Recovering from eating disorders

When you're recovering from eating disorders, it's important to be kind to yourself. The length of time it takes to recover varies from person to person but there are good reasons for leaving an eating disorder behind. If you're worried about relapsing, it's important to know that you can seek help in your recovery and that even if you do relapse, you can always pick up where you left off.

This might help if you:

  • Have an eating disorder
  • Would like to recover
  • Want to know reasons to recover from eating disorders

What does ‘recovery’ actually mean?

The meaning of recovery varies depending on who you speak to. For some people, when they think about recovering from eating disorders, they mean the end of the symptoms of their eating disorder (eg starving, bingeing, excessive exercising, purging, etc). For many others, recovery also includes an end to the self-hatred, fear, guilt and negative self talk, and a return to feeling that you can live a satisfying, hopeful and meaningful life.


Recovering from eating disorders takes time and effort, and it is really important that you are kind to yourself throughout the process.

How long does recovery from an eating disorder take?

Recovery time is quicker for some people than for others. It is not uncommon to experience 'trip ups' or relapses (return of unhelpful thoughts, behaviours or symptoms) during recovery.


Some people find that the less time they've spent with their eating disorder; the easier it is to recover. However, try to remember that anyone can recover - even if they've had an eating disorder for a long time.


Why should I try to recover?

The benefits and value of recovery might be hard to understand when you have an eating disorder. For many people the behaviours associated with their eating disorder are a way of coping with underlying problems or emotional pain, or may help the person to feel in control, when everything else in life is chaotic. Some people also feel anxious or guilty if they don’t keep up the behaviour.  It may be difficult to see a good reason for stopping these behaviours. However, recovery might open up things in your life that you never thought you’d be able to feel or experience.

Here are some reasons that you might choose to leave your eating disorder behind:

  • Not having to live your life in fear, feeling sad or disliking yourself.
  • Not having your mood or actions dictated by a number on a scale or the number of calories consumed.
  • Feeling comfortable in your own body.
  • Not thinking about what you look like all the time.
  • Not having the way that you feel about yourself stop you from doing things that you enjoy.
  • Having energy to do the things that you enjoy.
  • Not having to feel guilty about how much your family or friends worry about you.
  • Not having to live a 'secret life'.
  • Being able to rejoin the world (emotionally, psychologically, physically) and leave behind the feelings of isolation.


Recovery might be a rocky road – often it’s a case of two steps forward and one step back. The number of times you fall back into your eating disorder is not important - what is important is that you don’t dwell on it, but have faith in your ability to take another step forward.

Try to pick yourself up and take off where you left off. It might be a slow and frustrating process, but you will still be moving forward, and that is what will get you there in the end!


Often something might trigger your relapse. It could be something as 'big' as a break-up or a death or as 'small' as the tone in someone's voice or an unanswered SMS.


Being able to identify your 'triggers' might be helpful because it could allow you to look at how you originally responded to them, and to think about how you might respond in a more positive way next time. Identifying these things can be hard at first and may take some time, but with practice you will become a pro and be able to catch yourself in the moment.

Getting help

Have a think about chatting to friends, family or other supportive people that you trust– they can be a great support network.

Check out the Butterfly Foundation for more info on the different eating disorders and what they look like.

To find out more about recovery and what you can do, check out our 'Support services for eating disorder' fact sheet and find organisations and support services in your area. You might also want to have a look at some self-help tips for eating disorders.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 04 May, 2016
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