Recovery from an eating disorder is a long process that requires professional help from a mental health therapist or perhaps even a team of professionals. It’s not uncommon for the recovering person to feel uncertain about their progress, and sometimes it takes more than one attempt to stop the disordered behaviors.
Friends and family who were initially supportive can sometimes grow frustrated, unintentionally hurting the progress of recovery. It is important for anyone recovering from an eating disorder to have a good support system. In order to better help someone through their recovery, it helps to understand the different stages that are common. Every person is different, and some reach each stage faster than others, but knowing what to expect will help.
There are three facets of successful eating disorder recovery:
1. Weight restoration
2. Repair of physical damage
3. Developing new non-restrictive neural patterns in response to usual anxiety triggers and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Eating disorder recovery can be very difficult because it is both mentally and physically challenging. In addition to the emotional and mental health issues, starvation impacts the body severely. It is nearly impossible to make any real progress unless the body is properly nourished.
There are five stages of the eating disorder recovery process:
1. Pre-contemplation. This stage is evident when the person doesn’t believe they have a problem. Friends and family may notice a drastic weight loss or the binge-purge cycles, but the disordered person either thinks they are in control or aren’t ready to face the idea of treatment.
2. Contemplation. In this phase, the person admits to having a problem and is open to seeking help from a counseling center or treatment program. During this phase, a mental health therapist should evaluate them to discover how severe the disorder is and why they developed it.
3. Preparation. During this stage, the person is ready to change but is unsure how to do it. During this stage, coping skills are established and a plan of action is developed by the treatment team. This can be a very difficult and confusing stage that is sometimes repeated.
4. Action. The action stage begins when the person is ready to implement the strategy and confront the disordered behavior head on. At this stage, trust in the professional support team is essential.
5. Maintenance. Once the person has sustained the Action stage for six months or more, they will evolve to the Maintenance stage. During this period, they will actively practice the new behaviors and new ways of thinking while using the new coping skills. Once this stage is reached, the recovered person will likely be much happier and be able to live a meaningful, healthy life.