Full Recovery from Eating Disorders: Is it Possible?

After 6 years in the depths of anorexia, my eating disorder was a way of life. Starving had become my world. It was the way I dealt with anger, fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment, and every other even slightly uncomfortable feeling. I managed my weight to manage my life. Anorexia was my control, my way of communicating, and my way of avoiding, and it was the one thing I felt like I did really well. I was awesome at losing weight.

Of course, I lost a lot more than that. I lost relationships, trust, hope, happiness, and a good deal of sanity. Had it continued, I guarantee I would have lost my life as well. I gave recovery what I thought was “my all” several times over. “Rock bottom” came and went more times than I care to count. Through the years of intensive therapy and hospitalizations the light at the end of the tunnel looked rather dim, if even there at all. I was convinced I was going to spend the rest of my life hating my body and fearing food. Anorexia would always be my “Achilles’s heel.”

But then something shifted. The next “rock bottom” really did become my last. I remember the day I was struck with the crippling realization that as long as there was anorexia, I was going to remain utterly alone, until death. Eating disorders don’t like to share you, and more terrifying to me than death was loneliness, sheer loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that permeates your soul even when surrounded by loved ones. I knew I couldn’t live like that any longer.

Looking back on those hellish years, I’m filled with awe at how different my life is today. After my first episode of depression, post anorexia, it became clear to me that I was fully recovered, because I did not have a single desire to use any eating disorder or other self-harm behaviors to cope. It wasn’t even an option. This was partially why the depression was so bad, because I was feeling everything, for probably the first time in my life. When the depression lifted, I wanted to tell everyone who would listen just how amazing it was that I made it through on my own. I wasn’t sure if anybody could even understand the magnitude of my triumph, but I told them anyway.

I have reached a place in my recovery that is beyond what I ever thought was possible. I love myself. I love my body. Someone once explained it to me as reaching a place of discovery rather than recovery because the word recovery denotes a return to a previous state, and this is something so much better.

With my experience in mind, I want to share my top 5 helpful tips that made it possible for me:

1. Dump the scale. Having a scale anywhere in your environment is sabotage. As long as it’s there, the numbers will tempt and taunt you, even when you’re not on the damn thing. So get rid of it, sell it, smash it, give it away. Trust your treatment team to monitor your weight, because they’re the experts – not you. And while you’re at it, trash the tape measurers and any clothing that keeps you in the eating disorder mentality.

2. Fake it ’til you make it. Daily affirmations feel odd for a long time because you’re saying things out loud to your reflection that you certainly don’t believe, and you feel completely foolish doing it. But we are what we think. Somehow, my laughable “I’m-beautiful-just-as-I-am” affirmation became real after I rehearsed it long enough. Our brains are remarkably programmable. Trust me on this – I can’t explain any better how it works, but it does.

3. Take your medicine. Food is medicine. If you have an eating disorder, you’re sick. Sick people need medicine and time to heal. Medicine is given in specific dosages. Too little or too much can be harmful. Work with a nutritionist (preferably with experience in eating disorder treatment) to map out a meal plan that medicates you. You can cry and scream all you want (in fact, I encourage this), then take your medicine anyway.

4. Get creative. “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” This quote by Lord Byron sums it up nicely. Your eating disorder has been doing your communicating for a long time. You’ve got a lot inside of you, so get it out! Use your journal as an outlet. Write what you’re feeling, as you’re feeling it. Don’t immediately re-read your entries or try to edit them. Just let it flow. Not into writing? Try collaging. I loved doing this because I had a really hard time putting words to what I was feeling. Flip through magazines until you notice a word, an image, or even just a color that strikes you. You’ll be amazed with what you can subconsciously express.

5. Be a kid. Chances are, you’re your own worst critic and probably used to non-stop judgment from your eating disorder. That’s got to change. Know that recovery takes a long time. You’re going to stumble and fall – it’s part of the process. But when you do, think of a child you love. What’s your instinct when you see a child hurting? You’re kind, gentle, and encouraging. And kids are so resilient. It’s hard to keep them down for long. Remind yourself how hard you’re working, give yourself a hug, kiss your boo-boos and keep on keeping on.

So can you fully recover from your eating disorder? You bet you can.

© Copyright 2011 by By Josie Tuttle, MA. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • JJ

    June 1st, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    I thought I was fully recovered from a 12 yr struggle with anorexia and bulimia… and then 6 yrs into “full recovery” I recently relapsed. Not so bad as before; caught myself… but makes me question whether I will ever not have this Achilles heel as you so aptly put it. I’m amazed that you went through an episode of depression without a single desire to use ED behaviors. I’ve made it through a depression episode without resorting to ED behaviors before, but seems totally unrealistic to be able to get through without a single desire!

  • StressMommy

    June 2nd, 2011 at 4:24 AM

    With my own struggles I have to say that I do not think that deep down inside I will ever have a FULL recovery. There are days when I am fine and other days that I struggle, when I know that it would be so easy to get back into those same routines. But I have a loving husband who understands and a therapist that I still work with from time to time who is so good about getting me refocused on the important things in life and helps me to continue to take care of myself. This was not something that started overnight and believe me the sprint to the finish line will not happen overnight either. But I am getting there- but remember, I am not alone, I have love and support. This is CRITICAL for anyone in eating disorder recovery.

  • Sherry Osadchey

    June 2nd, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    Wonderful, wonderful article! Thanks for such a simple, clear, truthful, thoughtful, helpful article.

  • Josie Tuttle, MA

    June 2nd, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    JJ & StressMommy – I hear ya! Seemed unrealistic for me as well, until it happened! I think our mindsets play a larger role than we know. Like the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” Glad to hear you’re both fighting the fight. Keep it up! And yes, love and support are SO important!

    Sherry – Thank you, and you’re so welcome! I once heard the difference between grateful and thankful is that with gratefulness you have to give it away. I feel the need to share my experience with the hope that it just might help or inspire others :)

  • Heath

    June 2nd, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    My sister started eating little in school because she didn’t wanna go ‘fat’.She’s 26 years old now and the habit has continued.She had her first baby a couple of months ago and we are all amazed at how little she eats even now.We kept advising her during her pregnancy and we still do but she just doesn’t listen.

    I also read a few days ago on this very site that people with anorexia actually feel happier with less consumption of food or something on those lines.How do I know if my sister has this condition?We are very worried for her but she just doesn’t see the harm in what she’s doing.

  • Hollis

    June 3rd, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    The best thing I ever did was throw the scales out the window! I felt chained to them! I have come to realize that life is about more than a number on a scale or on the tag of my pants!

  • garfield

    June 3rd, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    It’s not easy overcoming an eating disorder. What makes it all the more is the constant thoughts of relapsing that keep coming to your mind. I’ve been through an eating disorder many years in the past and it’s going to be great if we can see some new treatment methods for an eating disorder.

  • Josie Tuttle, MA

    June 23rd, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Heath – You have real cause for concern, not only for your sister, but for her child. I hope the baby was born without complication. It is possible that your sister is struggling with an eating disorder, which often includes a warped body image. Expressing your concerns, without anger and frustration, is most helpful in encouraging someone to seek help.

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