5 Definitions of Eating Disorder Recovery

Definitions of recovery. Illustration of a book with a love note and headphones.

How do you know you are recovered, and what does it mean to be recovered? What really is the definition of eating disorder recovery? These are questions that don’t come with straightforward answers. The word “recovery” can mean different things to different people.

What is eating disorder recovery?

No two eating disorders are the same. While there are many symptoms, feelings, and behaviors that people share – there are dynamics unique to each person as well. Here at Recovery Warriors we’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of experts and everyday warriors over the years and ask them for their definition of recovery. No two definitions were the same. Which ones will you identify with?

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Below are 5 definitions of recovery from our community of warriors all over the world.

1. Freedom

Eating disorders can feel like a prison. Recovery is the key that sets you free.

Freedom is a theme that commonly appears in different definitions of recovery. Athlete and binge eating recovery advocate Lauren Fernandez highlights this for us:

“My definition of recovery is freedom. When you don’t feel controlled and locked in by whatever eating disorder you have, that’s recovery.”

That’s recovery. When you no longer feel controlled or locked in by your eating disorder. You may not feel free right now, and that’s completely valid. But it is possible to get to a place where your eating disorder is not in charge, and you live with peace, freedom, and empowerment. Imagine what life will be like when you reach a place of freedom. When you can live an authentic life instead of feeling like you’re living in a cage. Freedom is waiting for you.

2. Journey

Recovery is a path you walk with countless steps taken along the way. It is a journey. Whether you better identify with the term “fully recovered”, or “in recovery”, one of the most important things is the journey along the way.

Sophie Lippert is a musician and yoga teacher living in recovery. She explained how she embraces the daily steps of the journey in her definition of recovery:

“Recovery is showing up every single day, and being willing to show up every single day for whoever I am in that moment, and embracing that for what it is and moving forward from that space. Every step is a step. It’s a step forward, or sometimes it’s a step back. But it is motion. Every day that I continue to show up is another day that I’m working in recovery and discovery.”

Embrace the journey. Recovery is a choice you make to take care of yourself every day. It’s not perfection, and it doesn’t mean you won’t have hard days, but as long as you continue to take the steps – you will get there.

3. Imperfection

Recovery is saying goodbye to harmful perfectionism and overachieving, and saying hello to a life with no more diet or food rules to perfectly adhere to. It’s living life imperfectly, which is the better life in the long run (despite what your eating disorder tells you).

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Registered eating disorder dietitian Tammy Beasley highlights the power of embracing imperfection in her definition of recovery:

“Recovery is beautiful imperfection. It’s getting free from any self-punishing thoughts and behaviors. You may not necessarily like everything about your body, I know I don’t always do. But recovery for me is being free from punishing myself for something that I may not be ready to love and hug and embrace. It’s beautiful imperfection.”

Recovery is beautiful imperfection, even when it doesn’t feel beautiful. Life will have good days and hard days no matter where you are in the recovery journey. We are always going to have struggles and things that we want to work on in life. Recovery is accepting those imperfections as a normal part of the human experience.

4. Self-Discovery

There is another you outside of your eating disorder. A you who is not wrapped up in concerns and behaviors around food and your body. Maybe this you is someone you once knew, but lost touch with. Or maybe it’s someone you’re getting to know for the first time.

Discovering yourself and your identity outside of your eating disorder is a key part to recovering strong. You are more than an eating disorder.

Kaila Prinns is a wellness coach who focuses on helping people struggling with disordered eating and body image. In her definition of recovery, she shared the role that self-discovery plays:

“I really believe that it’s the piece that comes after recovery, which is discovery. It’s finding out who you are outside of the kitchen and the gym. It’s finding that thing that makes you feel so passionate and so alive and so connected, that doesn’t require a recipe.”

Self-discovery is part of the eating disorder recovery process. It’s finding your true self outside of the diet mentality, to help you become the fullest, most unapologetic, and authentic version of yourself.

5. Self-Compassion

We are big believers in the power of self-compassion here at Recovery Warriors. Self-compassion may sound unrealistic or unattainable, or maybe you feel like you don’t deserve it. But you do, and it can be accomplished in time. It’s one of the most important components of recovery, because you can’t hate yourself into a better life. Eating disorders thrive in a mindset of self-hatred and self-criticism. Self-compassion removes the fuel from the fire.

Singer/songwriter Erin Willett is an advocate for recovering from diet culture. Her definition of recovery highlights self-compassion:

“My definition of recovery is realizing that we’re always so hard on ourselves. The things we say about ourselves, we would never say about anyone else. But what we’ve been through is not who we are. Don’t be too hard on all the little mistakes and just know that they’re missteps to learn from.”

Mistakes are missteps to learn from. Words are powerful. Changing the language around the word “mistake” to “misstep” like Erin does, can help you be more compassionate with yourself. Plus, our recent article can on self-compassion can help you learn other ways to apply it to your recovery and make it more realistic and achievable in your daily life.

Treating yourself with gentle, loving respect is one of the most important things you can do in eating disorder recovery and beyond.

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