What Does Recovery From Anorexia Look Like?

Every anorexics’ disorder looks slightly different, as does the process of recovery. Every individual differs in willingness to acknowledge the disorder, readiness to change, and motivation to change behaviors.

Stages of Change

  • In the pre-contemplation stage, the individual is: not ready to change; they do not see the problem, or are unwilling to acknowledge it
  • In the contemplation stage, the individual is: aware there is a problem, but not sure what they want to do about it; the decision to recover can change from day to day
  • In the preparation stage, the individual is: in a place where he or she has made the decision to change, but is unclear about how to do it; this can be a time of immense confusion and anxiety
  • In the action stage, the individual is: committed to making the necessary changes to recover from anorexia, meaning taking the necessary steps to change actions, behaviors, and environments (if necessary); this stage occurs once treatment has been sought, meaning the individual requires increased support
  • In the maintenance stage, the individual is: focused on maintaining their new, healthier behaviors and lifestyle; this stage is ongoing, yet relapse is also possible during this stage.

Relapse Prevention

Recovery from anorexia requires a lot of hard work and patience on the part of loved ones. Achieving full recovery is a great achievement, however the likelihood of a relapse is always present. Relapse is a return to old eating disorder behaviors for a period of time. Relapse usually follows a phase of increased stress coupled with the inability (or unwillingness) to employ healthy coping skills. Although relapse is not isolated to a single incidence of the negative behavior, it does not equal failure. Instead, it is a time for the anorexic to seek professional help straightaway. If the individual is unwilling to do this, it may be pertinent to identify if the intention behind the relapse is more than a way to cope. Sometimes, relapse can be a choice on the part of the anorexic, indicating his or her desire to resume to the eating disorder.

Although it is a common occurrence in anorexia, there are ways to help prevent relapse. It is important for family and support people to be aware of the anorexic’s red flags (or warning signs) to relapse. These may include many of the same signs the individual displayed at the onset of his or her disorder. If you are unaware of what your loved one’s red flags are, ask!

Slip vs. Relapse

Slips also frequently occur in recovered anorexics. Slips are often confused with relapse, yet there is a significant distinction. A slip is a one-time return back to old eating disorder behavior. Unlike with relapse, the behavior is isolated to a single incident, and does not continue for any period of time. As with relapse, exploring the intention behind the slip is meaningful. Commonly, it is an unhealthy reaction to a particularly stress-inducing event. When slips occur, the person struggling should get back on track immediately with the meal plan, exercise plan, etc., and tell someone about the slip through reaching out and asking for support. Identifying what triggered the slip, exploring healthier coping skills for the future, and self-forgiveness are also vital steps to moving on from the slip.

Suicide And Anorexia

Among all mental disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest occurrence of suicide. Anorexia itself may not be the driving factor in the staggering incidence of suicide, but instead the underlying mental illness. Developing anorexia is often a way for individuals to cope with the depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. they are experiencing. Anorexia frequently leads individuals to live a very isolated life, secluding themselves from friends, family, and other supports. Isolation increases the severity of symptoms of mental illness, causing a feeling of helplessness and general lack of hope. Mental illness, hopelessness, and distorted thoughts due to starvation create a very dangerous combination.

What Can You Do To Help Prevent Anorexia Nervosa?

With the growing media frenzy around unattainable beauty ideals, the burgeoning plastic surgery craze, and the increasing pressures children are under today, many parents wonder how they can help safeguard their children from developing anorexia. While there are no guarantees, there are things you can do to support your child’s healthy body image and self-esteem.

  • Encourage healthy eating habits: regular meals and snacks throughout the day; eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full
  • Eat together: whenever possible!
  • Do not classify foods as “good” or “bad”
  • Provide education around the media: show your kids how photo-shopping works (hyperlink to photo shop video)
  • Be tuned in to your child’s comments about his or her body or appearance
  • Throw away the scale

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