Posted by: VoiceinRecovery | October 11, 2010

How do we define “Recovery”

I know this subject is one often surrounded by conflict, disagreement, and self interpretation. I have many opinions from my personal interpretation, based on my past experiences, current recovery and future planning in life. I recognize that while I know what works for me, that interpretation may very well not work for another. There is a lack of research in the area of recovery as well, including no consistent, agreed upon definition by all. I honestly don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I obviously see a need for research, and for there to be research there needs to be well defined terms, but I think this area will always be complicated.

For purposes of self discovery, insight, and finding our journey in this non linear path through life, defining what recovery means to us I believe is important. I see people in early recovery ask me what recovery means, what does it look like, etc. So this discussion is important, because I believe it is an individual journey to determining what recovery means to them. With that being said I would like to address NEDA and the conference this time as compared to last year.

Last year there was a panel discussing recovery, with people who had written books, and had struggled with their own eating disorder, and their ONLY message was RecoverED. I personally struggled with this a lot and had a lot of emotions about it. I found it was almost a one sided opinion and take from NEDA that recoverED was the end all be all. I found this black and white thinking at the time. That there is either sick or well and over it. I have not ventured into this discussion before because I honestly thought about it for a year, and asked on twitter and Facebook what recovery meant to them. To me, in the world of ED, I often think there is a LOT of black and white thinking and I felt the sick or recoverED message to be missing a lot of grey. I also heard from people who thought, if not recoverED, they weren’t doing recovery well enough. And we all know how perfectionist tendencies and thoughts, as well as OCD, can make this a challenge in recovery. I think there is a huge area of grey, and have had discussions with this in person with many people. I want to share a few of the opinions on my Facebook page and then discuss NEDA 2010 in terms of this discussion.

  • I wish I knew – Kelly Lowe
  • Recovery is the journey to a healthy body-mind relationship where I’ve learned to trust my body and my body has learned to trust me – Gina Formella
  • Recovery means finding myself, a person lost within my disease. Its not only recovering from a disease, but recovering a personality, a spirit, emotions, enjoyments…recovering life – Jenn Sternecker
  • Recovery looks like a leg in traction. You start out broken and brutalized, but eventually you begin to heal – Jennifer C Delage
  • Recovery is living life, enjoying life, and seeing in color. Recovery is about feeling healthy, listening to my body, and looking in the mirror and seeing all of me and accepting what I see (and feel). I may not always like it but to keep moving forward acceptance is important…… – Jennifer White
  • Recovery for me is being FREE from my distorted beleif system that I have navigated most of my life by. It has taken years to build up this foundation and it will take much time and commitment to change it. This means being free from food and weight obsession and learning who I am is ok and I needn’t be ashamed of what I have endured in life and that I am ok as is – that the belief that I am bad at my core is FALSE and is a lie that my ED tells me. I don’t need to DO things to make myself “good” or “worthy” – I simply AM by just being me. There is one else like me in the world and there never will be another person like me again – EVER. I need to marinate in that and learn to discover who I am without my healthy coping behaviors and change the way I see my place in the world – Heather A. Klemm
  • Recovery is acceptance of myself exactly as God intended me to be. Recovery is not just physical acceptance–it is mental, emotional and spiritual as well. Recovery is learning how to live as an active participant in my own life and in society rather than fighting it every step of the way. Recovery is not just acknowledging these things but acting them out on a daily basis. Recovery is being humble enough to understand being rightsized and being honest enough to see that “rightsized” is always enough – Eleanor Garrett

This year at NEDA I heard a VARIETY of thoughts on recovery, what that means, and how there is a lot of confusion about the path and where it starts, goes, and/or if it ends at some point. I found this open honest communication inspiring and hopeful from the perspective as an advocate. I am only one voice, but I seek to share other voices in recovery, that is and will always be what ViR is about. I think we all could benefit from discussing this issue, and understanding there is a huge area that needs to be looked at more from a research standpoint, as well as an advocacy standpoint – we need to talk more about it to show what it is to individuals. I think the more voices we hear on this issue, and more sharing of thoughts, could help all 1) feel less alone and 2) maybe further define recovery which could lead to better research, treatment, and discovery.

Today I heard “Who is the authority on recovery, how to define, and represent what it is? Is it the researchers, the clinicians, the person struggling or in recovery?” This is a fantastic question I will throw out there, and say I honestly don’t know. I think there is value in all voices. I believe researchers, clinicians, support networks, advocates, activists, people struggling and in recovery/recoverED all play a role in the further understanding of eating disorders. I believe each one will have valuable insights from findings, insights, discoveries, and what has worked and didn’t work in the past. We simply need to talk to eachother more. We already know there is a huge disconnect and time delay between research findings, to clinicians hands in order to provide better evidenced based care.

I think my own personal approach to how I view recovery is constantly evolving, like its own journey. This could be because where I am, the farther I get into recovery, being an advocate and hearing alternate views, etc. I think this is a strength for me. I think approaching topics with an open mind, and creating dialogues on these topics are crucial to the awareness of eating disorders. At this present moment I say I am “In Recovery” – for many reasons, and maybe that could be another blog post! But I am open to the journey, and education I gain being in this field, and am aware that this may change. I also believe that personal empowerment is important, and whatever empowers the individual, depending on where in the journey they are, is crucial to respect. If someone decides they feel they are healthy and in strong recovery, but want to be mindful of the journey, and they choose “in recovery” who is to say this is the wrong point of view? If someone decides in their life, they feel healthy and recovered and no longer feel they will ever struggle with it, who is to say this is a wrong point of view? This is a complicated subject, with a variety of voices, opinions, and in the end I feel “choose what empowers you in your own journey, be true to your voice.” I also think this idea of “freedom from ED” can exist whether you say you are “in recovery or recovered”, and often worry that “in recovery” is what needs further discussion, because it doesn’t automatically mean early recovery, and could very well mean strong long term recovery, without symptoms, and happy balanced in body, mind and spirit. I think it will be like a thesaurus, with underlying similarities, and common words used, mostly based on an individuals experience. I also will discuss in future blogs, the difference in the substance abuse 12 step model in comparison to eating disorder recovery, because in conceptualization and identification they are very different. I am glad this topic was brought up at NEDA, because we need to talk about these topics openly and with respect.

So I open this blog as a forum – to discuss and relate your opinions, personal experiences, and what you think about recovery.

  1. What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?
  2. When does recovery start?
  3. Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?
  4. Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?

Lets start a discussion, share voices, and hopefully we can all gain insight from one another. I thank NEDA for having a variety of voices, who brought up the subject in an open, inquisitive, and honest way.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by VoiceinRecovery, VoiceinRecovery. VoiceinRecovery said: New Blog Post!! How do we define "Recovery" #mhsm #NEDA10 (discussing some things I noticed at NEDA) […]

    • I feel recovery is a personal issue requiring different individuals to approach it in different ways. On the surface it means to break old habits and stop that drug-of-choice (more easily said then done).

      To me recovery means to finally choose ‘life’ over death from self-destruction and it starts when you reach some defining moment you consider as ‘the absolute bottom’. Recovery has to be part of the essential fiber of your being; it is more than a lifestyle it is a reality all in itself to be reaffirmed and lived each and every day.

      So once in recovery, always in recovery.


  2. This is a great post about a complex issue. I’ve been “in recovery” from binge eating and bulimia for 11 years (through a 12 Step program), and here are my thoughts on your questions:

    1. Recovery means accepting my limitations and sticking to safe boundaries around my food, behavior, and life. By doing this, I’ve lost 55 pounds and kept it off for 11 years without binging, purging, starving, or over-exercising. Recovery means freedom from my obsession and compulsion around food.

    2. Recovery starts when I decide to accept the fact that I am sick, and that I need to do something different from what I’ve always done to gain freedom from the food. It starts with me taking responsibility for getting better.

    3. Yes, I do believe that–one day at a time–I will be in recovery for my entire life. Even today, if I start thinking about a binge food, I don’t think about having “one bite” or “one piece,” I think about having all of it. This is how I know that although the majority of my symptoms are gone, I could very easily fall back into old behavior if I’m not clear about my limits and boundaries.

    4. I do think that some people can be recoverED. I think of myself not just as a binge eater and bulimic, but as a “food addict.” If the addiction isn’t part of your story, I do think some people move past their EDs and never have to look back.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! If you’re interested in reading more about my recovery (and my husband’s recovery from bipolar), feel free to check out my blog.



  3. Thanks for this post – very thoughtful. 🙂

    Recovery for me means freedom from thoughts/beliefs, behaviours, compulsions and self-hatred. I think that “recoverED” doesn’t simply being free from symptoms, but is marked with a whole different mindset.

    I think recovery starts the moment you begin to realize that an eating disorder is not a sustainable way of life. I think some people don’t give themselves credit for going that far. Furthermore, I think “credit” is something people in recovery deny themselves as a way to self-harm without symptoms. We deserve to recognize our achievements, especially when they fall in “the grey area.” 🙂

    I need to believe I won’t be in recovery for my whole life. I think it is possible to be recoverED, but the time that elapses before that happens is different for everybody. I have met people in the eating disorder support community who I believe, and believe themselves to be recoverED, although my therapist, a former voice in recovery herself, uses the term “rediscovered.”

  4. ITA that recovery seems to be black and white a lot of times. It was very confusing for me when I decided I was done with ED. First I thought having EDNOS wasn’t “good enough” to be in the same category as ED sufferers, so I was afraid to talk about my struggles.
    Answering your questions:

    What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?
    It means the obvious things like that I don’t restrict calories, meals and I treat eating as just eating. Not a chore, not a punishment. It means exercising to be healthy, to give my body what it wants and needs (this was a big one for me). LISTENING to my body, not ignoring it, thinking “oh, I can get past that feeling (hunger,pain, exhaustion)”.
    When does recovery start?
    I got to a point where I was sick and tired of hating my body when my body had gotten to a point where I looked like what the media told me I should look like (thin) and was still miserable. I found out it was all a bullshit lie. It started when I took responsibility for my thoughts, actions and decisions.
    Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?
    I don’t know the answer to this. I still have thoughts sometimes, but no symptoms. I try not to put a label on what that means b/c it will make me crazy.
    Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?
    I don’t know about this either. People that say they are have admitted that they still have negative thoughts sometimes and compare themselves to others. How can we ever stop this as humans?? Stuff comes up in my life that has nothing to do with the way I look or my weight (parenting, my business) and sometimes I hear a quiet voice that tells me it would be better if I were thinner. Luckily now I know it’s BS, but I know I’m well into recovery and it still whispers every so often. I hope this isn’t discouraging for anyone reading, b/c I’m in a MUCH better place than I was 5 years ago.

  5. Thanks for these questions! They are important jumping off points & I look forward to your take on the 12 step model for ED recovery vs. substances.

    What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?

    Actively participating in the reversal of my disease. Learning new patterns. Identifying disease triggers & behaviors, then replacing them with recovery actions. Loving my whole self into recovery instead of shaming myself further into the ED. Connecting with other fellows in recovery, giving service & learning loving acceptance from folks who have gone before me. Putting my recovery before anything else no matter what.

    When does recovery start?

    When one begins the search for a solution– not just researching, but when a human connection is made, i.e. a therapist, support group or 12 step commitment.

    Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?

    Absolutely. I am a 12-stepper though, so I believe in a daily reprieve from my disorder through the maintenance of my spiritual fitness & all that. The “why” of my ED is so not important, but I love the Harry Potter connection you tweeted during NEDA– the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?

    It’s semantics to me– it doesn’t matter. What I call myself has no bearing on my day to day activities. Keep in mind that I am pretty young in my recovery & I am working a rigorous program. I need to, because my ED voice is loud sometimes. I hear that long-term abstinence quiets the ED voice, but not for everyone. I guess we’ll see. 🙂

  6. To me, recovery means blood sweat and tears. It means being afraid, it means difficulty and it means doing the impossible. BUT reocvery also means letting loved ones back in, it means discovering who are you– your values, passions and dreams. it means moving forward.

    such an insightful post, thank you

  7. 1. What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?

    Recovery to me means no longer actively using ED behaviors to cope with life.

    2. When does recovery start?

    Recovery starts when one admits there is a problem and WANTS to do something about it. My recovery started when I realized that I was exhausted from competing with others on who was a better bulimic.

    3. Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?

    For me, yes I do believe I will be “in recovery” for the rest of my life. I take every day as it comes and focus on that day. It has been 10 years now, and I still feel the same. I look at it like “alcoholism” except we have to eat to live. Even if an alcoholic doesn’t drink, she’s still an alcoholic, and I feel like even if I’m not throwing up, I’m still an “in recovery bulimic.”

    4. Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?

    I don’t know, maybe for some it is? I know people that do claim to be 100% recovered, yet I see behaviors in them that “to me” indicate otherwise. I also know professionals that believe it is possible…Whose to say, I guess?

  8. What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?
    Recovery means a few things to me:
    1. That I am myself again…my REAL self. Not my starved, semi-lucid self (who has zero personality and is incapable of laughter or tears).
    2. That I eat food because I am hungry; not denying the hunger or eating for some other emotionally-based reason.
    3. That I pull my head out of the toilet and am present for my life.

    When does recovery start?
    I wish I knew. I think it starts between that time of toying with the idea, and making that first outreach for help (whether to family, friends, doctors, etc). However, starting recovery I’m good at. Sticking with it – not so much.

    Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?
    Yes, I do. I view my eating disorder a a manageable, chronic illness. I believe I’ll have to be cognizant of it my whole life, and vigilant against relapse, but that one day it will be managed. It will be there, but never in the forefront.

    Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?
    I have to believe it is. Without hope that things will get better, what is there?

    Thank you for posting these questions. Conversation and open dialog is the only way to move forward. xo

  9. Awesome post! You beat me to this topic! I had a note written to myself to make it my next blog.

    1. What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?
    Recovery means taking steps toward improving yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It often includes a lot of hard work toward breaking habits that have been occurring for quite some time. It requires an open mind, risking trying new patterns of behavior.

    2. When does recovery start?
    Recovery starts after admitting you have a problem and become willing to start changing that problem and forming new habits. After it starts, you may still have periods of questioning and falling back, but as long as you are still trying, still making steps or still asking for help, I believe you are still in recovery.

    3. Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?
    I do believe this. Just as an an alcoholic, I don’t believe I can ever take a drink and stop at one, I don’t believe I could ever diet and stop at 5 pounds. I believe that certain things will always trigger thoughts for me, but at some point I will be able to let them go without spending time obsessing or acting on them.

    4. Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?
    For me, no. For others, maybe. I think it all comes down to thoughts. If someone does not ever have another ED thought then maybe they can claim that. I can only speak for myself.

  10. Wow. All of these responses are so amazing. I have lots to think about and hope to post again soon, but I just wanted to extend my sincerest gratitude to all who responded and to VIR for opening this up for discussion. I think most of us have trouble finding the gray area so this is just incredible!

  11. I may be out of place here, but I want to respond. I would LOVE to hear the difference with the steps. My recovery is from my “drug” of choice which is the behaviors from ACA, Alanon, & Co-dependency. My related symptoms, whether that is the addiction or not, was similar to what I have read about ED-binge eating in particular.

    What does recovery mean to you? What does it include?
    Recovery means recovering a sense of esteem and understanding of my behaviors. Recovery means I learn to take care of myself and learn new ways to define the fine line of kindness and those addictive behaviors. Recovery means learning to believe in ME and learning I am Good Enough.

    When does recovery start? To me, recovery started the minute that I walked through the door of change.

    Do you believe that once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life? Why or why not?
    Yes, I do believe I will be in recovery my entire life as mine is from BEHAVIORS and actions, not a substance or something Tangible that you can just take away…It is blended and intermixed with traits that are of good character. I will always have to adjust and set boundaries for each and every situation in my life.

    Do you believe it is possible to be recoverED? Why or why not?

    This I do not believe I have enough knowledge for me to answer. I can tell you it has been a lifelong process…and the behaviors will ALWAYS have to be a conscious in that vain, I don’t think I will be fully recovered but I will be manager of my life.

  12. I believe that recovery is a lifelong process.

    Do I gorge on thousands of calories a day and take handfuls of laxatives? No–haven’t in over 20 years. I’m not going to die of side effects of bulimia like I was in danger of many years ago. And I’m not going to die from weight related health issues that happened after I gave up purging but not binges, and put on pounds–the pounds have gone too…

    Do I still have ED thoughts? Yes. Do I use food to avoid feelings or stress? Yes… just not full on binges anymore. And sometimes I can stop myself and other times not.

    It’s a process. I’m much better than I was–and I hope to get even better (less thoughts, even less emotional eating) as my life progresses.

  13. Recovery means I am at peace with my body, and the food that nourishes it. Recovery means I have my life back, and I have rediscovered everything I am grateful for. Recovery is an ongoing journey, but it’s one that is worth the dedication.

  14. Great Post!

    Recovery means learning to live your life without your eating disorder.. This means without ED behaviors and WITHOUT ED voices/mentality. It’s gaining health and mental FREEDOM!

    i think recovery starts the days YOU decide for yourself YOU want to be free from your ED. It’s not something others can force you to do.

    I dont believe once you have an eating disorder you will be in recovery for your entire life. IT just doest make sense to me. If you can restore your physical health, then you can most definitely restore your mental health!

    I 100% believe it’s possible to be recovered. Just in my own life I’ve had glimpses of what it would feel like to be free from my ED. Its a work in progress but in time, i think i will get there.. I think it’s possible for people to change any aspect of themselves they do not like. If that is an ED then, SURE they can FULLY change that. It just takes lots of work and tons of persistence!

    Dana xo

  15. I think that as clinicians and researchers (speaking from that camp right now), we often get way too caught up in defining things. This applies to all aspects of mental health – particularly in diagnosing. Just because someone is at 87% of their ideal body weight doesn’t mean that they aren’t severely malnourished and shouldn’t qualify for eating disorder services, for instance (and what does “ideal body weight” even mean? another ambiguous and sometimes meaningless definition). So when it comes to recovery, I try not to create strict boundaries. I would say, in a general sense, that recovery means you are working toward functioning autonomously without distress and without resorting to eating disorder symptoms regularly. I know that this may seem to contradict what many others believe (and is a change from the way I used to think), but I do believe that there is such thing as being recovered. I think that many experience, many years after an active eating disorder, truly do not use symptoms and do not have issues with food, weight, etc. Being recovered may not be a possibility for everyone however, depending on the etiology of the disease for that person.

  16. It is wonderful right here. good research. I’ve been searched this kind of information for quite a while. thanks

  17. Thank you for all you do. I recently discovered you on Twitter and as a binge eater who is coming out of a 9-month-long relapse (triggered by postpartum depression) I am happy to have these resources available to me as I start the long journey back to wholeness.

    • Thank you so much. That means the world. Honestly helps change how my day is going. So thank YOU for being here and sharing your voice!

  18. This is such a great post Thank you for this. I had my friends who is also in the same problems and I already let them know about this blog.

    • Thank you so much!

  19. Great topic. I recoverEd from BPD 15 years ago. I agree with you that there is an on-going journey – no one is perfect. Wecontinue to grow and evolve. That said, it is possible, as I know personally, to recover from BPD.

    What I know that to mean is that I no longer meet the criteria of BPD, I am now mentally healthy and no longer think, feel, or act (behave) as I did when I had BPD. I write a lot about this subject too. I believe there is a roadmap to recovery which I and a few others write about. I am also a Life and BPD Coach. Each person will have to rely somewhat on their own process of discovery in recovery because professionals seem to have no intention of formally defining BPD. It’s not cost-effective systemically or for Big Pharma.

  20. Hi
    I have two blogs concerning my past and present experiences with addiction, recovery, bi-polar and add. these are true personal writing that are helping me find out who I am and may help other addict s in the process. My blog addresses are and I am looking for other blog authors to post comments and to subscribe to their blogs. Please let me know what you think.

  21. Great article looking at all the different definitions of what people see as recovery. The interesting thing is that no one looked solely at the medical model of recovery which addresses how you eat now.

    My personal experience and that of my clients is that this is a journey rather than one day you are in the eating disorder and then overnight everything changes. For me recovery is about changing the thought patterns and behaviours and is not just about the food. The food is the symptom of inner turmoil.

    What is really interesting is how we all want different things in our recovery. When I began my journey I just wanted to stop having massive binges but today it is more about having serenity in my head, as well as not using food to alter my emotions.


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