Fine-Tuning Your Long-Term Eating Disorder Recovery Plan

person holding a map

Creating a long term eating disorder recovery plan is a commonplace step in the recovery process. Whether one is completing treatment or stepping down in care levels, the recovery plan helps to provide a roadmap for the individual and their loved ones to follow as they continue achieving and later maintaining recovery.

The more in-depth your recovery plan is, the higher your likelihood of success. Here are some tips to help you go deeper into planning your freedom from disordered eating.

Use SMART Goals in Long Term Eating Disorder Recovery

Meal planning outsideSMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The idea behind SMART goals is to go beyond a vague and overwhelming larger goal and exactly determine what achieving that goal needs to look like.

For example, the goal of “I want to be recovered from my eating disorder” is brave and wonderful, but what does that look like?

Does it mean being weight-restored? Does it mean learning how to replace disordered thoughts with empowering thoughts, is it being able to engage in a beloved sport or exercise without doing it with disordered motives? Likely, it is all of these things, but which comes first?

A SMART goal might begin with, “I will reach X weight (whatever your treatment team recommends for you to be weight-restored) within three months.” With a goal like this, we know what we are doing exactly, what it will take to be considered “accomplished,” and how long it should take.

Then, you may move onto other SMART goals; “I will eat at least one meal unsupervised by the end of 6 months,” “I will replace fear-based, disordered thoughts with empowering thoughts at least twice per week.”

These goals help us to not race toward a vague state of recovery but help you design a plan that is specific to what matters to you in recovery.

Don’t Knock a Meal Plan

Many become confused at the idea of a meal plan in eating disorder recovery, often wondering, “isn’t the point to not plan meals so deliberately?” While this is the ultimate goal, it is important to be realistic about how we achieve that goal, and a meal plan goes a long way in helping with that.

These plans are not centered around the individual’s disordered ideas of foods as “good” or bad,” but instead, helping to normalize food. This goes back to our SMART goals because asking an individual fresh from eating disorder treatment to “just eat differently” isn’t realistic or, for so many, attainable.

Meal planning for Long Term Eating Disorder RecoveryA meal plan allows the individual to begin engaging in more stable eating habits. As they grow in their recovery, the meal plan will become less rigid or necessary and can be altered, and seeing a Registered Dietitian is encouraged to help with that transition.

Expect Challenges

This may sound bleak. However, it is important to know that challenges will arise throughout your journey to recovery. When we acknowledge this, we are less blindsided and more prepared when they come about.

One of the toughest challenges is re-integrating to school, work, and/or your community once you have left treatment and are working toward recovery in your daily life and environment. Make sure that this is considered in creating your long-term recovery plan.

One study specifies this should be done during your time in treatment, stating, “a large portion of their treatment should be dedicated to a gradual return to educational and social frameworks [1].”

Hold onto Your Long Term Eating Disorder Recovery Team

Recovery is a long road, and having a treatment team and support around you for the entire journey is incredibly important. There is a high likelihood you will struggle, having a disordered thought or feeling tempted to engage in disordered behaviors even while in Outpatient Treatment for your disorder.

Maintaining your work with your treatment team can mean the difference between those moments leading to relapse or to more exploration of your thoughts and behaviors and further development of helpful coping skills.


[1] Dror, S. et al. (2015). Transitioning home: a four-stage reintegration hospital discharge program for adolescents hospitalized for eating disorders. Pediatric Nursing, 20:4.

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 9, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 9, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.