The Mighty Logo

I've Been to Eating Disorder Treatment, but I'm Not Recovered

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I’ve been to eating disorder treatment, but I’m not recovered.

It’s a seemingly strange but all-too-common juxtaposition: Why would someone spend weeks or even months in a treatment program and step back into the “real world” still embroiled in an eating disorder? Why wouldn’t they be fully recovered? But my story of treatment and recovery — or lack thereof — is the story of many who seek out eating disorder treatment.

We arrive at treatment centers or enter virtual treatment programs full of hope for the future. We may convince ourselves that this will be the time we clear our minds and beat our disorders. And we work diligently, trying our hardest to complete our meal plans, challenge fear foods and slowly open up in groups and individual therapy. We move forward, slip back and regain progress again.

But eventually, we’ve met all the metrics, or insurance cuts us off or we simply can’t pay out-of-pocket for any more treatment time, and it’s time for us to leave. We’re given a relapse prevention packet, which we may all but ignore as we frantically search for outpatient providers and prepare for the potential challenges of post-treatment life. We’re treated to a rock ceremony or a key ceremony or a tarot card ceremony or a celebratory “congratulations,” and as suddenly as it began, our time in treatment is over. We might have the coping skills we need, but we may not have the support that’ll keep us going.

Our potential triggers — fear foods, scales, grocery store aisles, restaurants — still exist, and they’re as loud as ever.  When our long-standing source of accountability is taken from us, it can be easy for us to slip into old behaviors, especially as we face new challenges — seeing old friends, purchasing new clothes, returning to places where we used to engage in behaviors. We may fight every day to push away the urges to use those harmful behaviors one more time, and some days, we might relapse.

I’ve been to eating disorder treatment, followed every rule to the best of my ability and discharged feeling ready for life beyond treatment. Like so many others, though, I’ve left treatment with an eating disorder — and all of the triggers that accompany it. I’ve felt pressure to make fully recovered decisions when I’m not yet fully recovered, simply to conform to the belief that the moment you leave treatment, your mind and body must be completely healed. But the truth is I have so much healing left to do — and I’m not alone.

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorder treatment doesn’t always lead to immediate recovery because recovery isn’t automatic. Recovery is a daily, lifelong choice. It’s an imperfect process full of twists and turns, peaks and valleys. It involves victories and struggles and progress and relapses. And even though recovery looks different for everyone, it’s typically not a sudden change of heart.

So yes, I’ve been to eating disorder treatment, but I’m not recovered. I’m taking my recovery journey one day at a time in the hope that someday, I’ll be able to say that I’m fully recovered from my eating disorder.


Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Originally published: January 7, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home