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Eating disorder ‘recovery’ is different for each and every person affected by an eating disorder. For some people it might mean that they never have another eating disorder thought again. For others it means that, although these thoughts are still there, they happen less frequently, and they’re able to control them through the coping mechanisms and techniques they’ve learned, meaning they no longer have the same impact on their daily life.

Recovering from an eating disorder is like riding a bike for the very first time. You can fall at any point, it seriously hurts and can actually knock your confidence. But by getting up and back on, you'll show your 'bicycle' who's boss and finally you'll know how to ride like any 'normal' kid.

It’s important to remember that recovering from an eating disorder is hardly ever a straightforward process. Because an eating disorder is often a means of coping with or feeling in control of difficult emotions or situations, the idea of life without it can be very frightening, and you may feel conflicted about recovery. Nobody expects you to smoothly walk along your path towards recovery – it's completely normal to meet some obstacles along the way. There's always support available no matter where you are in your recovery journey.

Below, we've addressed some of the questions we are most commonly asked about recovery and highlighted some of the stories people have shared with us about their own experiences.

Recovery questions and concerns

Is it possible to recover?

We hear stories every day that tell us that recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Some people believe they will always have to find ways to cope with disordered eating thoughts but know they can make sure it doesn’t affect their behaviour and others find that once recovered they don’t have these thoughts.

What is the first step to recovery?

The first step is talking to someone you can trust – it might be a member of your family, a friend, or your teacher, but most importantly it should be someone you feel comfortable with. We know that this step takes bravery, and it’s completely normal to have worries about rejection, looking silly, or not being believed. But bottling up your feelings only fuels your eating disorder, and the sooner you can start getting treatment, the better your chance of fully recovering. The next step might be to visit your GP or your practice nurse about treatment for eating disorders.

Can I recover on my own?

It can be difficult to recover from an eating disorder without some help. The right treatment and support network are important things to seek out to help you in your recovery. Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help – it’s a really brave step, and it can be scary, but the benefits will outweigh the negatives. 

Eating disorders are isolating illnesses, and having a support network around you helps to find a way through the loneliness they can cause.

I’m worried about putting on weight

People suffering with anorexia or bulimia often tell us they want to be better but they feel concerned about putting on weight. One part of recovery is that you no longer feel that putting on weight is something to be feared or that by being at a low weight your life will improve. If you’ve been given a diet plan, you won’t gain weight too quickly, but remember that your treatment should also be helping you with thoughts and feelings around gaining weight.

Because you have been focused on size for so long, it is difficult to allow your body to develop into the shape that 'you' are, as opposed to what the illness is. I found it necessary to not know my weight, to keep distracted, and to remember the reasons why you're gaining weight. Whether it is something as small as being able to sit comfortably, to being able to find stylish clothes that actually fit!

When I was having a down day, I could feel hugely fat and disgusted with myself, whereas on a good day, I would feel confident and happy with the real me coming back, even if I were heavier! I realised that I could be miserable and unsatisfied at my lowest and my highest weight; my happiness was nothing to do with the number on the scale. It is important to remember that there is so much more to life than your weight, and that a life with an eating disorder is not a life at all.

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How do people cope with recovery?

Everyone is different, so everybody copes differently. Talking and expressing your thoughts and feelings can be a really helpful way to cope. Whether this is with someone you trust or through writing or drawing in a diary, you’ll find your own method. 

Make sure you do find the courage to speak up when you’re finding things hard – you don’t have to feel like you have to pretend you are fine. Your support network is there to help you through.

Is my eating disorder my fault?

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They aren’t a choice and it certainly isn’t your fault. Researchers are still looking into the reasons why people develop eating disorders, but we know that they are more genetically and biologically based than we previously thought, and could be triggered by your environment, social pressures or other events that impact your life. It’s not a silly thing to ask for help. 

You might find it useful to connect with others who are going through similar things to you through our online support groups.

Am I a failure if I relapse?

Almost everybody we speak to says that their recovery wasn’t a straightforward path – they came up against obstacles and sometimes took a few steps backwards before moving forward again. The important thing is to remember the coping strategies you’ve built up and to use them to jump over the barriers you face. 

Remember, you are welcome to use Beat's support services if you are finding things difficult at the moment, and you could also speak to your doctor. Whether or not you have previously received treatment, you deserve to be supported through a period of relapse.

I'm worried about people not taking my concerns seriously

Eating disorders can be really difficult for people to understand if they haven’t experienced the illnesses themselves. It might help to take a look at our downloadable resources that you can pass on to others to help them understand what you’re going through, or direct them to our website for more information for people worried about others.

If you feel as though your concerns are not being taken seriously by your doctor or another healthcare professional, then you could have a look at the NICE Guidelines, which say what you should be able to expect from treatment, or speak to an organisation like the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). Citizens Advice also have some information about what to do if you are unsatisfied with your treatment.

Tips for recovery

Self-help and self-care

Recovery can be tough - practicing self-care is really important. Check out our self-help and self-care ideas and tips.

Learn more about treatment