The One Day at a Time Mentality in Recovery from Bulimia

Asian American woman holding a flower

If you’re in recovery from bulimia, you’ve probably found out by now that some days can be hard. Maybe you’ve even been tempted to throw in the towel and give up once or twice. If that’s where you are right now, first know you’re not alone. Second, know that the journey to recovery is a one-day-at-a-time process, full of many twists and turns.

So if you’ve had a few rough days or simply want extra motivation to help you stay strong on the journey ahead, here are three practical ways you can implement the wisdom of one day at a time in recovery from bulimia, plus a quick look at why it’s so important to take bulimia recovery just one day at a time.

One Day at a Time Makes Bulimia Recovery Possible

“Setting the bar too high can serve to de-motivate and discourage you from ever getting started,” writes Sonia Thompson, author, speaker, and CEO of Thompson Media Group, in an Inc. article [1]. Though Thompson is specifically addressing goals in business, the same principle is true in bulimia recovery. When you approach recovery with only a gigantic end-goal in mind (e.g., I will never binge or purge again, I’ll only eat healthy foods from now on, etc.), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated before you even start.

Think of it this way, approaching recovery with only a big-picture goal in sight is like trying to reach the top of Mt. Everest in a single, giant leap. Most of us would take one look at the mountain, realize how impossible and completely out of reach our goal is, and walk away before even trying.

Approaching recovery with a one-day-at-a-time mindset, on the other hand, is like hiking up a mountain with all the necessary supplies you need, giving yourself all the time you need to complete the journey, and taking along an experienced guide to make sure you keep going.

Though the journey still requires hard work, patience, and determination, it now seems much more doable. “By taking small steps—not large leaps that couldn’t be sustained—I succeeded,” writes Iris Ruth Pastor, an author and speaker who struggled with bulimia for 46 years, in a National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) article [2].

So instead of trying to reach the top (recovery) in a single leap, focus only on one or two small goals each day (e.g., I will eat three nourishing meals today and I will not purge). In this way, you’ll not only see that recovery is possible for YOU, but you’ll also be able to embrace each day as a new opportunity to get back up and pursue your small recovery goals.

One Day at a Time Keeps You On Track

Girl thinking about her goals for the day in Bulimia RecoverySlip-ups and brief relapses are a common part of the recovery process. In fact, research shows that among individuals successfully treated for bulimia nervosa, between 31 and 44 percent experienced a relapse during the first two years of recovery [3].

Unfortunately, many people suffering from bulimia approach recovery with an all-or-nothing attitude, believing a slip-up or relapse into old thought patterns or behaviors means they’ve failed recovery and 1) have to start all the way back at the beginning or 2) recovery just isn’t possible for them, and they decide to give up.

But by letting go of the all-or-nothing approach, and instead, embracing a one-day-at-a-time mentality, you’ll learn to let go of yesterday (with all its mistakes) and focus each day on the new possibilities before you. This is especially helpful if you engage in a binge episode. While you might be tempted to purge or restrict the next day, research shows purging and restricting caloric intake perpetuates the binge-purge cycle and sets you up for a future binge [4].

So even if you binged last night or every night this week, let go of all that came before and remember that today (and every day) is a new, blank slate. You can choose recovery, and you can decide to nurture and heal your body today, no matter what happened yesterday.

Tips to Help You Take Bulimia Recovery One Day at a Time

If you or a loved one are recovering from bulimia, here are three tips to help you embrace the wisdom of one day at a time in recovery from bulimia.

Stick To Your Nutrition Plan, No Matter What

As mentioned before, purging, dieting, and restricting your food intake sets you up for a later binge-purge episode, so no matter what or how much you may have eaten yesterday, eat your regular three meals a day and stick to the nutrition plan outlined by your treatment team.

Set Small, Daily Goals

Each day, focus on one small recovery goal. When you accomplish your goal that day, acknowledge the win! This might be as simple as eating breakfast in the morning or eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.

<Again, make sure the goal is small (so it’s not overwhelming), definable (so you know when you’ve completed it), and only applies to one single day (you can always make it your goal again for tomorrow, but for now, just focus on today).

Practice Mindfulness

During recovery, it’s easy to get caught up in thoughts about food, eating, and body image. To quiet racing thoughts, stay grounded in the present moment, and focus on your daily recovery goals, start implementing mindfulness techniques.

  • Journal every morning: List the reasons why you want to recover, jot down your thoughts and feelings, and write out your goal for the day.
  • Practice deep breathing: This is especially helpful for moments when your mind feels like it’s spinning out of control.
  • Listen to guided meditations: Meditating for 5 or 10 minutes is not only a great way to start the day, but also can be helpful before mealtimes, after a stressful day at work, or during a particularly challenging day of recovery.
  • Move your body: Take a daily walk outside, do a yoga flow, or move in any other way that helps clear your mind. Just make sure it’s approved by your treatment team.

Learning to take recovery one day at a time sets you free from unnecessary (and impossible) expectations, makes the healing process much less overwhelming, and motivates you to get back up and keep going even on the hard days.


[1] Thompson, S. (2017, January 30). Want to Be Successful? Start Setting Embarrassingly Small Goals.

[2] My 46-Year Struggle with Bulimia: How I Finally Found Recovery. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, April 10).

[3] Lauren Muhlheim, P. D. Relapses in Bulimia Recovery. Verywell Mind.

[4] Susan Cowden, M. S. (2020, May 19). Understanding the Binge-Purge Cycle in Bulimia. Verywell Mind.

About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.

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 September 28, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on September 28, 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.