Unfortunately, there is no consensus regarding what constitutes as a full recovery from eating disorders. Recovery is generally thought of as a process in which a person returns to a healthful state and, in the case of a person with an eating disorder, this process should encompass the psychological, physical, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual components of the condition.
Because eating disorders arise due to a multitude of factors, recovery must also concentrate on these aspects and a multi-pronged approach is generally favored.
Defining Recovery from Eating Disorders
Some definitions of recovery from eating disorders rely solely upon a physical marker, such as being greater than 85% of Ideal Body Weight (IBW), or above 95% of IBW, or even being 100% of IBW, or perhaps the presence of regular menstruation.
Certainly when a person reaches a dangerously low body weight, one of the goals in recovery should be to attain a healthy body weight and normal body function. During this stage in recovery, medical attention may be necessary as would be monitoring of physical signs and symptoms. However, to focus solely on body weight or vital signs as a measure of recovery is to ignore the behavioral, psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of disordered eating.
Recovery from eating disorders occurs on a spectrum. People may be more recovered and healthier than their peers but not fully recovered. In one study, the psychological, physical and behavioral components of recovery from an eating disorder were measured using the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire, Body Mass Index, and the presence or absence of disordered eating behaviors as indicators of recovery.
Those who had achieved full recovery had scores similar to control populations while partially recovered persons had significantly different scores that were better than those who were actively engaged in their eating disorder but worse than fully recovered individuals. Studies like this one support the idea that recovery is a process and occurs on a spectrum.
Recovery from Eating Disorders is Possible
Many people, however, purport that full recovery from eating disorders is possible. Although not explicitly defined, someone who has recovered from an eating disorder would have various characteristics such as a healthy body weight, realistic thoughts about themselves and food, a healthy body image, good self-care practices, healthy exercise, engagement in relapse prevention, and a lack of self-destructive behaviors.
The presence of disordered eating patterns would also be absent and the emphasis formerly placed on food, body, and image would be supplanted with other priorities. Recovered individuals would realize that who they are is more important than what they weigh or how they look.
Recovery from Eating Disorders May be Multi-Faceted
Achieving recovery from eating disorders may require a variety of interventions to restore self esteem, from medical management, to cognitive behavior therapy. Counseling, support groups, and or other types of treatment may be appropriate. Recovery from eating disorders may be supported in a variety of settings from inpatient to outpatient facilities. The most important step in recovery from eating disorders is the first one in which a person acknowledges they have a problem and that they need help. With proper assistance, recovery from eating disorders is possible.
detail from the mural ‘Anorexia Y Tabaquismo’ by Jorge Figueroa Acosta