Two Steps Forward & One Step Back: Honoring Progress, Not Perfection, in BED Recovery

Girl thinking about her goals for the day in Bulimia Recovery

Healing is not linear. This means recovering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is less like a straight line and more like a spiral. You can move up and down a spiral. It is typical for people in recovery to make progress and then have a bit of a setback [1]. 

This can be discouraging for people in BED recovery, especially for people with perfectionistic tendencies. It can feel like any setback or relapse means that there hasn’t been any progress made at all. 

Binge Eating Disorder Relapse

This isn’t true. It’s important to honor and celebrate the progress you have made. Everyone’s definition of recovery is different. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for Binge Eating Disorder recovery. Recovering from BED isn’t as simple as quitting binge behavior. While this is certainly one part of recovery, for many people, the healing process isn’t as black-and-white. 

Recovery often includes a few other things, such as learning to deal with difficult emotions, learning how to properly feed yourself, or improving body image [1]. Eating disorder recovery is not just about changing behaviors because there is often an emotional piece that needs to be resolved [1]. 

When we say there’s an emotional piece to an eating disorder, this means the individual is using the disordered behaviors to cope with upsetting feelings or unresolved issues [1]. For example, if someone feels really sad, they may cope with it by binging. For this person, learning how to tolerate and cope with hard feelings is important. 

Recovery Involves Changes

Given that recovery involves making changes in the way someone deals with their feelings, thinks about their body, or feeds themselves, it makes sense that it’s going to be trial and error sometimes. This is especially true since these are behaviors that have likely become habitual. 

Woman after having found Binge Eating Disorder recoveryAs humans, it’s hard to change most things about ourselves. Especially things that are habitual, compulsive, or feel beneficial. This is why even the littlest amount of progress should be celebrated. 

If you’re feeling discouraged, think about all the different aspects of your recovery and pick out what is improving. For example, let’s say someone is working on improving body-image and stopping binge behavior. 

Maybe they binge, but on the same day, they were able to wear something that used to make them feel self-conscious. There is still progress happening in this scenario that should be celebrated. 

It’s easier to clearly see where you’re making progress if you’re thinking about things rationally. When we’re upset, we tend to think with our emotions. We might then minimize our progress or completely discount all the positives. 

It can be helpful to get someone else’s feedback when you’re feeling like this. Choose someone you trust to be compassionate and honest with you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, dietitian, or therapist, it can be helpful to have a reliable person reflect your progress. 

Also, be aware of double standards. We tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others. Think about if you would judge someone else as harshly. If the answer is no, think about what you would say to a friend in a similar situation. 

Show yourself some compassion by using these affirmations for yourself. Giving yourself compassion can help you through setbacks and can help you move forward with understanding and kindness towards yourself [2]. 

Mistakes are part of Binge Eating Disorder recovery because, in some ways, recovery is a learning process. If you take a step back, you can use that as an opportunity to learn. Being able to understand what led to engaging in eating disorder behaviors can help you cope ahead in the future to prevent future relapse. 

Mistakes do not cancel out all the progress you’ve made. Again, healing isn’t linear. If you get off track, you can get right back on. You’ve got this. 


[1] Costin, C. & Schubert-Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.  

[2] Saffi Biasetti, A. (2018). Befriending your body. Shambhala Boulder. 

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

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 26, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 26, 2021, 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.