In this article, I will give you an overview of the different stages of recovery so you know what to expect! The length of your recovery really depends on the severity of your eating disorder, how many relapses you have in recovery and how quickly you go into the process of recovery (for some it may take some trial and error to find what works best). Normally, they say recovery can take anywhere between 6-18 months. Physical recovery might come faster, complete mental recovery might take longer. But again, everybody is different.
The First Turning Point – Week 1 to 1-2 months
This is very crucial part of recovery and most likely the hardest. If you get through this stage it becomes easier and easier because your body gets used to the new things. Here you have to take the greatest effort to start changing your habits and the way you do things that used to feed your eating disorder. You change your direction and start to march in an unknown foggy road filled with many obstacles. This road may seem hard to go at first, but as time goes by it becomes easier and easier and the light becomes brighter. When you manage to recover you will look back to this part of recovery and thank the universe every day that you chose this road because this is likely one of the big turning points in your life towards your real happier self. Now I always look back to these first few months in recovery as something amazing and beautiful because it really saved me!
So what is this first part of recovery about? What can you expect?
You likely feel overwhelmed with the new information you learn every day. You start to see the things you must change in your everyday habits in order to recover and get better – you start to eat more food without the usual compensation behaviours. You may feel exhausted, constipated, bloated and „fat“. You can gain quite a lot of weight in a matter of days or weeks (water retention full on!). Most of the weight may seem to go to your stomach and/or thighs – you feel pregnant! You may have many episodes of bingeing or feeling out of control with food (this is called extreme hunger – read more about it HERE). You feel self-conscious, all your biggest fears may arise to the surface, you feel emotional and have negative thoughts about your body. Many times you think „It’s not working!“, „I will just gain and gain and become overweight!“, „I wanna restrict one last time!“, „I have to restrict first and THEN start recovery“ and so on.
I want to say that these experiences, thoughts, and fears are a very normal part of recovery, BUT these are also things that make some people relapse or stop recovery altogether. So I want you to get it that it is supposed to feel that way, but it is not your real thoughts – that’s the eating disorder that wants you to go back to restriction. Do not listen to it! This is crucial!
Some yo-yo between this phase for many months because every time they gain some weight, have binge episodes, feel all sorts of (common and normal) recovery symptoms arise, it signals panic to their eating disorder and they fall back to restriction. They think it’s not working and that’s why they keep on falling back. But the truth is that this is actually how our body recovers from eating disorder and this is all expected in recovery and normal – you are not any different, you are not a unicorn, everybody goes through it! You have the power to go on from this phase and after that, it keeps getting better and better as you recover more. You cannot get over this phase when you go back to restriction, you will only delay your recovery further and yes, that way it cannot work!
You cannot get over this phase when you go back to restriction, you will only delay your recovery further and yes, that way it cannot work!
There are also many positive aspects of this first stage of recovery. You may become stronger thanks to the knowledge you have learned about restriction and how diets do not actually work! You have many light bulbs switched on as you learn more about recovery and this makes you feel empowered! You may realize that the symptoms you have are all part of recovery and everybody has them. You also start to be excited that you never have to restrict again and all foods are actually allowed! You feel stronger each day when you do not give in to your eating disorder and realize that you are actually on the path to recovery and a major change is slowly taking place!
The Second Bell Curve – 1 month to 2-3 months
You still have days of ups and downs. You still have fearful thoughts and struggle with body image and eating, but it’s all getting better little by little. You are slowly undoing all the brainwashing from diets and getting better mentally. You have learned how important it is to not restrict and to eat regularly. If you feel urges to restrict or binge you already can tell why – you were likely triggered by something or fell back to dieting mindset. You still may have days of extreme hunger, uncomfortable bloating, feeling negative – you already know it’s just part of recovery and you kind of accept it. You may still be not quite sure about your hunger or fullness signals, but it’s slowly getting better. You have developed some of your own strategies and knowledge about recovery, you know some things that work better than others and you keep on practicing them.
You may still have days when you feel down. You may even want to go back to restriction and the eating disorder thoughts scream at you, but most times you get through it and keep on pushing forward because you know it won’t get you anywhere and you can see that it’s not worth it!
The Third Mountain – 3-6 months
You may feel a lot better at this stage. Some of the bloating may have gone a lot better or you do not have it anymore. Most of the water retention has gone away. You feel your health is getting better and you feel stronger mentally as well.
Your fear of foods is more in the background and you have started to really enjoy eating and including different foods into your meals. Some may even experience signs of normal hunger cues returning – if not every meal, but some meals you can eat when hungry and stop when full.
You feel you have your first true success in recovery and you can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. You feel so much better in your body.
You still get triggered easily and your body image may not be the best, but now you are not very likely to act on those thoughts – you just know it won’t work and it will only set you back in recovery and you do not want that! You know that there is no going back now!
The Fourth Road Sign – 6-8 months
Some may feel mostly recovered by this point. You know what works and what doesn’t. You still have some good days, some bad days. But now it does not solely come from your weight or body-related fears, but other things that become more important to you. You have started to experience everyday life and want to return to a normal way of living.
You realise that you want to accept your body the way it is and you do not want to change it because you know what it will do to you physically and mentally.
You likely do not have bloating or water retention anymore. You also have more or less recovered your normal hunger cues. You feel you can eat like a normal person for most of your meals. You are still learning new things every day and having normal hunger cues may even seem weird. You practice intuitive eating or normal eating and listening to your body and feelings. You eat when you are hungry or when you feel like it. You do not count calories and you feel freer around foods than ever! You also enjoy doing lots of other activities that do not have anything to do with food.
The Fifth and Final Stop – 8-12 months
You feel recovered – Yay! You did it finally! You feel so much stronger and wiser and this has taught you a lot! You have all the knowledge you need to know in order to not relapse or ever go back to restriction or eating disorders.
You have worked on your body image and self-acceptance and you feel more peace with yourself. Now you can see very clearly the mind of an eating disorder and how twisted and sneaky it is – you will never fall for that again!
You do not have anymore urges to binge or overeat. Your body is nourished and cravings are fulfilled at every meal and you cannot make yourself binge even when you wanted to – you simply lost the ability because your body is recovered now. You eat when hungry and stop when full and in between meals or snacks you can focus on living your life free from food obsessions.
This was somewhat how recovery looked like for me and how I experienced it, also what is to be expected from the recovery in general. I had many ups and downs in my recovery and I relapsed few times, but I learned from them and went on with recovery. If your recovery takes longer or quicker it is also OK and normal – there is no right or wrong way as long as you keep moving forward on your recovery road. If you make more mistakes, then I guess they are needed, they are coming in your way to teach you a lesson – we learn most from our mistakes! Only when you learn from your mistakes, you can eventually get past them and reach your final destination of being fully recovered!
Photo from HERE.