What is Recovery?

Lindsey Herzog MSW, LCSW

Assistant Clinical Director/Therapist

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Despite this, many people are anxious and resistant to getting help and/or to coming in to treatment for their eating disorder. The treatment and recovery process is long and difficult for most. During this time, many people ask themselves “what is recovery,” “what does recovery look like,” and “can I achieve recovery or will I be forced to hold on to my eating disorder?”

The reality is there is no defined or “right” way to view recovery from an eating disorder. Recovery looks different and means different things to each person. Often times, people view recovery on a continuum. That is, some people view themselves to be in recovery if they are refraining from active eating disorder behaviors such as bingeing, purging, compulsive exercise, and food restriction but still struggle greatly with ED thoughts. Other people view themselves to be in recovery only if they are able to refrain from ED behaviors and report an absence of ED thoughts and beliefs. Often times individuals work with a therapist, registered dietitian, and a psychiatrist to help them reach a level of sustainable recovery. Regardless of their time in recovery, some people choose to say they are “recovering” instead of saying they are “recovered.”

In order to assess where one is at in the recovery process, ask yourself the following questions: have I mastered the Stages of Change in the major areas of my eating disorder? The Stages of Change include: Pre-Contemplation: you do not believe you have a problem; Contemplation: you recognize you have a problem but you are not confident in your ability to change; Preparation: you have decided that you want to try to change and are willing to explore alternatives. You decide on a course of action; Action: you decided on treatment as your course of action and are fully committed to it despite the discomfort it likely will elicit for you; Maintenance: you completed treatment and are prepared to deal with times when urges arise; Termination: you have made sufficient gains to be completely confident in your ability to maintain the changes despite urges. Despite experiencing urges, you still make recovery choices, and use adaptive coping skills. In order to further assess for recovery, evaluate if you have the coping skills (mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness), tools, and support necessary to maintain change. Ask yourself if you are aware of your triggers and if you have a relapse prevention plan in place should you start to struggle. Finally, ask yourself, (and honestly assess) if you would be willing to resume treatment in the future if indicated/needed.

Recovery comes in many different shapes and forms and is different for everyone. Although attaining recovery is difficult, it is possible with the right tools, knowledge, and determination.

Comments off of Recovered versus Recovering by Julie Holland Faylor, MHS, CEDS.