Saturday, July 27, 2013

Full Recovery from Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating: What, When, and How?

A young woman under the age of 25 years old walked wearily into my office this week to seek help in her effort to recover from an entrenched eating disorder.  In less than 5 years she had already received residential treatment for her illness at 3 different facilities.  She had virtually availed herself of every level of treatment that any textbook or evidenced based research would recommend.  Who could blame her for feeling a bit hopeless in regards to escaping the prison of her eating disorder?  As the session progressed, she informed me that she did not believe in full recovery from an eating disorder.  I was curious as to her vision as to what "full recovery" would mean to her personally.  She looked at me through teary eyes and in a shaky voice she said "I would never have any negative thoughts about my body, I would eat only healthy food, and I would never have any obsessive thoughts about food, eating, exercise or weight". Ah, so that was why she was feeling hopeless.  Her perfectionistic, all or nothing manner of thinking was defining recovery in terms that would be unachievable for just about anyone in this diet crazed culture.  We began exploring what a realistic view of full recovery might look like, when it might happen, and how we would proceed on the journey that she has already begun.

The statistics can be disheartening when you read about recovering from an eating disorder.  I would advise that you not dwell too heavily on them.  You are an individual struggling with what could be a deadly disease.  However, there are thousands and thousands of recovered people (one of them is writing this blog!).  Many of the top professionals in the eating disorder recovery field have fought the battle and won.  Part of the challenge is the definition of full recovery.  I believe ED recovery is a process that is quite the journey.  It involves healing physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually and relationally.  There is no one "what" that would define recovery.  I believe recovery is best described in one word ... peace.  Does it mean that you never experience a disordered thought or ED-like behavior?  NO!  You just develop an arsenal to fight back, discover or retrieve your true identity, and soldier on.  With solid treatment, a genuine desire to get out of your eating disorder or disordered eating, God's help and the support of others full recovery can happen.

When does recovery happen?  Gradually you experience fewer lapses, fewer and weaker eating disordered thoughts. Eventually you arrive at the place where you trust your body, mind, and own ability to live a healthful balance life without diet rules or ED calling the shots.  There are times you might feel "affected" by ED or disordered eating thoughts, but you are no longer in bondage to them.

How does full recovery happen?  I think you will find the answers in some of my thoughts above. I would add that you have to be willing to tolerate discomfort in the battle.  If you are striving to recover from an ED and you are comfortable, there is a good chance you are not really fully engaged in the fight. Trust your treatment team, and keep a strong filter in your mind to weed out all of the body hating, diet touting, crazy making messages that come our way every day.

I wish you true peace and full recovery.  Please share any thoughts on this complicated topic. 


  1. This is a great post, Reba. Since reading, I have really been thinking a lot about peace as the definition of recovery -- peace with food, with body, etc. Just the thought of peace makes me take a deep breath and relax. I don't experience it often, but when I do, it is indescribable.

    Like the chicken or the egg, which comes first - peace or recovery? Perhaps we (I) have it backwards...I think I can't have peace until I am recovered and everything feels right with the world, but maybe I won't recover until I am at peace with the way things are now. In this sense, maybe peace is a choice -- me choosing to be at peace when circumstances or emotions are contrary. And if it is a choice, do I really want it? Or do I want to keep fighting? Sometimes it feels safer and more comfortable to keep fighting than to choose peace. Not sure why.

    I believe that peace ultimately comes from the Giver of Peace, God himself, rather than circumstances. But I don't yet know how to translate this into real day to day living with an eating disorder. It is very strong and powerful. I am still pondering. Thank you for sharing.

  2. My nutritionist gave me the link to this article after I asked for her opinion of what recovery means to her. I have been in treatment for my eating disorder for about 2 years. I started treatment after battling various forms of my eating disorder for 23 years. I have relapsed 3 times in the past 2 years and feel I am still in my relapse that started last September after being in recovery for 6 months. I continue to fight for recovery because I am afraid of not fighting. After reading your blog, I am going to start searching and praying for peace. I believe recovery will be easier to find when I find peace first.

    Thank you for your thoughts on recovery. God Bless.