Recovery from an eating disorder is doable.
Countless former patients, experts and professionals show that recovery is possible.
As a whole, recovery from an eating disorder is possible, offering hope and inspiration from which a will to recover can emerge. Recovery is a path of trial and error with all the ups and downs, including physical, mental, and social discomfort. Yet in the end, worth persisting for.
Below you will discover some critical insights about criteria for eating disorders and various components of an eating disorder recovery.
Table of Contents
- 1 Recovery from an eating disorder: Introduction
- 2 Recovering from an eating disorder is a path of trial and error
- 3 Components of an eating disorder recovery
- 3.1 Impact on gut and digestion
- 3.2 Effects on menstruation
- 3.3 Fatigue
- 3.4 Your environment
- 3.5 Fulfilled, satiated feeling (versus an empty stomach)
- 3.6 Bloated face and/or a bulging belly
- 3.7 Arguing with the scale
- 3.8 Sweating bouts
- 3.9 Being extremely hungry
- 3.10 Clothing that no longer fits
- 3.11 Mix of feelings
- 4 Standstill is also progress
- 5 Myth: You can’t recover from an eating disorder
- 6 Recovery from an eating disorder: Conclusion
Recovery from an eating disorder: Introduction
Recovering from an eating disorder is an ongoing process with no specific end goal. In other words, recovery is a lifelong challenge rather than an endpoint you work toward.
While walking the path of recovery, there is more involved than just eating normally and achieving a healthy weight.
In fact, you should also devote sufficient attention and energy to a healthy foundation that is strong and balanced. This balanced base has to do with, among other things:
- Learn to eat normally (i.e., learn to adopt an average eating pattern without guilt)
- Learning to think positively about your body (self-love and a positive body image are essential)
- Learning social skills that you lost during the eating disorder
- Learning to deal with your emotions (whether positive or negative)
- Physical recovery from the challenging period that demanded a lot from your body
- Building self-confidence (essential to feel good about yourself)
Are you recovering from an eating disorder? Then it is crucial to understand that an eating disorder is a cover for the underlying problems and/or fears.
When you address the eating disorder and learn who you really are and what you really stand for, you will no longer need the eating disorder.
So you should always address your eating disorder, including its causes and not only its symptoms.
Recovering from an eating disorder is a path of trial and error
Recovering from an eating disorder is a process of trial and error. It is a classic story of taking two steps forward and one step (or even two) back.
And occasionally, you’ll take a break during the recovery process, but that doesn’t mean you’re not doing anything or not enough. On the contrary, sometimes, taking a break from therapy is necessary to catch your breath and get some new energy.
Are you recovering from an eating disorder? Then learn to walk first instead of running and watch everything step by step. Finally, be forgiving and accept that sometimes life gets in the way of your dream time frame.
Accept that at certain times your body will likely demand a moment of reflection. And in itself, that is absolutely positive! Sometimes it takes a moment to go back to find the right path again.
This may take more time, but it is more sustainable and safer for your body. Without the necessary energy and mental drive, it is difficult to make an effort for an extended time.
Components of an eating disorder recovery
Life with an eating disorder is complex, cold, turbulent and lonely. And life toward eating disorder recovery is also far from easy.
It is precisely then that all the struggles implode, and the sometimes seemingly endless fight can completely exhaust you. It feels good to be battling this eating disorder, but it’s challenging and complicated.
A whole bunch of feelings is released, your body reacts to it, and your moods vary between hope and utter despair.
Many of the immediate consequences of recovering from an eating disorder are less visible to those around you because they occur on the mental and emotional levels. And that sometimes makes the struggle a little lonely…
Below we list some unpleasant parts of overcoming an eating disorder that many patients experience. In this way, you will discover that you are not alone and that you are not abnormal!
Impact on gut and digestion
No one sees how your intestines can run wild or, on the contrary, have terrible difficulty with a more significant amount of food.
Your bowels are making noise all day long, the enormous flatulence, hugely painful cramps, or simply being unable to go to the toilet because you suffer from intractable constipation.
You should just accept these shameful ailments without thinking much about them. It is part of the recovery process. You need to persevere, and you just need to make the most of it.
Over time, your digestive system has adapted, and your bowels will perform much better.
Effects on menstruation
As a result of your eating disorder, your period may be temporarily off. During recovery, however, your period may slowly return.
However, the fact that you have no idea when it will return is very annoying and makes you insecure.
For example, during the recovery period, you may experience all sorts of menstrual symptoms such as lower back pain, fatigue, be weepy and/or emotional for a few days, be cranky, have hormonal pimples, etc. while you otherwise wait for menstruation to return.
The uncertainty, complaints, and other feelings are present. Still, at the same time, it is not really a subject that one talks about easily.
But in this one, you know that an eating disorder can disrupt your menstruation. During the recovery period, things usually return to normal, even if it takes some patience.
You may be exhausted due to insufficient nutrition and poor self-care during your eating disorder. But did you know that you can also become completely wiped out while recovering?
This is because recovering from an eating disorder takes so much energy. Your body is in a supreme state of survival to get everything functioning correctly again.
Organs will start working harder, your muscles will build up again, your fitness will improve, and so on.
If you are recovering from an eating disorder and eating better, this does not automatically translate into more energy; just give it time.
Many people around you will see your path toward full recovery from your eating disorder as uncomfortable.
And this shows how much of a taboo exists about mental health problems. Physical problems are usually more accepted.
This is unfortunate because, during the recovery phase of an eating disorder, it can be really encouraging to have someone just ask you if you are doing a little better.
Some people just like to have it all resolved… Without having to ask questions about your eating disorder.
Fulfilled, satiated feeling (versus an empty stomach)
Recovering from an eating disorder usually means starting to eat better and healthier.
An empty stomach is a stomach that is in your control, and it can feel safe.
When you recover and start eating more again, you can get such a nasty feeling of satisfaction. You’re not used to that satiated feeling anymore and feel bloated and fat.
You feel bloated, guilty, and unsuccessful. The only thing that helps against this is compensating. At least, that feeling may creep up on you during the recovery period.
That unpleasant, full, satiated feeling is hard to explain. Still, it gnaws at you tremendously and creates anxiety and an insecure feeling during the critical recovery period.
The longer you eat better, the less that thick, bloated feeling will play a role during your recovery. Remember that your body is getting used to more food again, and psychologically this is becoming more normal as well. So it’s really a matter of perseverance.
Bloated face and/or a bulging belly
Due to body changes and uneven way of gaining weight (after anorexia nervosa) during a recovery period, you may feel that you suddenly are putting on too much weight.
Indeed, through the months you struggled with anorexia nervosa, you got used to your narrower face.
And now that you’re recovering and gaining weight back, you can see that your face is getting a little bulkier.
Try to ignore those thoughts of a too-round head and focus on the parts of yourself that you like well enough. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.
This is also the case when it comes to suddenly having a bulging belly. You may experience a thicker girth during the recovery period. But your abdomen can also be a bit swollen because your bowels are suddenly working harder, and it’s a bit uncomfortable.
Arguing with the scale
When you are not actually recovering yet and thus still struggling with an eating disorder, you tend to stay at your “safe” weight, or you may even lose some more.
But the moment you are recovering, you may (if underweight) start to gain weight slowly or rapidly. This can bring a lot of panic, fear and anger.
So try to weigh yourself at most once a week and stay calm when reading the numbers. The number goes up, but at the same time, it also evokes fear and panic (that’s the eating disorder).
And, of course, that inner panic and stress caused by the scale is something few people see.
Because once you get off that scale, life just goes on. The day just takes off, and you must pick up the thread against all the panic and fear and fight vigorously.
While recovering from an eating disorder, you may suffer from massive sweating attacks.
You may wake up soaking wet at night or in the morning. And you can also suffer from overheating and heavy sweating during the day.
Sweating binges are a common occurrence during recovery from an eating disorder.
Feeling very hot regularly and sweating a lot, especially at night, is a more common symptom in people with eating disorders who are starting to eat better again.
As a result, it is not unusual for them to wake up at night bathed in sweat.
This phenomenon is supported by several studies and shows that the thermal effect of food in anorexics while increasing dietary intake is twice as high as in people of average weight.
Especially in the initial period of eating more and better, this effect can be considerable. Therefore, it is customary to be very hot and sweat at night regularly.
Being extremely hungry
If you start eating better during the recovery period, a form of extreme hunger may develop.
You then get the urge to eat anything you can find. This usually feels terrible, and it can make you highly anxious because you’re afraid that you will not be able to stop once you start eating.
Soon it reminds you of your binge eating days of old. However, extreme hunger appears to be expected during recovery from an eating disorder. Unfortunately, this is rarely discussed due to feeling ashamed.
Extreme hunger is one of the most anxiety-provoking symptoms during recovery.
During extreme hunger, you want to eat many times more than what you need in calories daily. This can be as high as 7,000 or even 11,000 calories per day.
This hunger creates a lot of panic and anxiety. It causes the development of eating disordered thoughts and the urge to completely put the brakes on eating.
But beware because the restriction is actually the enemy in most cases. So even when you have given in to extreme hunger, the trick is to simply pick up your new eating pattern after this.
Clothing that no longer fits
While recovering from an eating disorder, your body may change.
As a result, the clothes you used to wear may suddenly no longer fit.
Clothes become uncomfortable; they are too tight and cut into your skin. This can create a very unpleasant feeling.
Allow yourself to buy new clothes that fit you better.
Mix of feelings
The feelings that come back during your recovery don’t always make life pleasant.
Feelings of fear, sadness and distrust often resurface, and this is what you need to deal with again.
It is imperative at this stage to start expressing all those feelings and not to run away from them again. Because otherwise, you’ll end up in the negative cycle of the eating disorder that can last indefinitely.
Not only do fear, distrust and sadness surface during recovery, but also feelings of irritation are sometimes more prevalent.
You often don’t even know why you feel this way or are extremely irritable. Persistence and not giving up is the message.
Standstill is also progress
What makes recovery from an eating disorder really difficult is when you and those around you expect the road to recovery to be smooth and in one straight line.
And when you think, hope or expect that there should be no rest, no falling back, and no stopping along the way.
In other words, recovering from an eating disorder becomes very difficult when relapse or a break is considered a failure.
But taking a break or falling back is not the end of the world. You are not suddenly back to square one. The recovery process continues. Indeed, this recovery process would not be so instructive without these breaks and setbacks.
Myth: You can’t recover from an eating disorder
A big misconception is that you cannot heal from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder or Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).
Curing an eating disorder is indeed possible. And those who do not believe in recovery simply cannot recover optimally.
And no research shows that an eating disorder is chronic, untreatable, hopeless, overly complex, or genetic.
However, offering hope (in the form of Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-E)) has provided better treatment outcomes.
Therefore, the message that you can recover from an eating disorder is critical and factual!
- Fairburn, et al., Transdiagnostic Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Patients With Eating Disorders: A Two-Site Trial With 60-Week Follow-Up, American Journal of Psychiatry, 2009
- Fairburn, et al., A transdiagnostic comparison of enhanced cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT-E) and interpersonal psychotherapy in the treatment of eating disorders, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 2015
Recovery from an eating disorder: Conclusion
Recovering from an eating disorder is a process of trial and error and highs and lows.
No matter how you spin it, recovering from an eating disorder is no walk in the park.
It’s challenging, complicated, and sometimes seems endless. Still, it does eventually get you somewhere – unlike an eating disorder.
In addition to the above heavy parts of eating disorder recovery, there are many more.
Don’t hesitate to talk to a confidant about the things you find challenging during your recovery. Maybe it will clear some air and offer some recognition. Just hang in there because you are on the right track!