By Emma Sheens
Can you fully recover from an eating disorder?
Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt.
Often people struggling with an eating disorder (ED) feel defeated, hopeless, confused and uncertain about whether or not full recovery can ever be reached. The label of an ‘eating disorder’, which comes about through receiving a diagnosis, can also leave people feeling disheartened, helpless and ambivalent about change. This feeling can often lead to ambivalence around treatment seeking which can subsequently prevent people from receiving the help, support and guidance that they deserve and need. Often an ED serves a function for someone that can be somewhat ‘helpful’. The ED is familiar, known and in a way, comforting, for the individual. Choosing to leave the ED behind and strive towards something that is unknown, not tangible, nor immediate, can be an incredibly scary thing, especially if full recovery is questionable. Many individuals find it incredibly difficult to envisage their own recovery and what that entails. “What does recovery look like for me? Is recovery about managing the ED and learning to live with it? Or, can the ED go away completely?” These are common questions individuals face and it’s important to recognise that every individual experiences a unique recovery pathway. Recovery often involves ups and downs, progressions and relapses. It takes time and can be incredibly challenging, exhausting and overwhelming! However, full recovery is most definitely attainable! Individuals can certainly reach a point where the ED is gone. The ED voice is not just quietened but is muted. The ED can be pushed up against, grappled with and fought with to a point of surrender. The ED can disappear. This is important to remember as this can foster a sense of hope, certainty, stability, clarity and focus on the road to recovery.
- When someone is ‘in recovery’ they may be in the process of seeking treatment. A lot of learning and growth occurs: individuals are learning to manage their eating disorder, working on self-awareness and learning how to fight against the ED. They might be learning about their triggers, learning to stand up against the ED. They may face obstacles and experience slips and stumbles along the way but they are developing resilience and doing solid ground work for their future free of the ED.
- ‘Recovered’ is when you live a life free of the ED altogether. Being ‘recovered’ means that not only do you experience an absence from ED symptoms but the ED is well and truly gone. It is in the past. Fear, temptation and triggers are all gone.
Carolyn Costin, the founder of the well-known ‘Monte Nido’ clinic in America, fully recovered from Anorexia Nervosa herself and is thus an advocate for full recovery. She reports to not struggle with the ED voices at all. They have gone. Being recovered does not happen overnight, but takes time and is a gradual process. According to Costin (2007, 2001), being recovered is when the eating disorder is a thing of the past. The person:
- No longer has thoughts, feelings, or behaviours related to the eating disorder
- Can accept his or her natural body size and shape
- No longer has a self-destructive or unnatural relationship with food or exercise
- Has an appropriate perspective about food and weight in their life
- Believes their weight to be less of an importance to who they are – actual numbers are of little or no importance at all
- Does not compromise their health or betray their soul to look a certain way, wear a certain size or reach a certain number on a scale
- Does not use eating disorder behaviours to deal with, distract from, or cope with other problems
If you would like consider pursuing recovery from your eating issues, please contact us as we have clinicians who can help.
Costin, C. (2007). 100 Questions & Answers about Eating Disorders. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Costin, C., & Grabb, G. S. (2011). 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience (8 Keys to Mental Health). WW Norton & Company.