Recovered. Not perpetually “in recovery.” Not forever “recovering.”

I believe that full recovery is possible for every person who is currently suffering from or in recover from anorexia. Here’s my two cents on why I don’t thing that the the “in recovery,” or “remission” rhetoric is particularly helpful.

I’m sometimes glad I didn’t read any recovery blogs before I started my own recovery. I didn’t have a head full of other people’s opinions when I began to refeed myself. (Had I done that, I would have undoubtedly been led to believe that the feast eating I did in recovery was wrong. This really scares me, as I believe this feast eating was fundamental to my recovery process) I would have probably read people saying that I would be “in recovery” my entire life. And if that had been the case, I’m not sure I would have bothered going through the recovery process. I mean its not very inspiring, is it? To consider that you’d be in recovery forever? Sounds like an eternity of hard work and anxiety.

To me, “full recovery” means that all your anorexia goes away. It gets easy and enjoyable to eat, and to sustain your natural, unsuppressed bodyweight. You can eat without the slew of negative emotions and anxiety. The fears dissipate. Full recovery is life without anorexia in your head. If it were anything less, what would be the point in all that hard work to get there?

I have to admit that until recently I used to throw the word “remission” around. I guess I hadn’t really thought about it that deeply. I looked it up in the dictionary a moment ago, and it means “a temporary recovery.” Well, I certainly don’t consider my recovery as temporary. How can it be temporary when I have returned fully to the way I was before anorexia? This is the way I was before, and it is the way I am now. Anorexia was the anomaly, but the term remission seems to imply that this is the other way around. That you will be forever fighting the desire to restrict. Nope, I have no desire to restrict now, or move compulsively.

The thing is that if you have the genetic predisposition for an eating disorder, that should you go into energy deficit, even years after recovery, you’ll likely trigger the anorexia mindset again. But it’s not like you have no control over it. You do. It’s actually as “easy” as never allowing yourself to go into energy deficit again. If you stay on top of that, you’ll never have anorexia again. Cool! Don’t get complacent, ever … and you will be okay.

Being human is risky. If you break your leg and it heals there is no guarantee that you won’t break it again. You can do your best to be careful, but health it not a guarantee. I still don’t think this is any reason to say that full recovery from anorexia isn’t possible. That’s not to say I ever take my recovery for granted. But I think the risk of me developing anorexia again is probably around the same as the risk of me winning the lottery (which I don’t play).

I also think that the term “relapse” is often problematic. Just because a person put on some weight doesn’t mean that they reached full recovery. As full recovery is evident in a person’s long-term mental state shifts — not just their body size. So all too often people who are in “relapse” are not really in relapse, as they never actually reached full recovery in the first please. You cannot judge the state of a person’s recovery from the outside.

I know plenty of people who have been “weight restored” and better off mentally for years, but not fully recovered. If you are almost all better, but not all the way, there is still work for you to do. Don’t get lulled into the “this is good enough” mentality as it will cheat you out of what you can attain. And don’t fear judgement for asking for more help, even if you’ve been supposedly fully recovered for years already. Your recovery process is your own. You deserve the fully recovered version of life, and it is never too late to decide to get all the way there. Remember that nobody on the outside (doctor, therapist, parent, spouse) gets to decide if you are fully recovered or not. Only you really know the true mental state that you are living in.

I had anorexia for twelve years, (probably longer if you consider that neither the development of anorexia, nor the recovery process is like flicking a switch). I have known people recover fully after having anorexia for much longer than this also. So don’t start that whole “I’m too sick to recover,” or “It’s been too long,” story. I believe that full recovery is available to all. So maybe traditional treatment didn’t work for you. That’s is no reason to write yourself off. The human brain is neuroplastic. It can learn and unlearn things that seem set in stone. That is true for your brain as much as it is for mine. You may have to think out of the box a little, and you may have to work out what your unique recovery process will look like. But you are a smart person, and I know that you can do that.

I’m not in remission. I am fully recovered. I’m not in recovery anymore. As I sustained nutritional rehabilitation, my mental state returned to that which it was before anorexia triggered and it has stayed there in the years since. In fact, in order to “trigger proof” myself, I needed to make myself even less affected by diet talk and our thin obsessed culture than your average Joe or Joanna does. For that reason, I’m less likely to restrict food, go on a diet, over exercise, or do any more of these silly things that lead to energy deficit than anyone else.

I want you to know that full recovery means you get out of this. The urges to count calories, or restrict, or exercise, or move all the time, or eat orthorexically, or plan all your meals meticulously, or say no to that dinner invite because you don’t know what people will be serving … full recovery means that is all gone. If you can remember yourself before anorexia, and your attitude to food and exercise before you got sick, then that is the person that full recovery should uncover again. If you were too young at onset, and you cannot remember yourself without anorexia, then imagine a life of freedom from this. That is what full recovery should look like. Do not settle for anything less.

Of course getting there is hard work. But it is so very worth it. Every bite you take and every doubting thought you ignore will be worth it. And yeah, recovery is fucking hard. But let’s face it, sustaining anorexia isn’t exactly a breeze, is it?

I know plenty of people who have made full, utter, total, recovery from anorexia. Many of whom had anorexia for a long time. You are capable of this too. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t settle for anything less than complete recovery. Life is so worth that.

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What do you think?

  1. Could not agree with this more! I feel like I could’ve written this myself. Of course not from the standpoint of experiencing personally but watching as a mother supporting a loved one on this journey.

    I have hated the word “remission” since the first time I ever heard it used in the context of eating disorders. I have been very vocal about it. I don’t like the word remission. That word to me discourages and destroys hope. It sounds temporary, not permanent. It eliminates the expectation that you can be recoverED.

    I understand that it’s important people have the clarity that often times it may not be the end of their journey, but I believe that often times this is a result of not being solidly in “recovered” to begin with. But stating upfront that your best hope is “remission” does not sound like a destination or motivation to me.

    And with that being said it’s important to understand that “recovered”, and as part of their recovery, there is no room for complacency. They must be 1000% diligent. There has to be care given and caution taken “to not break leg again”. And obviously if they are introducing negative energy balance too much stress, too much anxiety into the situation it can bring back the beast. That something that’s important for them to understand. But if the best hope and motivator is remission, will they try as hard? Will they do everything possible to accomplish true recovery or will they settle because they don’t think for recoverED is possible?

    I also do not believe that weight restored is the only piece for recovered. I see many who are fully weight restored, plus a big buffer, that are still very mentally incapacitated. they do not have complete healing of physical and mental state.

    There are many that state their loved ones are recovered, but yet their description does not equal recoverED in my opinion. There are still many food rules, rituals, limited and restrictive diets, etc. This is functional.

    Are they out living life? Are they able to do life? Are they out there earning their own living, contributing to society, being responsible for themselves, carrying all the adult responsibilities, facing life challenges and stressors and able to navigate them WITHOUT USING THE EATING DISORDER as a coping mechanism to do so? Or are they living life to try to avoid life, the stressors the challenges? Are we as parents doing anything to protect them or buffer them from life? Because we know they will use the eating disorder when faced with challenges or we feel they are too fragile. This is not recovered in my opinion. (of course I’m referring to those of adult age)

    I personally know several that have struggled with an eating disorder over 50 years but are now solidly standing in RecoverED. Yes they were doing life, had jobs, had stress, had children, but they did it all with the support of their best friend, the eating disorder.

  2. Tabitha, is there any way I can email you or something? I have a couple of questions that are really bugging me at the moment, and I just really need some answers, answers that I think you can give me.

  3. Exactly!!! I don’t want to be ‘in recovery’ for the rest of my life, I want to be able to live completely free of anorexia!
    I’m not quite there yet- I’m weight restored, and eat without restriction and don’t do a whole lot of exercise, and most of the time I can eat and rest without any dramas, but every little while or so, I find myself choosing my meals based on what I had eaten that day and not eating snacks- and when I realise that and go to eat, say, pizza for dinner instead of plain grilled fish and salad, I freak out and I literally have to eat while shaking and crying. But once I’ve finished the meal, I don’t have any further urges to restrict or purge. Weird!
    Sometimes I lose hope and don’t believe that I will ever be fully recovered, but it is people like you that give me that hope and that drive to recover, and for that I can never thank you enough.
    I’ve just got a question for you, Tabitha; the ‘anorexia behaviour’ that gets me the most and that I still haven’t been able to stop doing is exercising and not letting myself rest when I’m sick. I’ll be exhausted and probably feeling like complete crap, but I can’t make myself rest. I can’t not exercise when I’m sick.
    I think this stems from, when I was underweight, I would (understandably) get sick a lot. I had this weird notion in my head that resting when I was sick was a sort of wasted opportunity; I felt that I had to exercise even more than I already was, even if I had something serious like influenza, because I had this idea that I would burn more calories because my body was using energy to fight off the sickness, and so I felt that I had to ‘take advantage’ of that and exercise more as an opportunity to burn more calories.
    The habit has stuck, and I still can’t bring myself to rest when I’m sick. Is this normal for people with anorexia? I know the only way I’ll be able to stop is like how I stopped lower-level movement- gritting my teeth and forcing myself to just stay still- but it’s harder than I could ever have imagined to do something as simple as stay in bed when I’m sick.
    I’ve heard of people with anorexia doing some pretty weird stuff, but this is just completely fucked up. I’m actually kind of embarrassed about it. From the outside, you would have no idea that I ever had anorexia, but resting is so difficult for me???? I don’t understand it!