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Eating Disorders: How Long Does it Take to Recover?

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No preset path and many choices. Recovery is a journey.

Eating Disorder Recovery Time

 How long will eating disorder recovery take? This is a reasonable question. Not only can I not provide a specific time, but also I can't guarantee that someone will indeed recover. And I certainly can't support an answer many people want, i.e. days or a weekend or at most, a quick stay in a residential program.


The question is complex with a different answer for every individual. If you are still reading after this undesirable news, please let me talk a little about eating disorders and recovery.

First, it can be scary to start what you believe to be a journey into the unknown. It’s true that you don’t know where you are going and what you will experience on your healing journey. That’s because your psyche

has buried the causes of your anxiety. So, although you don’t know where you are going, in an unconscious way you do know. Your own psyche will let you gain awareness and strengthen yourself as you progress. But this is something you can’t know in advance. If you commit to your healing journey, you’ll discover this.

I like the introductory photo because it shows you many directions, possibilities and challenges, depending on your choices. It also shows you no established path.


Purpose of an Eating Disorder 

People develop eating disorders for a reason. Eating disorders help a person cope with living when the person has not developed other ways to successfully take care of herself. This coping mechanism often develops in childhood, but it can develop at any age.

Puberty is a time when we see many people begin acting out bulimia or anorexia or a combination of both. But I’ve seen patients whose disorder began in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Something in the person’s experience overwhelmed their coping ability. To avoid that bewildering and frightening anxiety they binge, purge, starve to create a different state of consciousness and find a state of calm or numbness they can bear.

Time

To look at the time involved in healing we’d have to look at when the healing began. Often a person lives with an eating disorder for many years without appreciating that it is a disorder that needs attention. They don’t realize that the acting out is a signal that something they can’t identify is threatening them and that the behavior with food and self image is their only escape. It takes understanding and courage to consider weakening or giving up an accessible escape route when danger seems to be a constant threat.

A person with an eating disorder may try on her own to stop her behaviors. She will use will power, drugs, high sensation distracting activities, harsh self-criticism, diet programs. When these efforts do nothing to stop her acting out with food she can plunge into more self-criticism including increasing her sense of failure and unworthiness.

When she reaches out to psychotherapy she may be in near despair and yet have a glimmer of hope that the psychotherapy or the particular psychotherapist will have the answers that have eluded her and that she will be free.

Hope is important. Courage to reach out is important. Feeling you are worth saving is important. Committing yourself to the therapy work is important. These are all prehealing stages. Still, the real healing work has yet to begin.

Healing Tasks
 

Healing has to do with developing a competent, mature and aware sense of self and awareness in the world. It has to do with restarting stalled emotional development so that the person can take care of herself realistically in the face of simple and complex life challenges. How long does it take to accomplish the required developmental tasks? A substantial period of time from several years to many years, depending on the challenges of each individual.

Developing trust in your psychotherapist is essential. Committing yourself to your own healing is essential. In your genuine healing you venture into new awareness. You let go of old safeguards and learn new way to take care of yourself. You learn to recognize, respect and learn from the teachings of your own inner life.

This seems to be more challenging as we move more into the 21st century. Seductive promises come at you through advertising. Quick solutions are offered. Novel approaches including spa like environments, electronic devices and iphone monitoring are a few examples.

Solid recovery requires solid work. Postponing that work lengthens the time between your desire for recovery and recovery. While symptoms of an eating disorder have much in common in different people, the causes of the disorder, the pathway through the person’s mind and emotions that makes recovery possible are unique for each person. We don’t all have the same histories or the same strengths and weaknesses of mind, psychology, heart and soul.

Each person can companion herself with an experienced psychotherapist who knows the depth of the eating disorder and the profound influence it has on a person’s life. Making the journey together is how recovery emerges.


Recovery is a Process
 

But please don’t despair at the thought of the time involved. Recovery is a process. As you move through time and stages of recovery, you reap benefits as you go. Your life improves as you gain more health. During the healing work, yes, you will need courage to face your pain. But you will also experience joy as you discover the authentic worthwhile you who no longer needs an eating disorder.




Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice specalizing in eating disorder recovery. All appointments are virtual. For a free telephone consultation e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Author of This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder

Image by Tommy_Rau from Pixabay

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