The Freedom to Choose: “In Recovery” vs. “Recovered” within the Eating Disorder Community

By Morgan Walker

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In some ways, eating disorders can be, or at least share properties with, addictions – addiction to restriction, the binge/purge cycle, certain foods, exercise. However, eating disorders are unique in that food is necessary in order to sustain life. One cannot be sober from food, but rather sober from disordered behaviors. One can be sober from behaviors, but disordered cognitions or urges to use those behaviors may still arise. The distinctions between “an active eating disorder” vs. “in recovery” vs. “recovered” are blurry and loosely defined.

Within eating disorder recovery, there is sometimes pressure for those who have struggled to claim themselves as either “in recovery” or “recovered.” First of all, it should be noted that there is no right way to do recovery. The problem lies not within the self, but within our expectations. Eating disorder recovery is rarely ever linear; instead, it’s more like a roller coaster with ups and downs, twists and turns. The terms “in recovery” and “recovered” can look like a lot of different things. Perhaps we shouldn’t think of “recovered” as the gold standard and “in recovery” as second best – removing judgment from the process altogether.

Difficulties occur when someone considering him or herself to be recovered, has a bad day where the eating disorder voice is loud. Bad days are just part of the human experience and we can embrace them as such. We can think of bad days as clouds. It’s not always a dark and cloudy outside, but when it is, we prepare accordingly – we may even carry an umbrella. Sometimes, it’s a sunny day and things are going great, but a few large, fluffy clouds may hover in the sky. We can think of disordered cognitions or urges as clouds. We can notice them, be curious about them, and wait for them to pass by. Clouds do not ruin the day, as disordered thoughts do not ruin recovery.

Recovery IS NOT… 

… necessarily screaming from the rooftops “I love my body!” However, it certainly can be if that works for you. Positive, or even neutral, body image is often the last piece of the recovery puzzle. The “love your body” message is promoted in popular and social medias, but the idea of loving your body is often so incredibly unthinkable to those struggling with eating disorders. A more reasonable step is first accepting your body, after all it is only the shell for your spirit, the house you live in. Then, choosing to acknowledge and celebrate what your body can do, instead of what it looks like could be the next step. Before body love, we may first practice self-acceptance, body kindness, and self-care.

Recovery IS… 

… possible. The reality is that some people recover, yet the eating disorder voice still comes around sometimes. Know that this is not your voice; it is the disorder’s. Over time, the voice will weaken, becoming quieter and quieter, as your voice becomes stronger and louder. Finding your mind’s genuine voice, your wise mind, your authentic self – that is recovery.

Whether you wake up and choose recovery at every moment of every day or you embrace a recovered life in all its glory. You have overcome. If you’re not there yet, recovery is there for you when you are ready for it. Stay focused on the path and seek support along the way. Most importantly, give yourself grace, patience, and compassion. Examine how your recovery is defined and who defines it. Part of recovery is redefining your life. You have the freedom here.

About The Morgan Walker

During her undergraduate career, Morgan worked on research and clinical projects at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill’s Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (CEED). She developed a ...

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