Eating Disorder Recovery: The First Steps

Denial in eating disorders is so common. You tell yourself you’re just eating healthily, you’re just “balancing” out that big lunch you had, you’re only going to lose another three pounds and then you’ll be satisfied and happy and can eat normally again. I know I thought all of these things. Besides, an eating disorder is better than the alternative of feeling out of control or unhappy with other aspects of your life, right?

These are lies.

An eating disorder is by its very nature a creature of deceit – you lie to your friends and family, you lie to yourself. Slowly but surely that slightly obsessive “healthy” eating can take over your life. If people bring this up, you feel uncomfortable and defensive. It’s useful to refer here to the recovery model. At this time someone with an eating disorder is in the Pre-contemplation stage. Their behaviour isn’t a problem to them – they might not believe that they have an ED at all; they may know so but have no intention of changing what they currently see as something beneficial or necessary to them, or they may fluctuate between the two. Often during this stage you may go through the motions of recovery without believing in them at all. Forced recovery during this stage will usually lead to relapse.

@sonaksha on Instagram

How to move from this stage?

A notoriously difficult question, in honesty. However, some things to remember if you are someone stuck on the verge of contemplation:

  • You are sick enough to recover. Often, the idea of being “not sick enough” is a barrier to recovery. Maybe you’ve heard horror stories of people with extremely severe disorders or have told yourself that you’re not underweight enough or engaging in the behaviour enough to pursue recovery. You might think that you have to get worse to prove that you can or to “justify” recovery. If you have any kind of problem with eating that interferes with your life, you are sick enough. It seems strange to someone without an ED that one would want to be more sick but remember that a mind disordered in this way can distort value systems significantly.
  • What did you love doing before you developed these disordered habits? Certainly for me, my anorexia made me forget everything that I loved and why I loved those things. Think about the things that got left behind for obsessive food habits and even if you can’t muster up joy about them anymore, know that if you take the first step to recovery, you will love and enjoy things – maybe the same things, maybe not – once again. I always found this hard to believe but now I can focus on a book again, I can exercise again without it being compulsive and unhealthy, I can enjoy a night out with my friends. My ambitions don’t seem pointless anymore and I can see a bright future.
  • Remember that the ED lies. It will probably make you think that recovery is weak. It’s not. It’s hard, and long, and definitely not a linear process. But it will make you a damn strong person. Recovery is worth it, more than whatever benefit – strength, superiority, control – you think you get from your eating disorder.

    @chibird on Instagram

The Contemplation stage comes when you are willing to admit the problem. This is the basis for real change BUT it is not the end of the battle. It is the first step.

In the Preparation stage, you have to work out how to change a lot of your thought processes, belief systems and habits, followed by the Action of implementing this. This can be a long, long process and remember that you will still be fighting a lot of internal battles even as you are making huge progress.

During the Maintenance stage – when one is sustaining the Action quite successfully – be aware that relapse happens. I always thought that recovery and coping mechanisms were so prevalent and ever-present in my life that I wouldn’t ever relapse – in reality, I made little “relapses” every day in my behaviour, larger ones in my mental processes and I have had my fair share of what could be termed a full relapse. This is okay. You might have to take your “first step” again, and this is okay. Remind yourself of the reasons why you recovered the first time (or maybe they have changed now – that’s okay too!) – focus on them, and keep fighting. Recovery is worth it, whether it’s your first go or whether it is following your twentieth relapse.

Think about where you are in your recovery and this can help you to move forward – here is a useful link with more information.


If you have any questions or queries please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Message the Heads Up team via our Facebook page or email and we will try our best to help! Also contact us if you are interested in blogging for us. Keep your heads up! Blog written by Louise – our outreach officer for the peer support groups!

Further links: 

As always, there is always support at Durham University:

  • Every college has their own welfare team made up of students, academic mentors and pastoral staff. More information and college specific advice can be found on our website here.
  • Nightline: all night, all term, all ears. The phone number is on your campus card or duo. Phone and online chat every night of term.
  • The counselling service

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