Defining recovery

Hi everyone.

I'm trying to finish up this book manuscript on the science of anorexia, and I'm coming to a bit of a sticking point. What I want to know from those of you who consider yourselves in recovery (or for parents of children who are in recovery) is this:

How do you define eating disorder recovery?

If you're not in recovery, I'd still love to hear what you have to say and what you think, just please let me know how you feel your recovery is going.

If you'd rather not share on a public blog, you can email me at

Any quotes from your comments may be used in the book, but I'm going to do so anonymously, so you can feel free to be honest.


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HungryMac said...

Well, I'm in sort of an early recovery phase according to my discussions with my therapist. My working definition of recovery is accepting that the ED type thoughts will still exist in a lesser form and that I have enough power to ignore what they're telling me to think, feel, respond. Acknowledging the thoughts but not needing to act on them.

Abby said...

I'd say I'm at kind of a stall in my recovery, having taken a couple small steps back from my best (almost recovered). I define recovery as food no longer causes anxiety for me. I eat what I want, when I want and trust my body to tell me what I need.

HikerRD said...

If you care to hear from those of us treating individuals, let us know, too!

hm said...

I finally, this week, feel the first glimmers of hope for "recovery." What is sparking that hope is differentiating, for the first time ever as far as I can remember, that the ed is distinct from ME. Beginning to be able to separate the ed and its drives and behaviors from my own thoughts, desires, and wishes is HUGE for me. Now I think I might have a shot at this. The beginnings of recovery, for me at least, look like this: learning to acknowledge the drives and urges of my ed, while staying separate enough from it to make the choices that the real me truly wants and needs. For right now, that means trusting my family and my treatment providers to help me get healthy. Eventually, it will (hopefully) mean the ability to keep MYSELF healthy, without so much help.

Laura said...

I consider myself recovered. To me, This means:

~my weight is optimal for me.

~my physiology is healthy: blood pressure, temperature, labs, etc.

~I no longer need to follow a meal plan (I don't have to measure out X cups or rice. I am capable of asking my self "how much do I need now?" and giving msyelf the portion that suits my hunger in the moment)

~I never count calories and am NEVER tempted to count calories.

~I never body check and am NEVER tempted to body check.

~Exercise is never compulsive.

~I never have urges to compensate

~If I think of gaining 3 pounds (for example) over night, I have no visceral reaction of anxiety or dread. I basically have a non-reaction.

~If you were to pick any moment out of any day of the year and ask me if I was having any ED behaviors or thoughts, the answer would be no 100% of the time.

~I eat a variety of foods. I truly do not avoid any sort of foods.

~I eat in a variety of settings.

~My voice of "self caring" is strong. I am conected to myself in a way that allows me to care for myself. This leads me to making choices like calling in sick or resting. I have balance in my life. I don't deny my needs, basically.

~I don't have a constant pathological doubt going on in my brain. I don't have a constant "but what if....." going on in my brain. I can elaborate on this if you want.

That's what comes to the top of my mind.

Laura said...

HungryMac, I want to tell you that it's not true that ED thoughts will still exist. It is possible to get to a point where they stop existing - completely. I kid you not. Keep on truckin! It's worth it!

fightingforfreedom said...

Recovery to me is so much more than the food being better. Recovery is about being able to truly see and be the person you are. Recovery is about feeling emotions without having to stop them. It's about making decisions that are in your best interest and not trying to control things you can't. It is about having true healthy relationships with people who are there for you as much as you are for them.
Life doesn’t get easier when you leave treatment and begin recovery, it gets more meaningful. You begin to understand what it is like to be alive and have people in your life. And you want to keep the meaning in your life. You begin to be willing to fight for it. There are so many more things I could say about recovery but my blog probably does it better. In case you want to use anything from it this is the link to the main writing I think defines aspects of recovery- although they are present throughout.

Just let me know about how to buy your book when it's done :) It sounds awesome - Jennee

fightingforfreedom said...

Recovery is also about accepting the ups and downs that inevitably come with life and recovery and learning how to cope with them healthily. Learning how to ask for support. Learning that recovery is NOT perfect. And honestly it wouldn't get us anywhere if it was. I think when we have slips or lapses it gives us the chance to learn new things and grow. I was doing really well for years and all of the sudden had a relapse. It took awhile to figure it out but I was able to work on two things I had never been in a place to work on before then. I could have lived my whole life thinking I was totally fine and in perfect or close to perfect recovery. But honestly I am so glad I got the chance to work on those things, because now I am in an even higher level of recovery than I was before. The only way to move up is to be able to deal with and use the downs :) our ED will be a warning system for when something is wrong at least for awhile. Recovery is about using that to catch something and work on it before it gets to a crisis point. O and I definitely think a part of recovery is acknowledging the ways your ED helps you- because until you can fill those holes recovery isn't possible.

Anonymous said...

I still haven't decided whether I'm fully recovered or almost there yet. But there was a definite change of attitude. I knew I was recovered when I stopped looking for 'thinspiration', when I stopped trying to feel my hip bones at every opportunity, when I was ok with eating around people who knew about my medical condition. When I could feel peaceful, content, satisfied, calm inside my own head. When I couldn't tell you what I ate that day because I didn't pay enough attention to remember every single thing. That's when I knew that if I wasn't fully recovered, I was pretty darn close :)

Laura said...

I second Fightingforfreedom and Lucy's comments!

K said...

Having to define what recovery entails for me personally, the first thing that comes to mind is WANTING to recover. From being deep in the trenches of the eating disorder and not having any kind of hope or wish to change the situation, to getting to the point where there's something else that seems more appealing – that is the first step.
Perhaps I haven't come far enough yet to be able to define recovery in terms of eating what I want without guilt, without all the preconceived notions of what I should be, looking at my body and liking it despite the extra weight or all those other things that hopefully come with getting back to an anorexia-free life – but the turning point for me has been, more than anything else, that I now want to change the situation. I want a life that isn't dictated by the disorder.
This wish for change within myself and my own realization that it's the only way forward, has been the only thing that has worked for me. For the first time I am actually changing, and on my own.
I'm doubtful whether or not I'll ever be completely free from the little beast in my head that is anorexia, but I'm hopeful that I will be successful in living a good and healthy life, in spite of it. Because I want to.

Thank you for a really awesome blog.

Amy said...

Recovery means waking up in the morning and just living! Anorexia took this ability from me, but I am gaining it back. Everyday, I am one step closer to being able to exist freely without ED thoughts creeping in and encouraging unhealthy behaviors.

Vanessa said...

I've been asked, mostly by my significant other, how I define recovery. Most of the time I"m not sure how to answer, simply because an eating disorder is comprised of many more things than most people originally assume. It's almost impossible to describe recovery to someone who thinks an eating disorder is as simple as not choosing to eat (if anorexia). I guess, I never quite know how to answer the question when asked on the spot but after the fact I come up with some.

*Realizing that after you are done eating that uncomfortable, full feeling will go away. (i.e., without exercising, vowing to not eat for days after to "make up" for it etc.)

*Being able to eat foods considered "unsafe" and even if you don't eat a lot of them, logically recognizing that they won't make you gain fifty pounds over night.

*Eating at a table with friends and not being so over-anxious about how large your bite of food is, how much food is on your plate compared to theirs, how quickly or slowly you are eating, etc.

*Being able to decide that popcorn really would make the movie better.

*Knowing that no matter how recovered you are, there will still be days when you want that life back or that you new life doesn't seem worth the effort, or that your pinkie finger looks like a hot dog. The voice will still be there once in a while, in the background, and, sometimes, you will relish in the feeling of honestly forgetting to eat a meal because it reminds you of a different time in your life. Those things will happen. Those things do not mean you are giving up on recovery. A large part of recovery to me, is recognizing this.

Hope this helps:)

I'm very excited about your back. As someone who is applying to grad schools for clinical psychology and hoping to do research on/work with people, that have eating disorders, I simply can't wait!

Your blog has been a lifeline for me for the past three years.


As a parting thought, I think recovery is sort of a dance, a back-and-forth, give and take between who you were and who you are becoming.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

In my opinion recovery will be having a voice which speaks louder than the ED voice because it'll always be in our minds. I think recovery would be knowing how to manage the ED thoughts and not to act on them.

Your recovery journey is so inspiring! ♥

Sarah said...

I considered myself recovered from my ED ... yet, this is still a question I have a hard time answering because there are so many different levels to it. THere have been times I have thought I was recovered, and then months later I progressed further in life/recovery, and then realized that maybe I wasn't before. It's a hard question.
I have even had times recently when I will be faced with a food that I haven't had in a while, and my immediate reaction is still anxiety/fear. I can work through it now without much pain or effort, but it still shocks me when it happens.

I think some things that define recovery are:

-Not having any "bad foods"

-No longer avoiding social situations because you are afraid of food

-Being able to eat spontaneously and without a plan for the day

-Being able to share with others immediately and freely if any crazy thought regarding food or body image crosses your mind, and being able to look at it honestly and see what else may really be bothering you in that moment.

-No longer feeling shame for having an ED

-Experiencing days when the ED voice is not there

-Knowing who you are and what you like ... and knowing that you can take up space in the world and have a lot to offer

-Being able to set boundaries

-Recognizing that it is okay that you have needs and to ask for help when necessary

-Having "REAL" relationships

-Being able to lose yourself in the moment and just live life without being preoccupied with food

-Learning to accept your body and it's needs

-Truly knowing that you are so much more than a physical body

There are many many more, but those are what I thought of at this moment.

RD fighting her ED said...

For me recovery has been letting go of everything in my life that I knew to be normal. An eating disorder was a huge part of my existence for more years than not, so recovery was really learning the basics of how to live. How to eat in public without an anxiety attack, how to go to a restraunt and order something other then a salad or coffee, how to go for a walk without running like I was training for my marathon runs. Recovery has been like a computer re-start, my brain had to go thru the same process, a complete reboot of my processing system if you will. Its not easy and I'm a constant work in progress but each day I work hard to ensure that the life I once knew as normal, remains just a distant memory.

Anonymous said...

Define recovery or being recovered? Those are two completely different things. I feel that I'm ALMOST 100% recovered because:
*I'm no longer a slave to a certain caloric amount each day (though I'm always aware of how much I eat, it doesn't deter me from eating when I'm hungry even if I think I've gone over an amount of calories I may be nervous about)
*I eat what sounds good and eat when I'm hungry rather than eating "safe" foods and only when I decided it would be "okay to eat"
*I no longer hide my snacking or eating habits -- before, I was embarrassed of eating more than just the standard 3 meals a day because I wanted to maintain people's views of a "sick" me
*The number on the scale no longer grosses me out or ruins my day (even though I weight slightly more than I did before my ED)
*It doesn't bother me nearly as much as it did before that certain clothes don't fit me like they did when I was super thin
*I am engaging more in and enjoying social situations rather than escaping them
*I'm more positive and think more clearly because I'm no longer undernourished


Eva said...

My definition of what recovery will look like for me and what I am almost to the point of is being able to go to a restaurant and order whatever I want, not counting calories every minutes of the day, exercising enough to feel good but never over doing it, sitting around with friends and eating cookies and not thinking about how fat I will be the next day, drinking more than water even if it has calories in it, looking at myself in the mirror and loving the person both inside and out that is staring back at me. Accepting what was and moving on to what could be- a life of fulfillment, happiness, and love.

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Undenied said...

To me, recovery would mean no longer thinking the word "fat" in the mirror as the first thought. It would mean being able to reconize the difference between physical feelings and emotional ones, and therefore eating proper amounts when I am truly hunrgy. It would mean not tying my food intake, weight loss, and body shape to my sense of self-worth. It would mean eating the right nutritional amount without really thinking about it, but at the same time being able to make lifestyle choices (gluten-free, organic, vegan, whatever) based on personal needs and beliefs without them being hopelessly intertwined with the eating disorder.

I'm one of those folks still not sold on the "recovery" concept, partly due to the disorder itself which I'm sure blinds me, but also because I hear of so few people who "recover" by my definition. I'm not sure what I describe is achievable. I truly hope it is, at least for some. But can I really read nutritional labels to check for gluten content without also seeing the calories? I don't know.

JJ said...

I am not recovered, I'm not even weight-restored yet. But my recovery goal is to be able to spend a full day thinking about my family, my neighbors, my research, my colleagues, my friends, and the events in the world around me. And not, for even fifteen minutes, *miss it* because of panic about food, exercise, or my body. I am so excited for this imagined day and working hard to get there...

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

I am working on recovery. I will consider myself recovered when the eating disorder voice and all its dictates no longer hammer nor control me and my actions.

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

P.S. I believe weight restoration is the first step towards recovery. You know, food is medicine and all that. ;)

Anonymous said...

Recovery for me means no emotional attachment to food or using it as a mask for my feelings. Food is fuel for giving my body and mind the strength to face my emotions and feelings head on and doing something about them, should I choose to.

EvilFi said...

Kim - YES I think you can. I say this cause I was about to reply that for me, part of 'full' recovery as distinguished from 'almost' has been not having to worry about pitfalls like that. I can see the calories on a packet or where they put them on a menu and they don't mean anything to me - ask me in 5 minutes and I'll have completely forgotten. same with weight, etc. that's my favourite part of recovery - the point where you don't have to actively push it anymore cause it becomes natural :)

Anonymous said...

Recovery to me is first about getting physically healthy and ed behavior free. To sit with the anxiety and fears that come with it and not engage in the ed. To even if you don't feel 100 percent about recovery you go through the healthy steps till you feel it 100 percent. I agree that physical health is number 1 so then you can work on the why behind the ed,coping skills,and building a life outside the ed.
Being recovered is all that I just listed but feeling that you want recovery 100 percent. There is not that mental battle. The anxiety,fears,depression lesson. The rigid behaviors around food,weight,activity,similar are very little. You feel recovery in your heart and that you deserve it. You rebuild a life outside the ed.

LizenkaLizenka said...

I think for me, recovery means breaking the link between your problems (and whatever distress they cause) and your relationship with food. Because as far as I can tell, an ED happens when the two get tangled up together, and you start believing that if you 'fix' certain 'problems' with your body and the way you treat it (what you put in or force out of it, what you allow or deny it), then you will in fact fix your life. Of course it never works, but it's a wonderful lie to believe, because it gives you hope. Recovery will happen when I stop believing that lie, and start finding hope in other places. I'm not fully recovered yet, but I believe that when I am, I will have a healthy relationship with food and my body not because I've trained myself into healthy habits, but because I have stopped allowing my psychological distress to funnel itself straight into my relationship with my body. For me it's got nothing to do with being at a healthy weight, or eating 6 times a day, or not trying on clothes to test how they fit. It's about dealing with my issues reasonably, sensitively and effectively, so that negative emotions are accepted and dealt with before they can start festering and popping up around food where they don't belong!

The Dandelion Girl said...

I'm going to give this some thought... but I will get back to you on this, as I think it's an important thing to define for oneself... I say that as I truly imagine recovery looks different for each individual.


A life outside the eating disorder, including going out and eating with friends and be able to eat off a food plan. Much of a social life revolves around food - from Thanksgiving to a cup of coffee in town when shopping. Not having to plan this or think about it but just doing what your peers do - having a muffin because it's cold! The return of hunger cues and the ability to eat when hungry. Food as pleasure as well as fuel.

ed thoughts recognised for what they are - thoughts, not orders. Coping with anxiety/depression etc in ways other than restricting food. Talking about it.

Accepting perfectionist tendencies and realising that perfection is not attainable. Settling HAPPILY for second place! Recognising and reacting to other people's feelings and emotions.

Aw jeez, Carrie, I could go on for hours....

j.m.r. said...

I'm in early recovery, but still think too much about food and rely on it to measure out my day to some degree. I follow a meal plan, but I've become too attached to it and the safe foods I use to meet it. I'm also mourning the loss of something that performed a pervasive function in my life - eating disordered behavior. I still have disordered thoughts, but am strong enough and wise enough to disobey them. But I miss it. There's something in me that is incomplete and that something is what my eating disorder replaced. Now to figure out what that something is.

Shannon said...

Without going into details, recovery for me includes acceptance of my 'natural' body weight and intuitive eating.

Abby said...

Recovery, for me, would mean emancipation from fear. Not just food, but being out of control. Recovery would be somewhere in the middle of the control spectrum: not out of control, but not obsessed by controlling everything.
Recovery would be feeling hungry, eating, and then moving on...

Unknown said...
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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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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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