Recovery from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, is not an easy process. It can be extremely challenging and requires significant time, hard work, and commitment. Yes, it might sound daunting, but don’t give up before you begin. Recovery is worth it and can be life-saving. Understanding the stages of eating disorder recovery and learning how to navigate them can help you on the road to your own successful recovery.
How Many Stages Are There in Eating Disorder Recovery?
Like any recovery process, recovering and healing from eating disorders occurs in stages. These stages are based on the Transtheoretical Model of Change, a famous method in behavioral change developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, the five stages of eating disorder recovery are:
- Pre-contemplation: This stage involves a lack of awareness or denial of the problem. Individuals may not recognize or acknowledge that they are suffering from an eating disorder. Close family and friends are often the ones to notice symptoms first, and at this stage, they need to communicate their concerns to their loved ones.
- Contemplation: In this stage, individuals begin to recognize the presence of their disordered eating patterns and consider the possibility of seeking professional help. They may start thinking about making changes and will need to confront their fears about moving forward.
- Preparation: During this stage, individuals are ready to change and prepare themselves for recovery. They may gather information about eating disorder treatment options, seek professional help, and make plans to address their eating disorder with the help of a treatment team.
- Action: The action stage involves engaging in treatment and actively changing eating disorder behaviors, managing negative eating disorder thoughts, and using healthy coping skills. Individuals can tackle this stage with therapy, nutritional counseling, medication management, and guidance from their treatment team.
- Maintenance: The maintenance stage focuses on maintaining the progress made during treatment for six months or more. Individuals continue to practice their new behaviors and coping strategies and work to prevent relapse.
Does Each Person Go Through the Stages in the Same Way?
People don’t necessarily go through the stages of eating disorder recovery similarly. The progression through these stages is entirely individual and varies from person to person. Different factors, such as the severity of the eating disorder, personal circumstances, and available support systems, can affect how someone progresses through the stages.
Some individuals may move through the stages in a straight line, moving directly from stage one to stage five. Others may move back and forth between stages as they experience setbacks and challenges and work on them at their own pace (1).
What Are the Key Steps to Recovery from an Eating Disorder?
When recovering from an eating disorder, there are a few key steps to help you achieve long-term recovery.
- Seek treatment from healthcare professionals specializing in eating disorders.
- Engage in long-term treatment planning and realize that recovery is a lifelong process.
- Understand that relapse is part of the process and that relapses and setbacks will happen. Knowing that you may relapse will help you successfully deal with it when it happens.
- Seek support from your personal support system and treatment team. Even if you have mastered the stages of recovery, ongoing support is vital to long-term recovery (2).
Professional guidance and support are crucial throughout the recovery journey. At Selah House, our highly experienced team approaches each person’s recovery journey with understanding, patience, and individually tailored support. Call Selah House at 866-324-8081 or fill out our contact form to learn how our team can help you.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2022). Stages of recovery. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/stages-recovery
- Valdez, R. (2021, November 1). Initiating and following through with eating disorder recovery. VeryWellHealth. https://www.verywellhealth.com/eating-disorder-recovery-5204819
Kate Delaney Chen, BSN, RN-BC is a healthcare writer and registered nurse with over 17 years of bedside experience. She specializes in Psychiatric Nursing and Nephrology and currently works at a nationally recognized Inpatient Eating Disorders Program.