Long-Term Recovery is Possible: Staying Hopeful

Woman celebrating long term recovery

Contributor: Camille Williams, MA, LCPC, Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residental Treatment Center

Recovery is not an easy road; therefore, it’s not uncommon to experience moments of doubt and questioning whether recovery will even work. Hopelessness can make an eating disorder look appealing as a way of escaping to something predictable and familiar, especially in early recovery.

Research is used to discover the best treatment modalities for recovery, the best predictors of success, as well as the length of time on the road to recovery.

Recent Research on Long-Term Recovery

Some of the most exciting and recent news in research within the last couple years is the longitudinal study at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is showing an increased likelihood of success in recovery.

Previously, rates of recovery were about 50% and the recent study has found success rates closer to 65%. This study followed eating disorder recovery individuals and assessed their recovery 9 years on the road to recovery and then again at 22 years; it was found that rates of recovery increased over time.

This means that the process of recovery could take more than 10 years, and also shows that there is hope and a reason to keep persevering.

Many individuals with bulimia that recovered, defined by having at least one year behavior free, did so within the 9-year time frame.

Some individuals with anorexia who may not have recovered within the first 9 years were able to achieve success by the second assessment phase after 22 years.

Although it may be a long journey, there is always hope, and the road to recovery is always changing.

What Progress Looks Like in Eating Disorder Recovery

Someone who is working on their recovery for any length of time, be it 9 years or 22 years, is learning more every day. This means over that time the individual is gaining new awareness of challenges and struggles, new insight about behaviors, and may be able to stay more committed to meal plans and treatment goals.

Woman in glasses

The recovery path is not going to be the same tortuous crying at every meal day after day. There will be ups and downs and progress can continue to be made, even though steps backward happen too. There is hope today, tomorrow, and years from now, so never give up.

A couple of key components in recovery treatment that have been studied are shame, self-compassion, and relationship with food.

Studies have found these three components of therapy to be significant in a quicker and more successful recovery process.

For binge eating disorder, one particularly significant factor is that the beliefs surrounding food need to change for a greater likelihood of long-term recovery.

If an individual in recovery continues to believe foods are good or bad that only perpetuates the guilt felt when eating foods necessary for their body to function properly.

Shame is another important factor, and a separate study showed a decrease in eating disorder behaviors when addressing shame during the first couple weeks of treatment. This study also demonstrated that beginning to practice self-compassion in early treatment leads to decreased shame.

Shame can be very painful and the self-blame often fuels secrecy and addictive behaviors. Therefore, addressing shame early in recovery can help an individual start to see their own value, know they are worthy of recovery, and begin to heal.

Working With a Treatment Team

Woman celebrating

Understanding recovery through research and actually experiencing it are two very different things.

Research works to provide clarity and a general direction with recovery.

However, everyone’s recovery journey looks different and some of the research may not apply to every path.

It is important for each individual to work with their treatment team to find the best practices, approaches, and guidance needed to let go of the pain and suffering of an eating disorder.

Keep fighting because recovery is possible. It may be a long and emotionally vulnerable journey, but it is worth it, and so are you.

Camille WilliamsAbout the Author: Camille Williams, MA, NCC, LCPC

As the Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Camille supports the development of curriculum, supervises the eating disorder specialist, and provides group therapy. She also educates and trains all staff on campus and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications.

Camille started at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist. She then transitioned into the Eating Disorder Specialist (EDS) role. In this position for nearly five years, she developed her skills and competence in working with the eating disorder population.

Camille received a Bachelor of Arts degree in both psychology and sociology from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. She then went on to earn a Master of Arts in Clinical Professional Psychology from Roosevelt University, IL.

Camille is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP).


[1]  Dotinga, R. (2017, January 24). Many women with eating disorders do recover, study finds. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-many-with-eating-disorders-get-better-health-0125-20170124-story.html.
[2]  Eddy, K.T., Tabri, N., Thomas, J.J., Murray, H.B., Keshaviah, A., Hastings, E., Edkins, K., Krishna, M., Herzog, D.B., Keel, P.K., & Franko, D.L. (2017). Recovery from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa at 22-year follow-up.  Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 78(2), 184-189. doi: 10.4088/JCP.15m10393.

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 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 May 3, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 30, 2017. Published on