What Does it Take to Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia & BED

Woman working on Long-Lasting Recovery from Anorexia

Recovering from an eating disorder takes many things. Often identifying triggers, stressors, and unhealthy behaviors is a significant part of the therapeutic process.

Recovery is Broad

First, there is physical recovery where it is normalization of the physical consequences of the eating disorder [1]. For those with anorexia, it is about medical stabilization and weight restoration.  For bulimia nervosa, it is about reversing the effects of binging and purging and ceasing those behaviors. For binge eating, it is about reducing the number of binges and working to reverse medical issues.

Secondly, there is behavioral recovery which is about reducing the symptoms of the eating disorder. It can be addressing the restriction or over-exercise in anorexia or the minimizing of binging behaviors of the bulimia and ending the overeating symptoms accompanied by binge eating.

Third, the psychological recovery is considered the most difficult. It is about identifying and addressing the emotional issues that accompany the eating disorder and working through body image distress, perfectionism, rigidity and rules around food, and any other co-occurring mood disorders.

Having a positive support system consisting of people, mostly family, and friends, that support your recovery process and can help in various areas of the recovery process [1].

You may have a loved one who can sit with you at meals, and another who can support you with grocery shopping. A support system can also provide a healthy outlet to talk about fears, areas of concern, and it can help you build a life outside of your eating disorder.

Reevaluating your body image is a major point that needs to be addressed in the eating disorder recovery process, regardless of the type of eating disorder you have.

Woman smiling about recovery after treatmentAddressing your body image perceptions and thoughts is about learning how to accept your body and change the way you think about your body.

It is about changing core beliefs about yourself and what you have learned, and choosing what you will continue to believe and choosing what will be changed.

Individuals, between 20-30%, drop out of treatment too soon and even ones who do stay with treatment encounter lapses and slips which can leave an individual discouraged [2].

Knowing and accepting that eating disorder treatment is a difficult and long process is essential. It is not a quick fix. It takes working every day and committing to practicing the skills you learned in recovery.

Small behavior and thought changes will lead to lasting success. It is working your treatment program by attending therapy, nutritional appointments, medical consultations, and group therapy consistently. Support groups can help prevent isolation and help you engage with others who struggle with similar issues.

Recovery is different for each individual, but eating disorder recovery includes maintaining normal or near-normal weight, eating a variety of foods, and eliminating the fear of foods.

Ceasing eating disorder behaviors is also another part of the recovery process. It requires the ending of binging and purging behaviors, fasting or restricting, overexercising and obsessing about food.

Other aspects of recovery include establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with others, returning to age-appropriate developments, and using healthy problem-solving and coping skills, letting go of perfectionistic tendencies, rigid behaviors, and unrealistic beliefs.

Recovery also includes individual, family, and group counseling to address any issues that pertain or maintain the eating disorder. Nutritional counseling is used to help debunk food myths, create a healthy meal plan, and re-regulate eating.

Tools to Help With Recovery

Woman in the grass

Recovery happens outside of the therapeutic setting, so having coping skills to help deal with life is essential. Use a journal to track your thoughts and feelings about your recovery.

It can be extremely helpful, and it can be a safe place where it is alright to feel, vent, share and express your thoughts, emotions, and situations that make it hard to cope.

Engaging in body positive exercise, such as yoga, hiking, gentle walking are ideal ways to connect with the movement of your body and with yourself without relying on eating disorder behaviors. Take a photography class or a crafting class.

Work on learning who and what you are outside of your eating disorder. This can be a key element in your recovery process.

The eating disorder’s job is to keep you down and constantly lie to you about who you are and what you are. It keeps you in your mind continually thinking about the disorder.

Recovery means working towards a healthy ‘you’ and not towards a lie of who you are.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/recovery
[2] Treatment and recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.anred.com/tx.html
[3] Recovery Information. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/recovery-information

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.

Published on December 26, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 26, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com