miraculous moment for the body to prove its power and guide us to our natural “set point,” as long as we nourish our minds and bodies concurrently.
This science made me feel less alone. It’s such a relief to see that, yes, most people going through eating disorder recovery are triggered by body changes and terrified of the unknown of where or when their weight is going to settle. Extreme hunger is a tool to replenish all the energy that’s been lost, and for me, it didn’t end until after I gained weight and held on to an overshoot.
I thought of my overshoot like a game of trust. My body stopped trusting me during my years of anorexia, and we started to rebuild that trust during weight restoration. At a certain point in my recovery, I felt settled into a rhythm of living and socializing and discovered the things that made me feel truly worthy and happy. Along the way, eating became less scary, and I no longer looked to old rules and behaviors for a sense of security. I really met my recovered body after I no longer instinctively searched for the feeling of specialness that my eating disorder had previously defined. I felt special being me, embracing my new life.
After months of living and finally making peace with my whole recovered self, my body changed again. When I noticed that I had lost my overshoot, it felt like the brief reprieve from body changes and the fear that comes with it. But soon after, I heard the whispers of an old friend I thought I’d finally parted ways with.
My eating disorder had dragged itself from where it had been banished in the deep recesses of my mind so that it could try to celebrate my weight loss. It wanted me to double my exercise and start restricting again. It promised me that if I obeyed, I would regain that special feeling it had given me back when we first met. I was scared by the eating disorder voice that wanted to take control and push the weight loss further.
This voice was triggering and confusing. It made no sense; I already felt special without those unhealthy behaviors. I desperately wanted to hold onto that peace I’d finally made with my recovered body. I looked online to see if any others in the recovery community had talked about losing the weight overshoot. When I couldn’t find an active discussion about the overshoot and consequent body changes, I had to go back to my recovery roots. I reminded myself with conviction that this triggering voice is just another one of my eating disorder’s desperate attempts to scare me into coming back.
But I didn’t have to listen to it. I’d found a way to accept myself no matter my weight by ignoring the ED voice, challenging my fears, and living. This phase of recovery should be no different, so I kept going.
I reminded myself of all the reasons why I should keep going by celebrating the accomplishments I’d already made. I didn’t want to jeopardize the delicate harmony I’d achieved with my recovered mind. Relapse wasn’t an option. I’d already been through too much to do it over again. During this period of terror for what would come next, and for what I’d already been through, I wished there were more recovered people sharing in this constant fear of body changes.
For the healthy recovery side of me, seeing my body change throughout the entire process was something to celebrate. It meant I was freeing myself from anorexia as my body started to trust me again. These changes validated all the living and eating, ultimately making the perfectionist in me proud.
Where the perfectionist used to drive so many eating disorder behaviors, I’ve now found it’s a useful ally in affirming and honoring my body cues. As long as I’ve felt like I actively listen and try to nourish my body, I’ve celebrated that I’m doing some part of this overwhelming recovery process right. And anyone in recovery surely understands the constant questioning of whether we’re doing it right. The changes are random and they are unpredictable, but they are right. They are life-saving.
Recovery weight changes can be triggering and confusing, but also beautiful. It signals the regaining of trust with your body. And after all the fear, I learned that these changes should trigger nothing different from any of the other days in recovery; just doing whatever it takes to get on with the beautiful and exciting part of what comes next: living.