Recovering from an eating disorder

It can be difficult to think about what it means to recover from an eating disorder. You might also find it challenging to come up with good reasons for recovering. When thinking about recovery, the most important thing you can do is seek professional help. However, you also have other useful self-help options.

This can help if:

  • you’re recovering from an eating disorder

  • you’d like to begin recovering from an eating disorder

  • you’d like to learn some self-help tools for treating an eating disorder.

Girls smiling at table

What does ‘recovery’ mean?

Recovery can take different forms, depending on the individual concerned. For some, it means the end of their symptoms (e.g. restricting, bingeing, excessive exercising, purging). For others, recovery also includes an end to the self-hatred, fear, guilt and negative self-talk associated with an eating disorder. In a broader sense, recovery can also mean discovering a meaningful and happy life for yourself, with healthy ways of coping with any problems that occur.

Recovery is often a rocky road that takes time and effort. It’s common to experience 'trip-ups', or relapses (a return of unhelpful thoughts, behaviours or symptoms), during the process. The number of times you fall back into your eating disorder isn’t important; what is important is continuing to have faith in your ability to take another step forward.

Recovery time is quicker for some people than it is for others. Studies have shown that, generally, the sooner a person starts treatment for an eating disorder, the sooner they will recover. However, try to remember that anyone can recover, even if they've had an eating disorder for a long time.

Why recover?

A person with an eating disorder may not easily understand the benefits and value of recovery. After all, the behaviours associated with their eating disorder are often a way of coping with underlying problems or emotional pain. Their disorder may help them feel a sense of control, when everything else in their life feels chaotic.

Here are some reasons for choosing to leave your eating disorder behind:

  • No longer living in fear, feeling sad or disliking yourself.

  • No longer letting your moods or actions be dictated by a number on a scale or the number of calories you’ve consumed.

  • Feeling comfortable in your own body.

  • No longer always thinking about food or worrying what you look like.

  • Having energy to do the things you enjoy.

  • No longer living a 'secret life'.

  • Reconnecting with the world (emotionally, psychologically, physically) and leaving behind feelings of isolation.

Self-help tools

First and foremost, it’s important that you seek professional support. In addition, you might consider using some self-help tools.

Keep a 'recovery journal'

Fill a journal with positive and affirming thoughts. Write about why you want to recover, how your eating disorder has impacted your life, where you want to be five or ten years from now, and anything else that will help keep you motivated to recover.

Spend time around supportive people

Try to find people who are comfortable with their bodies and don’t spend all their time talking about dieting and body image.

Talk to other people who are recovering/recovered

Mutual support can be motivating, and seeing someone else make progress or enjoying life might help keep you inspired, too. Support groups are a great way of meeting people who are going through similar things to you. Check out our fact sheet on where to get help for more information on support groups in your area.

Go on body-positive outings

If body image is something you really struggle with, take a walk and have a look at all the different shapes and sizes of the people around you. Try to notice the diversity of shapes, not just a certain type of shape. You’ll see that no two people have the same body shape, and that’s okay.

Read recovery-oriented books

Books focused on eating disorders and recovery can help inspire and keep you motivated. Eating Disorders Victoria has some great suggestions for good books to read if you are, or someone you know is, experiencing an eating disorder.

Take up a hobby

Try something new, or go back to doing something you used to love. There are heaps of different hobbies that are fun and interesting. You might find that you’re actually an awesome guitar player or have a flair for painting.

Do things that nourish your soul

Activities that are positive for your soul could be anything from planting a veggie patch or climbing a tree, to going sailing or engaging in volunteer work. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be expensive; it just has to make you feel good about yourself. Experiment with different things. Part of recovery is getting to know yourself all over again (or for the first time!) and you won't necessarily like everything you try.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to a doctor or health professional before starting an eating disorder self-help program.

  • Call the National Support Line for eating disorders, 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), for free, confidential support, help and information.

  • Have a look at the support services in your state.

  • Get personalised support options for eating disorders with the ReachOut NextStep tool.