Measuring Success: Can Recovery Be Measured?
In my own recovery journey I’ve encountered people in varying stages of remission from their eating disorders. One conversation has stayed in my memory and made me think about whether or not full recovery is possible. In speaking with this particular person, she disclosed that she’d visited her doctor recently and was told to expect her eating disorder to be a lifelong struggle. When she heard this, she felt defeated. She thought she had come so far already; this statement by the doctor made her feel all the efforts at recovery were in vain. How do we measure recovery from anorexia, for example? In the clinical sense, we look for cessation of two major diagnostic criteria, outlined in Psychology Today as:
- Judging self-worth on the ability to control weight and shape
- Maintaining a body weight less than 85% of expected
Once weight is restored, body image is improved, self-worth is increased, and the client exhibits ability to eat a variety of foods and engage fully in daily activities, recovery can be considered achieved. The problem is that even after physical health is restored, psychological issues can still remain. A person might still be consumed with depression and anxiety, leading to ongoing treatment with medication to manage symptoms. Recovery also requires a person to actively manage vulnerabilities to triggers. This is not easy work and can often be two steps forward and one step back.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Because recovery from an eating disorder encompasses so many things (physical, emotional, psychological well-being) it is a process that can take years to achieve. There is also the eating disorder voice to contend with, that chatter in the mind that talks and makes fun and judges and says negative things. In the beginning this voice is so overpowering it seems as though there’s no way to quiet it. With treatment, the voice starts to fade to the background. I liken it to being on an airplane and trying to read a magazine while someone talks incessantly a few rows back. At first this person’s talking is really distracting and keeps you from being able to concentrate on reading. As time passes the talking fades from the forefront and only surfaces again when you pay attention to it. This is where my recovery friend got stuck. She just couldn’t shake that eating disorder voice from her consciousness and even though she was physically healthy and wasn’t engaging in any behaviors, she was haunted, and tempted, daily by that voice. This coupled with her doctor’s assessment of recovery rate was very discouraging.
Pursuing a Stable and Meaningful Life
The important thing to remember is that while there may always be some obstacles to achieving full recovery, there is meaning and beauty in the growth that comes from the recovery process itself. You will gain tremendous insight and self-awareness. You will be able to reenter your life and have strength and resiliency you never thought possible. If I could tell my recovery friend one thing it would be that the path to recovery has been very winding and rocky, and there have been setbacks along the way, but the lessons learned are invaluable. No matter what anyone says, reach out to claim your full recovery. Even if it isn’t 100% it can be a stable, meaningful life.
Troscianko, E. (2011). Is 100% Recovery from an Eating Disorder Possible? Psychology Today,