By: Camille Malecha, MA, LPC
Eating Disorder Specialist, Timberline Knolls
The question is often bandied about: can a person ever truly and fully overcome an eating disorder; or is once an anorexic, always an anorexic? Ditto with bulimia or binge eating disorder (BED)?
Complete recovery from an eating disorder is definitely possible. It necessitates two primary factors: commitment and time.
Recovery from any addiction or disorder is rarely easy, which is why genuine commitment is so critical. A person, possibly a woman, must have a true dedication to herself and her body, to the future, to first defining then living out her meaningful life every single day.
This means committing to attending support groups or 12-step meetings, following a food plan and honestly striving to develop a new, healthy relationship with food. It also requires a degree of surrender. She needs to surrender to family and friends who love and care about her as well as professionals such as a psychiatrist, dietitian, or therapist who are trying to help her.
Recovery Can Not Be Attained Instantly
Achieving complete recovery takes time. It is not about going from step A to step B overnight. It is a journey consisting of a thousand little steps and the progress that is made over time.
And these little steps are not always positive or beneficial. In a time of extreme stress or change, a lapse can occur, a return to negative behaviors such as restricting or purging. But always keep in mind, a slip is just that: a slip.
It never means full relapse, and importantly, it does not equate to failure. It simply indicates that additional support may be required, or more effective methods of coping might need to be explored.
Just as Recovery Is Slow, so Was the Development
An eating disorder did not happen overnight. Perhaps it started as a harmless dalliance:
- A woman skips a meal here or there, then many
- Another makes herself vomit after a big meal, then every meal
It takes time to become fully entrenched in an eating disorder. Therefore, it takes time to become fully recovered. And the time required is as individual as the people themselves – it is not commensurate with the longevity of the disorder.
If anorexia is present for ten years, it won’t take exactly one year to recover; if binge eating was part of daily life for one year, it will not take precisely seven weeks to overcome the urge to eat compulsively.
Never Not Worth the Effort
Recovery is far more connected to real motivation and willingness to change. Whatever the time frame is, no matter how challenging and difficult the journey may prove, full recovery from an eating disorder is absolutely worth it.