Three reasons why recovery is beyond merely physical
Weight restoration can be a crucial indicator of recovery on one’s healing journey from an eating disorder. When weight restored, you might feel stronger and may have reversed your symptoms related to starvation syndrome – which is already a significant and remarkable achievement!
While reaching your restored weight can positively affect your pathway to food freedom, it is also a hugely uncomfortable challenge to face eating what feels like vast amounts of food and experience rapid weight change. We empathise with you!
Studies have shown that eating disorder recovery heavily involves biological and neuropsychological factors, where those who are on the recovery journey report hope, support from others, and self-acceptance as integral in the process. (1)
Recovery is non-linear, and there is a need for more complex and flexible measures to understand the endpoints, timelines and processes of recovery. (2) It is necessary to recognise why it may not be too helpful to make weight our sole focus of recovery – and why it’s vital to think much further outside the box.
Below are three reasons why eating disorder recovery goes beyond the return to a ‘normal’ weight and other factors to consider on your healing journey, too.
ONE: Health goes beyond physical measures.
We know that our whole health, particularly in eating disorder recovery, comprises far more than just weight. Mental, social, environmental, occupational, spiritual and emotional health are all relevant and valid facets when it comes to our health, too.
For example, if someone was injured in a potentially fatal car accident, but their fractures had now recovered, we wouldn’t assume that all of the trauma and fear that may have surfaced from this singular event has magically disappeared.
It could take this person years before they feel comfortable travelling by car again. This could cause restriction in other areas of their life – such as in their occupation or social life – perhaps even evoking feelings of guilt or isolation. From this sole experience, we can see the consequential impacts on multiple forms of our health.
In the same way, although a stable weight may be reached, this doesn’t mean that we are in the best mental or emotional state that we would be considered ‘recovered.’ The weight gain itself could stir up inner conflicts too, so it is important to learn about how to cope with this.
These additional pillars of health cannot be defined or measured by a number on a scale or a portion size. So, putting weight as the threshold by which one is recovered can be seen as reductionist – losing sight of the broader picture.
You must also consider your emotional resilience, the relationship with have with your body and how you interact with the world around you.
TWO: Remembering the power of cognition.
Only looking at weight restoration as a measure of healing from an eating disorder assumes that this objective measure is the only indicator of recovery – and that our personal experiences and cognition is also healed through weight restoration.
Thought and behaviour play a massive role in our recovery. Although our weight may have normalised, this doesn’t mean that our mindset is positively aligned with achieving a complete and sustainable recovery. It is also beneficial to identify and detach our recovery ‘self’ from our eating disorder ‘self.’
Reaching a place of freedom, intuitive eating, and body compassion is no easy feat, and particularly for someone with an eating disorder, this may still feel like a lifetime away. They may still experience body shame and have a massive fear of gaining weight or continue to feel extreme hunger throughout the day. All of these can be signs that they may still be a long way off recovery. (3)
Those healing from an eating disorder may feel guilt for any weight changes or uncomfortable eating large amounts of food and limiting their heavy exercise routines.
Although recovery may be visible from a weight perspective, we do not know the whole story of someone’s mental state and any silent disordered thinking that they may experience.
A big part of healing from an eating disorder is our mental health and self-talk – so again, ignoring this misses out a significant factor of one’s recovery path.
THREE: There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ weight.
It is important to remember that weight is an individual and relative term and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our bodies.
You may have reached what is considered a ‘normal range BMI,’ but this is a social construct and one that has been criticised in the media time and time again for its potential inaccuracy. Weight is not a highly accurate measure of health – read why here.
Weight is personal to you – it goes beyond a number on a scale and involves how you feel and perceive yourself at that weight. It also doesn’t account for our unique build and other health conditions or situations that may shift our set point weight or what feels ‘normal’ for us. (4)
Focusing on weight implies that people are recovered through reaching a number on a chart and may further reinforce the visual stereotype of an eating disorder – being thin, emaciated, and usually female.
We know this stereotype is often inaccurate, and eating disorders can manifest in any body shape, gender or race. The idea that all eating disorders look the same on the surface is simply not true.
This may lead people to believe that they are not ‘sick enough’ due to their now-restored weight, and they may not feel an urgency to continue to recover or may feel they no longer need to. Being unwell is not a ‘look’ – and so it’s important to consider health from a more holistic viewpoint. (4)
We hope you enjoyed this article and are sending you plenty of strength and positive energy, no matter where you are right now. This kind of self-work takes immense courage, and we are here to support you along each step of the journey.
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to chat with one of our specialist dietitians and book a discovery call today!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
- Bardone-Cone AM, Hunt RA, Watson HJ. An Overview of Conceptualisations of Eating Disorder Recovery, Recent Findings, and Future Directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018 Aug 9;20(9):79. DOI: 10.1007/s11920-018-0932-9. PMID: 30094740.
- LaMarre A, Rice C. Recovering Uncertainty: Exploring Eating Disorder Recovery in Context. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2021 Dec;45(4):706-726. doi: 10.1007/s11013-020-09700-7. Epub 2021 Jan 2. PMID: 33389444.
- Bardone-Cone AM, Johnson S, Raney TJ, Zucker N, Watson HJ, Bulik CM. Eating disorder recovery in men: A pilot study. Int J Eat Disord. 2019 Dec;52(12):1370-1379. DOI: 10.1002/eat.23153. Epub 2019 Aug 16. PMID: 31418898.
- Hayden, M. Why ‘Weight Restoration’ Isn’t Recovery — ThoughtsbyKenz. 2021 Jan; Retrieved Nov 26 2021, from https://thoughtsbykenz.com/posts/2021/7/11/why-weight-restoration-isnt-recovery