12 Tips for Eating Disorder Recovery

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Recovering from an eating disorder can be challenging. Treatments for eating disorders are complex and multifaceted. Because eating disorders can lead to serious medical consequences, treatment focuses on the mental and physical aspects of the condition. It may involve nutritional counseling, weight restoration, medical stabilization, psychotherapy, and medication.

While challenging, there are steps you can take to improve your well-being during treatment. The following are tips to consider as you work to recover from your eating disorder.​

Know What to Expect

Reading up on the latest treatments for your eating disorder can help defuse any anxiety, uncertainty, or fear you feel as you recover. These might include any combination of:

  • Nutritional therapy: This involves working with a registered dietitian to learn more about nutrition and food preferences and create a personalized meal plan.
  • Medical treatment: You may need medical treatment to address health issues stemming from your eating disorder. This may include medical monitoring, testing, and managing cardiovascular or gastrointestinal issues.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a first-line eating disorder treatment that can help people change thought patterns contributing to their condition and develop new coping skills. Family-based treatment (FBT) is recommended for teens with anorexia and bulimia.
  • Psychological medications: Antidepressant medications can help reduce binging and purging behaviors in people with bulimia. Such medications can also be helpful in the treatment of binge eating disorders.
  • Hospitalization: In cases where a higher level of care is necessary, hospitalization may be required.
  • Partial hospitalization: This approach allows people to receive medical care during the day but return home in the evenings and weekends.

Whatever treatment plan your provider prescribes, expect it to require effort on your part. Remember that feeling challenged is normal and healthy, and that you're capable of working through it.

Eating Disorder Recovery

The eating disorder recovery process is different for everyone. Before you make the decision, you may feel anxious, ashamed, or doubtful. Once you make the decision to seek help and begin treatment, you will work through a process of creating new skills and overcoming old habits. Following recovery, you'll continue to practice self-care and the techniques you learned in treatment to reduce your risk of relapse.

Use Positive Self-Talk

Research has found that self-talk, or how you talk to yourself, plays a critical role in developing and maintaining eating disorders. In one study, dysfunctional and negative self-talk was associated with increased symptoms and severity of eating disorders.

Being self-critical often goes along with many other symptoms of eating disorders, but it won't help motivate you or help you recover.

Instead, being overly critical of yourself can increase feelings of shame and negative emotions you may experience, exacerbating an already difficult situation. Consciously work to stay positive and use affirmation exercises to help combat self-critical thoughts.

Understand Your Eating Disorder's Roots

Although it used to be more commonly believed that parents were a leading cause of disordered eating, the latest research shows that eating disorders have complex causes that include genetic and societal factors.

Remember that no family is perfect. If your family has been unsupportive, they likely don't know how to be supportive. Talk with your treatment provider about how to process your relationships so you can move forward in recovery.

Many providers also encourage family sessions and sometimes use teletherapy or online counseling to include faraway family members. 

Accept Support From Loved Ones

Research shows that people with eating disorders are more likely to recover with a specialized treatment team in place. In most cases, willpower, self-help books, and independent work cannot replace the professional guidance of a therapist, dietitian, and physician. These professionals have years of experience and training to help you on the road to recovery.

If there are no available specialists or you cannot afford care, self-help for bulimia and binge eating disorder might be an option.

Practice Self-Care

Make sure that you are caring for your physical and mental well-being during your eating disorder recovery. Strategies that can help include:

  • Prioritizing your well-being
  • Engaging in positive activities that you enjoy
  • Practicing relaxation strategies to manage your stress levels
  • Using self-care exercises like writing in a gratitude journal and using positive affirmations to stay motivated and inspired

Many prioritize caring for others above meeting their own needs, sometimes hurting themselves in the process. This can be especially true when you are friends with someone with an eating disorder.

While you want to help, their stories can be triggering and/or emotionally draining. Make sure you take care of yourself first and determine how much you can give to others by setting appropriate boundaries.

Believe You're Worth It

Treatment and recovery from an eating disorder can be expensive and time-consuming. Unfortunately, many people do not receive appropriate care because they cannot afford it.

Eating disorder treatment can be intensive and costly. While estimates vary, many eating disorder treatment programs' costs range from $30,000 to $40,000 per month. Some aspects of treatment are covered by insurance, so it is important to understand your coverage and treatment options.

Try not to get caught up in thinking that you are not worth the financial commitment that treatment may require. If money is an issue, talk openly with your treatment providers about it. There are often ways to get less expensive treatment.

Ways to reduce treatment costs can include using family-based treatment, getting a treatment scholarship, participating in university research programs, or using a web-based, self-guided treatment option.

Stay Hopeful

Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal diseases. Research suggests that the mortality rate for people with anorexia is five times higher than that of the general population. Eating disorders also have significant negative consequences, including reduced longevity and quality of life.

But they are treatable, and full recovery is possible. When you begin to lose hope, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Work to stay positive and talk to your therapist anytime you find you are struggling emotionally.

Factors associated with improved eating disorder recovery include self-acceptance and positive relationships. Staying positive and hopeful while seeking encouragement from trusted loved ones can help you succeed in your recovery journey.

Ask for Help When You Need It

Hopefully, you have an excellent treatment team in place to call for help and support, no questions asked. But are you also including your family and friends and giving them a chance to support you in recovery?

Asking for help can be a daily process and may require you to ask for specific things (such as support during meals) that they can help you with.

Confide in Trusted Friends and Family

Keeping secrets about difficult things in your life can lead to feelings of shame and prevent you from asking for support when you need it. Choose people who have earned your trust when sharing your experience. If they know what's going on, they're more likely to be able to be there for you in ways that will help.

Research has found that social connections are critical in successful eating disorder recovery. Reach out to trusted friends and family to get the support you need. You might also consider joining an eating disorder support group.

Be Patient

Full recovery can take years and for many, it's not easy. Many people struggle with slips and relapses. Have faith in the recovery process, and check in with your treatment team if you aren't making the progress you had hoped for.

Eating disorder recovery typically does not follow a perfect, linear path. There are often setbacks and the progress may vary. It often takes months or even years to recover, and many people may continue with the process for the rest of their lives. 

Listen to Your Treatment Team

Your treatment team should consist of professionals who have years of training and experience with eating disorders. Listen to them when they recommend specific changes, even when it might seem scary to you.

Changes such as adding a medication, adopting a meal plan, or considering a higher level of care can be important and necessary changes to your treatment plan.

Face Your Fears

Recovery from an eating disorder requires facing situations that you may have been avoiding, such as eating certain foods, tolerating feelings of fullness, and tolerating feelings of anxiety when you do not exercise. Work with your treatment team to develop a plan to gradually face these situations

Thanks to technology, you need not leave home to get therapy when you use reputable, proven online therapy providers.

A Word From Verywell

An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that requires professional care. While there is certainly helpful reading material, it can't replace the care of a qualified treatment team. Always consult with your providers before making any changes to your treatment plan.

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time and you may need to try a number of different strategies before you figure out what works best for you. With time, support, and the right treatment, you can begin the path toward eating disorder recovery.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Susan Cowden, MS
Susan Cowden is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders.