What is recovery?

I think that's a pretty good question. We're all here, trying to recover from an eating disorder, right? But what is recovery? Where are we actually going? What are we working towards?

There's the obvious: not feel like crap all the time. A good goal, to be sure.

But there are other things: eating without fear, exercising without fear, a return to normal body weight, etc.

If you defined my recovery strictly by a loss of DSM criteria for anorexia nervosa, I'd have been recovered a long time ago. My weight is above 85% of what would be expected, and I menstruate normally. But, let me clue you in a bit: I'm doing well, but I'm not recovered.

There are no cut-and-dry terms for what is recovered and what isn't. You probably aren't going to be able to just measure recovery on a brain scan, or even on a handy dandy little chart that medical providers seem so unnaturally fond of. Recovery is a much more subjective experience, I've found. It's something that is going to have to be defined by the sufferer and then perhaps applied outward.

A group of researchers actually looked at how women defined recovery from an eating disorder.

A qualitative method with a phenomenographic approach was used to identify various ways of experiencing recovery. Four categories emerged, describing how the subjects now relate in a relaxed and accepting manner to food, the body, themselves as individuals, and their social environment. Some perceived recovery as coping with emotions, while others experienced themselves as healthier than people in general regarding food and weight. Different aspects were emphasized as important for recovery. As long as patients perceive themselves as recovered, it is not necessary that they fulfill all conceivable criteria for recovery.

Without seeing the full text, I can't say what the "all conceivable criteria for recovery" are, and how important it is if you fulfill them. Certainly physical recovery is crucial, especially because it's hard to be relaxed around food when you're underweight. But after the basic physical criteria, even researchers and sufferers find it hard to say this is recovery and this is not.

Then there's the added question of recovery vs. remission. Is there such a thing as full recovery? Absolutely! But the biological nature of this illness means I will be exquisitely vulnerable to relapse throughout my life. I can be illness free (I hope). I don't need to manage my illness and live within anorexia's grasp. But losing vigilance over my recovery, forgetting that I had an eating disorder, and becoming blase about eating and exercise means I am setting myself up for disaster. Especially given that I have been sick for a while, those patterns are even more highly ingrained in my brain. That's just reality. It means I will be more likely to return to them in times of stress and crisis, and that those behaviors will return stronger and faster than someone who had been ill for a year.

So there's this question for all of you: so how DO you describe recovery? How did you know when you had recovered? Or what signs are you looking for to see how you're progressing in recovery? What signs do you look for in your friends and family?

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Gaining Back My Life said...

I believe there is complete recovery, however when we let our guard down to much we can fall into relapse. I think remission is a great term to describe that in between, grey area.

I was completely recovered for 4 years. Ate normal, no scale, living life to the fullest. Any thought of engaging in behaviors was followed by a 'Ha - are you kidding me? I remember how much that SUCKED!. No way, José!'

I would consider my current stage heading towards remission, b/c I'm sick of my relapse. In relapse, I actively engaged in behaviors, and did not see a n or t so I could practice my ed without accountability.

Hope this makes sense....think I went off on a tangent!

Carrie Arnold said...


Actually, what you said makes complete sense. It's a fine line to walk, between saying mired in the illness and all that entails, and being mindful of the fact that we were sick, once upon a time, and lightning can strike twice.

Apparently, you can win the lottery twice, but I'll work on once for starters. ;)

Lisa said...

Hmmmm...I'd say recovered is to have more energy for living, socializing, creating, working and doing non addiction stuff. Stuffing myself, going numb, avoidance would be reduced in frequency and intensity.

A said...

I'd say recovery occurs with 100% weight restoration and when behaviours around food/weight/BI normalize -- for a PROLONGED period of time.

The 85% crap is bullshit. Really, as someone who lived at 90% for 2 years with ED behaviours and then relapsed badly, I can say I was never truly recovered altnough I had achieved a weight over 85% of minimum.

These things obviously don't cure all the issues, but that might be the recovery from the ED itself -- therapy may still be needed to address anxiety, social issues, etc.


Crimson Wife said...

If "recovered" means no more unhealthy behavior and getting to 100% of my pre-ED weight, then that happened for me years ago. But I still feel like I'm "in recovery" because I'm still struggling with body image and eating issues. I *HAVE* made progress, and most of the time it's not a huge preoccupation like it was at the beginning of my recovery. But I don't feel "cured".

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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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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

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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