Cognitive Milestones Associated With Eating Disorder Recovery

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Contributor: Amy M. Klimek, MA, LCPC, Director of Program Development, Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls Residental Treatment Center

In early recovery, progress is often tracked by identified goals and measurable outcomes. It is within these milestones that individuals can recognize areas of strength and struggle in recovery. Eating disorder recovery milestones may include restoration of weight, increasing nutritional intake, and decrease in purging behavior or binge episodes. As one moves along in recovery, goals become less externally present and more internally motivated.

Recognizing Milestones of Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorders thrive on the obsession of thoughts about food: how to avoid it, how to hide it, how to hate it, or how to not abuse it. These thoughts dominating an individual’s life. It is in recovery that those unfailing obsessive thoughts and attention to food will begin to shift. Individuals will spend their days thinking about food and their evenings dreaming about food.

A milestone may be “I still become obsessed with my thoughts, but the difference is, I am aware of it and am working to change it.” Thinking patterns will change as the relationship with food changes. Food will begin to become part of the healing, instead of remaining part of the problem.

Mental Improvements With Recovery

While the body becomes re-nourished with food, so will the mind. Individuals are challenged with their attention and focus. The “brain fog” that is commonly experienced in those struggling with eating disorders will begin to lift. It is in recovery that the mind will become present, thoughts will become clearer and decisions will be supported by both logic and emotion. An individual’s mental clarity will become sharp, increasing focus, interest, and engagement.

Individuals will be able to identify their triggers, the people, place, and things that will set back their recovery. Triggers can be sensory cues, like sights, sound or smells, including physical or emotional states like fatigue or frustration. It is with mental clarity that an individual will not only identify triggers, but will also work to prevent relapse, remove themselves from situations, and be confident to respond to both external and internal triggers in recovery.

Rebuilding Trust With Thoughts and Emotions

It is in recovery that individuals begin to rebuild trust with their thoughts and emotions. Emotional milestones are often more difficult to identify than other more observable progress and are measured through self-awareness and regulation.

Woman in the hillsMonths to years following treatment, it is important for recovering individuals to have the support they need to continue their healing, continue to communicate and express their thoughts and emotions effectively, and in the absence of judgments, to experience recovery in the face of challenges.

In recent reports by the Eating Disorder Coalition, every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. Recovery is not freedom from pain or struggle. Recovery is celebrating milestones. Recovery is self-defined.

It is part of an individual’s journey whether measurable or not, that keeps an individual motivated and inspired to make changes. Milestones in recovery are what define the journey as real and honest for individuals. It’s those changes that make the difference between living life or not.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

What are milestones you have observed through your own recovery journey?

Amy Klimek photoAbout the Author: As the Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Amy facilitates supervision for Eating Disorder Specialists, offers support through training to TK staff, and provides education on eating disorders to the community.

Amy started at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist. As such, she provided support at the milieu level for all residents. She transitioned to Eating Disorder Specialist in 2012, supporting healing in present moment experiences for residents who struggled with eating disorders and body image. Amy earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from the University of Illinois. She was awarded a Master’s Degree in Counseling specializing in both community and school counseling from Lewis University.


[1]: Eating Disorders Coalition. (2016). Facts About Eating Disorders: What The Research Shows.

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 4, 2017
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