Dealing with Disappointment in Recovery from Anorexia

Girl struggling with anorexia

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls Residental Treatment Center and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

So much of the maturity that comes with working through eating disorder recovery comes through managing expectations. When I finally committed to recovery, I started out with unrealistic expectations about the time it would take to heal, how much work it would take, and how I would “feel” once I was living in freedom from the illness.

As the reality of the hard road to recovery sank in, I sought out wisdom and insight from mentors who had walked the road before and come out on the other side.

The most valuable advice they offered was that recovery was not quick or easy, but it was worth it, and no matter how people involved in the process might disappoint you, accepting an imperfect recovery process was indeed part of recovery itself.

All of that said, it is important to be frank and forthright about the disappointments you may face in recovery, and how to manage expectations in light of them.

Your Recovery Treatment Team Will Disappoint You

A treatment team is made up of human beings who, like you, are imperfect, fallible beings.

You can trust their clinical expertise and experience, of course. However, sometimes it takes “trying out” a few different therapists or dietitians until you find one whose style fits with your personality – that is totally normal and you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings by seeking out a better fit.

And don’t be offended or disappointed if you have a “good cop” and “bad cop” on your treatment team – liking them as a person is not necessarily a prerequisite for good care.

For example, my physician who specialized in pediatric eating disorders was, at first, the object of much of my disappointment and at times outrage because of the hard lines she set and ways she pushed me. However, now I love her, see her often at conferences and events, and admire her for the ways she showed me tough love in recovery. It can happen!

Your Family and Support Team Will Disappoint You

Like your treatment team, your family and support team is made up of human beings who, like you, are imperfect, fallible beings (are you seeing a theme here?). They are there to love and support you, but will love you imperfectly, will at times lose patience, and often because they just want to see you get well, may get angry, hurt, or withdraw.

Woman smilingOne of the most damaging things we can do for our own recovery is place unrealistic expectations on our loved ones in the way they must support us. We transfer our food and exercise rules to them; we give them behavior rules.

Your family and friends will disappoint you in the process of your recovery and, in fact, they may never fully understand how hard recovery is. Practicing acceptance throughout the journey is learning a skill that will benefit you long after your journey to healing is over. It is something most people never learn – be thankful for the opportunity to practice that skill every day!

You Will Feel Disappointed in Yourself

Slip-ups happen, relapse happens, and some days, you can lose motivation. That is because you are an imperfect, fallible human being, and recovery is not perfect.

I often describe it as two steps forward, one step back, and so on, and so on, until that day when your steps are net forward, not backward. While you may be filled with hope at the beginning of your journey, strings of hard days may cause disappointment to set in.

Woman thinking

That is natural and when those days come, don’t be too hard on yourself. The sun sets, it rises, another day. God’s mercies are new every morning. No feeling is eternal.

Feelings are like waves which crash on to the shore, then roll back out to sea. Practicing acceptance of your own feelings, acceptance of the process and gratitude in the moment allows those moments of disappointment to pass without surrendering to them. Give yourself grace.

Ultimately disappointment and unmet expectations are a part of life, and so will be a part of recovery as well. However, expecting and preparing for disappointment softens the blow and shortens the time it takes to bounce back.

Disappointment is natural to the human condition because we are all imperfect. Accepting imperfection and showing grace allows disappointment to pass and gratitude to replace it, as we bring these unmet hopes to God and let Him fill those empty spaces.

And speaking of God… He is the only one who will never disappoint you. He will always meet, even exceed, your expectations. He will never let you down. Because unlike people, He is not fallible… He is perfect.


Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders.

She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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 on April 24, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 24, 2017.
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