START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

Eating Disorders and Recovery

Eating Disorders and Recovery

In a recent  article, the question is raised as to whether those suffering from eating disorders can ever fully recover.  It’s a controversial subject because, among doctors, there is little agreement about how to define “recovery.”  Does it mean being functional in daily life, physically healthy, emotionally healthy, or all three?

I understand the medical and scientific need to define terms, but each individual’s experience is so unique that recovery may look quite different from one person to the next.  And the suggestion that, until or unless full recovery can be empirically measured, it may not be possible, is representative of a larger philosophical flaw plaguing Western medicine and, indeed, much of Western thought:  if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

But the article suggests that full recovery may be impossible for another reason.  As the article says, “many with anorexia prefer to view recovery as many alcoholics do – the disease may be in remission, but the potential for relapse always lurks in the background.”  I think that’s certainly true.  If being controlling with the way you eat is a habit you turn to when you’re feeling stressed, or is something that has informed your approach to daily life for a long time, then of course, relapse is always possible.  But that doesn’t mean recovery isn’t possible.  Or that if you relapse, you were never truly recovered.  The article suggests that, though doctors don’t have a firm definition of recovery yet, they seem to see at as an all or nothing thing.  But this is a misguided way of thinking.

With alcoholics, smokers, and people with eating disorders, there’s the temptation for outsiders to think that, because it’s something “they caused themselves,” it’s something they can overcome with enough willpower.  But that’s not what I’m suggesting here.  Addiction – and eating disorders are addictions to ways of thinking and behaving – are powerful, and you can’t just power your way through them.  And if you don’t overcome them, it doesn’t mean you lack determination or dedication.  But to suggest that recovery is impossible because relapse is possible, in my mind, puts forth an unrealistic vision of recovery that totally lacks compassion.  The future is always uncertain.  Yes, someone who has suffered from an addition or an eating disorder may relapse.  Yes, it may be an issue they have to be aware and mindful of for the rest of their lives.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t recover.  And to say that, because they will always have work to do so, they can never claim to be “recovered” minimizes the real internal work they’ve done to overcome their struggles. And believing that recovery is impossible, that once you’re addicted you’re doomed for life, is incredibly discouraging.

As someone who has had issues with my relationship to food, I believe that, after having an eating disorder, it is something that always “lurks in the background.” An eating disorder is something that will always inform your life.  And the possibility of relapse is always there.  To expect someone who has experienced an addiction or an eating disorder to get to the point where they say, “it will never happen again,” is unrealistic and shows a lack of empathy and compassion.  But recovery shouldn’t be seen as wiping away the past, or putting your issues behind you, never to feel their presence again.  I believe it’s possible to truly change your relationship to food.  I think – or hope – that’s something I’ve been able to do after years of self-reflection.  And I think it’s possible to grow from challenging experiences; to live a physically and emotionally healthy life after an eating disorder. And that’s my definition of recovery.

Related:
Two “New” Eating Disorders
Stress Responses and Eating: What They Have in Common

Read more: Conditions, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Health, Mental Wellness, , ,

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.

34 comments

+ add your own
6:00AM PST on Feb 4, 2012

Really sad.

My best bet is actually to eat 5 smaller meals a day. Generally, I'm a picker, anyway, but I'm overweight.

9:41AM PDT on May 25, 2011

noted with thanks

7:40AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Speaking as an alcoholic, currently back in a drinking cycle for the last 10 weeks, and having a partner who has had an eating disorder for over 20 years (yeah, yeah - not a great combination I know!), I fully agree with the above article. I have had numerous therapists, Doctors, alcohol workers - the whole lot, thrown at me. And still I know that my recovery and my partner's recovery is a highly personal issue - one that no professional person, or self help book can map out for us. It has certainly given us informed possibilities and a broader choice of techniques, but ultimately, I know that this is a problem that will be with me all my life, and it is dependent on circumstance and opportunity to be able to find a window in which to achieve recovery. And like the author remarked, it will always be lurking in the background, but that does not mean to say it will be an ever decreasing circle. Each time I manage to achieve sobriety, I become stronger, better informed, more self aware and less needy of the refuge that alcohol has provided me with for so many years. Alcoholism was a deceptive and insidious influence in my young life and continues to plague me in my later life, but it does not define who I am, nor where my future lies. Similarly, although bulimia will always be a feature in my partners life, a four syllable word is totally inadequate to describe a lifetime of infinite expression.

5:01AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Continuing and finishing my writing below:

I believe my “disease” has more intrinsic roots than we “patient” can explain, and research and studies are still on the surface to unlock the complexity of it. Most of the time it does come from our past and our childhood, so please if you are a mother pay attention to your child’s eating habit. Any changes can be a sign of an initial ED but you can still prevent it from becoming a lifetime companion. I hope this helps a little.

5:00AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Continuing and finishing my writing below:

I believe my “disease” has more intrinsic roots than we “patient” can explain, and research and studies are still on the surface to unlock the complexity of it. Most of the time it does come from our past and our childhood, so please if you are a mother pay attention to your child’s eating habit. Any changes can be a sign of an initial ED but you can still prevent it from becoming a lifetime companion. I hope this helps a little.

4:57AM PDT on May 25, 2011

I am 45 years old and I have been struggling with anorexia for the past 30 years. It’s a big chunk of life during which I have recovered and relapsed many times. The duration always depends from the gravity of the event that triggers it. It is like an old friend that now I call Gandhi who comes to the “rescue” (yeah right!) when everything around me is falling apart. Recovery is a big word for me because as far as I know this condition will always be in my life, actually has become part of my life. I am not proud of it, believe me it always comes from a place of pain, but now as an adult I can discern reality from illusion more easily than I ever did in the past, and that helps me to find my way out from one episode to the next, always hoping the next one is my last one. Everyone with ED disorders is different and we all deal with it in different ways. Some are in denial, other like me are able to recognize it and try to do something about it. It not easy! It takes years of self-observation along with a lot of caring and nurturing, but what is caring and nurturing when you live in an illusion? So the process of getting out of the illusion is difficult and in my case I have to dig deep inside my brain to find myself again. No one else can do it for me; even the one I love the most. I am sure this is the case for many others like me.
I believe my “disease” has more intrinsic roots than we “patient” can explain, and research and studies are

9:04PM PDT on May 24, 2011

Thanks.

2:14AM PDT on May 24, 2011

In much agreement with Rebecca T's keen observation....The difficulty with recovery in all ED's...is that food is an absolute...it cannot be avoided or ignored...For those of us on the recovery trail..mere food/meal preparations for the family (with husbands and children to feed) can be incredibly stressful....

iiiq is spot-on as well in her reflection that "recovery is in the eye of the recoveree..if they think they are...the are...." I find this to be the ultimate truth....

2:14AM PDT on May 24, 2011

In much agreement with Rebecca T's keen observation....The difficulty with recovery in all ED's...is that food is an absolute...it cannot be avoided or ignored...For those of us on the recovery trail..mere food/meal preparations for the family (with husbands and children to feed) can be incredibly stressful....

iiiq is spot-on as well in her reflection that "recovery is in the eye of the recoveree..if they think they are...the are...." I find this to be the ultimate truth....

10:33PM PDT on May 23, 2011

It is ideal to eat three balanced meals a day but hard to achieve.

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

My cat Use to get really jealous of the other cats sitting on my lap.

Kudos to Turbo! We humans could surely learn a lot about perseverence from him...

Wanna stay healthy? Get rid of stress! And...open your heart to others and helping and volunteerin…

I have a smokey black Egyptian Mau, Magic, who is 6 years old. I'm a diabetic and periodically my b…

I can't believe the things I see here that say please do.What is next "oh save the stuff that comes …

Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.