The 10 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery

by Kelly Joyce
(Youngstown, Ohio)

Recovering from an eating disorder is hard. In fact, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, and what I believe will be the hardest thing I’ll ever do. Because of their complex nature, eating disorders are extremely hard to treat. It can take several years and many falls along the way before one achieves a stable ground in recovery.

Eating disorder recovery takes an immense amount of patience. Your eating disorder did not start over night, and chances are you’ve struggled for a very long time. Recovery works the same way. It takes time, sometimes a lot of it, and it takes a tremendous amount of work.

Before you can begin tackling recovery, you have to decide that you want it more than you’re afraid of it. If you don’t want to recover, you won’t. However, if you invest your whole heart towards healing, put the work and time in, and have a little faith – you can and will achieve true freedom from your eating disorder.

Here are the 10 keys to recovery; what worked for me and what I hope will work for you.

1.) Build your team
Your team will be your backbone throughout this journey. Choose wisely. Recruit a psychiatrist, a therapist, a medical doctor, and a nutritionist who have experience in the field. Your psychiatrist will be able to assess you for any co-occurring mental health issues, quite common in those with eating disorders. Proper diagnosis, treatment, and sometimes medication, will play a vital role in your recovery process. A therapist who has worked with an eating disorder clientele will be best apt at utilizing many of the various therapeutic techniques that have been proven effective for the treatment of eating disorders. CBT, DBT, and ACT are just few of the many. A medical professional is essential for the monitoring of your health during recovery. There are countless complications that may arise as you begin to nourish your body again. Make sure you are being seen regularly by a physician. Your nutritionist will be your recovery guru. Chances are, when it comes to food, you don’t know where to begin. Your nutritionist will be able to personalize a meal plan tailored to your individual needs. As you move through recovery, your nutritional needs will change. For that reason, it is important to meet with your nutritionist on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Treat your search for a team like a job interview; there will be many candidates – you have the power to choose.

2.) Get additional support
Find a support group. Even with several medical appointments each month, additional support and a fresh perspective can be extremely helpful when embarking on recovery. Eating Disorders Anonymous is but one of the many and focuses on a 12 step approach, similar to AA. 12 step meetings have been proven effective for addictive behaviors, and eating disorders function much the same. You can search for meetings near you at If you are unable to find a group in your area, do not fret. Hop on to and participate in an online recovery-centered community. You can also contact the National Eating Disorders Association to be connected with a NEDA Navigator; an individual specially trained to support those in recovery.

3.) Journal daily
Journaling is a great outlet. It allows you to vent in a safe and private way. Practice free writing; letting whatever comes to mind come out on paper. Make daily note of one reason to be proud (or one success) and one thing you are grateful for. Use your journal to log your moods, your triggers and stressors, and as a visual aid to remind you of your progress. Practice differentiating from your eating disorder voice. Those persistent unhealthy thoughts and self-doubts aren’t you, they’re the eating disorder. Start by dividing a page down the middle: on the left side, list any negative thoughts that come to mind - and on the right, challenge them with a healthier and more positive alterative. Fill your journal with inspiring quotes and affirmations. Let your creativity flow. All of the painful feelings and memories you’ve been suppressing, release them through your writing.

4.) Explore your triggers & face your fears
Start to explore the reasons in which you engage in behaviors. Eating disorders serve a purpose; if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have them. What purpose does your eating disorder serve? What “benefits” are keeping you from letting go? What scares you about recovering? About leaving your eating disorder behind? Explore your triggers; do you binge and purge when you are anxious? Upset? Bored? Angry? Do you restrict when you’re feeling out of control? When you’re stressed? When you’re worried? Discover which feelings fuel your behaviors as well any contributing events or circumstances. Once you have identified your red flags, you have gained an important key to recovery – awareness – awareness that allows you to learn, make changes, and grow.

5.) Re-establish your identity
Eating disorder thoughts flood your brain nearly every hour of every day, most likely for a very long time. With such involvement in your illness, it is easy to lose sight of who you truly are. The question “who am I?” usually leaves us speechless. We can’t imagine who we are without our eating disorder, or who we were before it. We forget about our values, our character, and our talents. Start to identify all of the positive qualities you possess. It may help to ask a few friends what they love most about you. Reconnect with your values. What do you stand for? What are you passionate about? And begin to utilize your talents again; we all have them, whether you’d like to believe it or not, you do too.

6.) Create your recovery
Everyone’s idea of recovery is different. What recovery looks like to you may be very different than what it looks like for someone else. Imagine what recovery will look like. In what ways will you be different? How will you feel? What will you accomplish? Start to envision your life without your eating disorder. Make a “motivation wall” by filling space in your room with words and pictures that remind you of the many reasons why you are recovering.

7.) Set achievable goals
Goal plan often. Set small achievable goals every day and every week. Be realistic. Goal planning keeps us moving forward and holds us accountable to some degree. If you don’t meet your goals, don’t beat yourself up. Ask yourself why. What got in the way? What do you need in order to accomplish this goal tomorrow? Dig deep. Every fall is a lesson, a lesson in which you can build upon and become better equipped at handling in the future.

8.) Find your distractions
Distractions create a space between stimuli and response. Make a list (a long list) of things you can do to distract yourself when an urge suddenly arises. Go for a walk, grab a coffee, call a friend, paint your nails, etc. etc. Vow to try at least 5 of the items on your list before allowing yourself to engage in your eating disorder behaviors. With practice, distractions will become a natural part of the process and generate enough time to calm and collect yourself before making a rash decision.

9.) Set a routine
Making a daily plan will give you structure. With structure, comes a bit of control; and because eating disorders often center around control, having a set routine will aid in fulfilling this need. Behaviors also thrive from boredom; making plans in advance will keep your body and mind active and leave less time to be had for eating disorder engagement. Make sure you plan time for rest, meals, and self-care, along with your other obligations, like work, school, and appointments.

10.) Practice self-compassion
Be gentle with yourself during this process. Recovery is hard work. Do not punish yourself when you have a slip up, which you inevitably will. Forgive yourself and let it go. Treat yourself the same way you would treat a friend in a similar situation. Be supportive, be loving, be kind, and be patient. Practicing self-compassion will feel foreign at first, and it will take some time before it becomes second nature to you. You have spent a large proportion of your life self-destructing, this is new and change is scary. Forgive yourself for your faults, and love yourself regardless.

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