What recovery is. And what it’s not.

by Elizabeth on September 18, 2013

Recovery. It’s such a loaded word. I feel like it implies that there are two distinct places to be? either you’re in recovery or you aren’t. When I used to think about recovery it was all black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. I’ve shifted my thinking while on this journey and I now don’t really like the word at all anymore because I feel it can be very misleading. Sure, I think people can be symptom free for years but if they still have the obsessive thinking or become compulsive in other areas, is that truly the vital life one is striving for when moving away from an eating disorder? I also think that you can become symptom and thought free for the most part, but I also think it’s naive to think something like an eating disorder would never creep back into your life if you don’t keep tabs on it. Similarly to being an alcoholic, it’s something you remain mindful about for the rest of your life.

Another common belief people have is that x + y = z. You go to treatment, you eat, you learn new ways of thinking and you’re done! People assume since I’ve been in treatment for three years I am “there”. First of all, on average it takes seven years to fully “recover.” And even then, I think we have to let go of this false notion that you arrive at a blissful nirvana and you live the rest of your life without a care in the eating disordered world. There will ALWAYS be struggles and life stuff to improve on. That’s basically the definition of being human!

It was a rude awakening to learn that working towards becoming healthier didn’t take away my disordered thoughts. I’m working my butt off to become a healthier version of me and my old thinking patterns are still there to some extent? I think it’s important to remember how much brain chemistry and neurochemical habit we’ve built around certain behaviors. You can’t will that away in a few months or even a year. You CAN, however, implement new practices to build new neurochemical pathways.

The good news is, there is SO MUCH HOPE!!! Trust me when I tell you, I never saw myself “recovering.” I didn’t want to because it was scary as hell. But if I can begin to make changes, ANYONE can. I know you probably hear that often, but you have to trust me. The good news is, once you get even a little taste of the feeling that comes with integrity after doing something that’s in line with who you really are, you want more. Whether that’s eating more, exercising less, being more engaged socially, or setting boundaries in relationships, healthy behaviors reinforce the positive neurochemistry. It makes sitting with the discomfort of tempting thoughts tolerable. You know there’s something better out there in life and you can handle the present with integrity and not have to escape. Not always and not perfectly, but you’re making progress.

For me “recovery” is:

1. Doing the next right thing.

2. Being aware of where I really am behavior wise and having a plan on how to improve.

3. Giving myself grace. Knowing that if I slip, it’s ok. I’m not going to be perfect but that I have a support system for that very reason. Stopping things before they get worse.

4. Letting go of this idea that one day I will “get there” and know that life will continue to present struggles until it’s over. I can choose how I handle my struggles and rely on a strength that’s greater than me to guide me.

So those are my thoughts in a nutshell. Thank goodness I only give you the edited version right? ;-) Just kidding. Have a great Wednesday!


1. What has recovery meant for you?

2. What’s an area you are working to make progress in, learn more about, or grow personally in?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kira @ cyclingthrough.com September 18, 2013 at 5:52 am

Wow, this is a beautiful post. It’s well written and honest and hopeful. Another reason why I stop by here everyday!!!

I’m learning more about hope and patience. This journey through infertility is gruelling, gut-wrenching, and at times, really heartbreaking. But I don’t ever want to lose hope or become pessimistic before even trying something.
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2 Ashley @ Eat Run Live Happy September 18, 2013 at 5:58 am

This was wonderful. I think a lot of people don’t get that recovery is an on going process. I had an ed for 10 years. “Recovered” but it’s not as simple as everything going away. Anxiousness of feeling bloated, good food/ bad food mentality, or maybe just a little stress eating from time to time. Recovery is hard, and getting over all the emotions are hard. But it’s possible! It took me two years and I am FINALLY on the next step after recovery where my relationship with food is very good. Now, I do have my times where I’m emotional still but those days are getting few and far between. It’s all about emotions.


3 Jill C. September 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

Lovely post! I’m not recovering, per se, from anything. However, I have changed the way I look at food and the way I interact with it. I’m overweight, and before I started my weight loss journey I was a binge eater, and mostly at night. I took a good look at why I was doing these harmful things to my body and began to readjust myself. I’ve lost about 30lbs now and have been running for over a year. I see food as fuel now, though I still treat myself when I feel I need/deserve it. Thanks for being so open about your journey. It’s truly inspiring :)
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4 Sarah @pickyrunner September 18, 2013 at 8:02 am

You took the words right out of my mouth. I was thinking about this very idea on my commute this morning. I go through waves where I consider myself “recovered” but in reality, I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever feel like I’m fully over. You’re right in that it isn’t black and white. I have been fully weight restored for a few years now and my actions don’t match my thoughts but it doesn’t mean the disordered tendencies are gone. They are very much still present and I’m constantly a work in progress. All we can do is learn to deal with them in healthier ways. I’m glad you brought this topic up, I feel like it’s something people don’t like to talk about!


5 Amanda @ .running with spoons. September 18, 2013 at 8:03 am

Amazing post, lady. I remember I couldn’t believe it when someone first told me that it takes 5+ years to recover from an eating disorder… but after going through it myself? Yeaaaah that sounds about right. It’s a long and difficult journey, and definitely not an issues of black and white. I honestly have no idea how to define recovery, and I’m starting to believe that there really is no definition for it… As long as we’re becoming freer, healthier, and happier, we’re on the right track… and that progress should be celebrated no matter what.
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6 [email protected] September 18, 2013 at 8:27 am

Another great post and at the perfect time for me! Thank you!
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7 Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries September 18, 2013 at 8:37 am

You’re amazing girl. I’m really so proud of you. Keep up the great work. Currently I’m working on just balancing everything in life and recognizing what are the priorities… It’s tough sometimes, but I’m slowly but surely getting there.

P.S. I still never got an email from you. Not pushing you or anything, but didn’t want you to think I’m ignoring you if you tried again!
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8 Selena Brinegar September 18, 2013 at 8:57 am

Thank you for expressing your thoughts on this topic. I really appreciate you and your integrity! I couldn’t have said it better.


9 Stephanie September 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

This is such an amazing post. I’ve been struggling with an ED for about a year now and have recently begun the recovery process. But as you said, slip ups happen. They’ve been happening more recently the past couple of weeks for me because of stress in my personal life. Reading this post really helped me to realize that these slip ups are ok and are bound to happen. Its just like everything else in life, we can’t be perfect all of the time. Mistakes happen and the best thing to do is to acknowledge them and move on.


10 Rachel Rinderknecht September 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

I love this blog post! Thank you so much!


11 Miss Polkadot September 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for this amazing post! You sum up many of the thoughts and feeing that have been on my mind a lot lately. It’s relieving to hear your thoughts because I can get frustrated at how little progress I seem in certain periods of times. Thinking I should be recovered already because didn’t xyz take a lot less time to ‘get there’, too?
I feel like many people – unintentionally hurting you – assume you ‘should’ be recovered after a certain amount of time, therapy or a possible inpatient stay. If only it was that easy and if only there was one ‘magical’ cure to everybody’s ED.
For me, recovery has meant sticking with it even when times are tough. Falling, standing up again and never giving up. Appreciating the little things like letting go of calories counting for a day. Not exercising even when I feel I ‘should’. Celebrating these little steps and trusting that they will lead me – even if not to one without any struggles – to a better, happier life. That’s worth fighting for.
Once more: thank you! I needed the reassurance and the feeling of not being alone in this right now.


12 Liz @ The Girl on Fire Now September 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I’m learning to be more positive about my self image
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13 Nikki @ Will Run For Pizza September 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm

This is such a good post! You said it perfectly! I’ve experienced the same “recovering” experience with not just myself, but my hubby as well and this is so true. Another reason it’s SO important to KEEP supportive people in your life!
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14 Jacqueline September 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

“…once you get even a little taste of the feeling that comes with integrity after doing something that?s in line with who you really are, you want more.” Love this. I struggle with other things but this is still true (and eloquent). Thank you!


15 Caprene September 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

For me, my anorexia “ended” 20+ years ago, wow, I’m getting old. But it never actually left. When I was diagnosed with celiac last year, I pretty much stopped eating. Appetite gone, nothing sounded good. It wasn’t like the eating disorder of my gymnastics days, the reasons behind it, but my body started to react in similar fashion. Thankfully because of my previous experience and the memory of what it did to me, I started to recognize similar symptoms. As with my original, unintentional bout with anorexia, and the more recent not really recognizing what I was doing to myself – I am glad I was able to remember and change. It is still a struggle just because, also being a runner, celiac + running does not always equal a successful run with much energy, but I’m learning, and I know that I do not want to repeat history. Recovery is a continual process that, for me, shouldn’t end, but will always be the goal.
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16 HilJo September 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm

For me a lot of recovery has been keeping my body at a healthy weight. Getting up to a healthy bmi and keeping that weight on has really forced my mental/emotional/physical healing to take place because there us no other option. I refuse to fall back into those black days so I refuse to let myself lose weight. I also refuse to go through life guilty and self hating, so the only option has been self acceptance and learning to love my body.

Another thing I have almost managed to quit is comparing my size to my sister. The day that that horrible relationship damaging impulse is finally completely overwhelmed by my love of my sister will be a huge victory for me. More so than getting my period back of gaining the 30 lbs it took for me to be healthy physically. So that is what ultimate recovery will look like to me! I can 100% honestly say that I feel way more proud of my body now than I ever was of the underweight one I secretly idolized but felt guilty about and hid from anyone who would confront me. And I don’t miss lying.


17 Elizabeth September 20, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I had a wonderful instructor once in an addictions course that I took, who, like many others had a difficult time using the word recovery, and suggested to us, that instead it may be more helpful within our practice and life to use the word “rediscovery.” I love this and I feel that this word rediscovery speaks much more to the process! Thought you might also think so :)


18 Danica @ It's Progression September 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Gosh I love this post – and really needed to hear it after this weekend…I especially love #3…thank you so much for sharing! <3
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19 caitlin September 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm

this post is super inspiring in the sense that it is inspiring me to write my own post on what recovery means for me! but first i need to reflect on it. i know i’m not recovered, i know i’m not there yet. it’s very true that EDs are a form of addiction and one must ALWAYS be wary of the beginnings of that slippery slope. one must always be honest. i came clean to my therapist recently about a few purging incidents and she gave me a (not literal) slap in the face and told me that trading restriction for purging isn’t the answer. none of that is normal. i think that overall to me, recovery is normal eating and normal exercise. but every person is different so i have to consider MY normal. and perhaps that’s what i’ll explore in a post down the road. thank you for the inspiration!


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