What do we mean when we talk about recovery?

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As we think ahead to what this New Year will bring with an eating disorder, some of us may already be implementing our New Year’s resolutions. Some of them may be centered around eating, stopping behaviors or maybe even recovery. (Remember, aim for daily goals, instead of an entire year to set yourself up for success.)

But, what do we mean when we talk about recovery? Some people use the term “recovered,” others say “recovery,” and yet others don’t use either. When someone enters into treatment, either that person or their loved ones want to know our success rate. Of course, this presents the question, “Success as measured by what?” As a field, we are at a loss on this question.

Treatment programs focus on medical stability, stopping behaviors and regaining lost weight. This is critical, but it is only the beginning. There is a universal desire for: a life of love, fulfillment, the ability to enjoy pleasurable things, accomplishment, comfort and purpose.

We all want to feel comfortable in our own skin and to appreciate ourselves. We want to stop feeling shame about our bodies and our identity. Our path to these things is so varied and different, yet they are the goals that many aspire to reach.

In the end, I think the goal of eating disorder treatment must constantly evolve. A treatment program should take you to a place of medical stability, a decrease or cessation of behaviors, and provide you with psycho-education on the disorder. However, life and experience must take you the rest of the way.

Treatment programs should lead to good therapy and the building of healthy communities and relationships. This is lifelong work, and being able to accomplish this work is the most important sign of recovery. To recover we need to change, to change we need to accept, to accept we need to be honest and open to our own experience and to hear the voices of others.

Mark Warren, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer, The Emily Program

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