The Imperfect “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back” Journey of Anorexia Recovery

Woman struggling with an eating disorder and with Suicide Rates in Those who Suffer with Binge Eating Disorder

The anorexia recovery journey is not linear. We know this, we are told this from the get-go, and we are reminded throughout treatment. Even so, we hope that it ends up being a linear climb up to recovery with all peaks and no valleys.

What follows is shame, disappointment, guilt, and hopelessness when, inevitably, we have a moment of lapse or relapse. It doesn’t have to be that way if we acknowledge the reality of the recovery process.

Understanding the Anorexia Recovery Journey

Imagine a field with miles and miles of tall grass. You look to your right, and there is a well-worn path cutting directly through. On your left, you can see where a path had once been carved but is now overgrown brambles and thorns.

You choose the path that is cleared because you’ve walked it time-and-time again. It’s what you know. Re-wiring your brain to recovery-based thoughts and beliefs is like this.

For however many years, you struggled with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. You have been walking down that path, each time making it more well-worn and clear.

In learning how to change our thoughts, we are attempting to walk down that overgrown path, hacking through the vines and leaves and brambles and thorns.

Making our minds take this new path every day is hard work. Because of that, there will likely be times when you fall back into the old habit of walking down the other path.

Be compassionate with yourself when this happens. Give yourself grace.

One day, you will naturally choose the other path. It is not overgrown anymore. In fact, it is clear, and your once well-trod path is growing over. You will get there.

Progress NOT Perfection

Lady in Anorexia RecoveryPerfectionism is a common trait among those that struggle with anorexia [1]. This can make anorexia recovery challenging, as the desire to “do recovery perfectly” can become an issue. The fact is, you won’t.

You will have lapses, moments when you find yourself returning to old thinking patterns or behaviors. You may have relapses, moments when you engage in a full-on return to disordered eating behaviors.

Recovery looks different for everyone, and being realistic about the ups-and-downs involved is vital. When we convince ourselves we can “recovery perfectly,” we are blind-sided when this isn’t true, often leading to unhelpful and negative thoughts that trigger more disordered behaviors.

Acknowledging that you may lapse or relapse is not giving up on yourself or letting go of hope, it is merely accepting the anorexia recovery process for what it may be.

Exist in the Present Moment

Having any expectations at all is a surefire way to be disappointed. What helps most in working toward recovery is existing in the only thing we can control – this moment.

Beating ourselves up about the past or worrying about what may happen in the future leads to us giving up the power we have to make a change now. Take your anorexia recovery one moment at a time, focusing your energy and strength to that specific moment and giving it the best you can.

Doing this, again and again, will lead you to recovery.


[1] Bardone-Cone, A. M., et al. (2007). Perfectionism and eating disorders: current status and future directions. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 384-405.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published March 16, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 16, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

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