Menu Close

Defining Recovery

The goal of eating disorder treatment is full recovery: living life free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. There is always hope, even for patients with chronic illness, but the best path to recovery is early intervention and firm and unyielding progress toward full medical, emotional, and cognitive health. Although they are extremely serious brain illnesses, anorexia and bulimia can be successfully and fully treated.

F.E.A.S.T. Believes in Full Recovery

No patient or patient’s family need ever settle for treatment that isn’t working, is stalled, settles for less than 100% recovery, or stops before the patient is fully self-sufficient.

It is important for parents to know that full physical, emotional, and cognitive recovery is not unattainable or rare. In fact, if properly treated an eating disorder can be short in duration and without long-term medical consequences.

And although it has become common to say that it takes 5-7 years to recover, this is a statistic based on older treatment approaches and drawn from the most severe cases. Recovery is rarely achieved in less than several months, but treatment that languishes or settles for low weight goals should be reexamined.

It is also common to say that one never completely recovers from an eating disorder. This is a disabling and self-perpetuating myth.

F.E.A.S.T. was founded by families who have supported or are currently supporting loved ones through the recovery process. Many of us have seen children and young adults go from gravely ill to full remission of symptoms, living healthy normal lives.

Signs of Recovery

published by Cris Haltom in the EATING DISORDER SURVIVAL GUIDE, May 25, 2006
(adapted from sources below)
  1. Eating occurs at regular intervals and is guided primarily by physical rather than emotional hunger.
  2. Metabolic rate, if measured, is restored and maintained at a healthful level.
  3. The ability to recognize and respond to hunger as a guide for eating appropriately has returned.
  4. Weight for height based on age and gender is restored to a healthful range.
  5. For females, menstruation is achieved or restored and maintained without oral contraceptives.
  6. Skin health, dental health, thermoregulation, hair growth, and digestion/ absorption functions are restored to normal.
  7. Healthy body composition (lean body mass and body fat) is restored and maintained.
  8. Caloric and nutrient intake is appropriate for maintaining a healthy weight and body composition.
  9. Purging behavior, e.g., self-induced vomiting and laxative or enema use, is absent.
  10. Use of diet pills or appetite suppressants is absent.
  11. Excessive exercise is absent.
  12. Binge eating behavior is absent or rare.
  13. The ability to tolerate a wide variety of foods so that a good balance of high- quality protein, carbohydrates, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins is maintained.
  14. The ability to tolerate natural shifts in weight (one to several pounds) related to such factors such as hydration changes, illness, and season of the year.
  15. The ability to tolerate ‘spontaneous’ natural eating – especially out in public.
  16. Weight gain does not deter from eating well.
  17. Acceptance of genetically-determined body type, size, and shape.
  18. The percentage of waking hours spent obsessing about weight, food, and/or body image is reduced to 15% or less.
  19. The ability to effectively cope with problems in ways other than through disordered eating behaviors.
  20. After physical health is restored, the ability to understand and resolve, other than through disordered eating, the issues underlying and driving disordered eating.
  21. The ability to recognize signs of relapse and to seek appropriate help if relapse occurs.
  22. Triggers for relapse thinking or behaviors can be identified.
  23. The family as a whole has moved beyond food and weight preoccupation.
  24. The family as a whole is able to identify, explore, and cope with normal adolescent issues.
  25. The family as a whole has created a healthy culture around food and regular meals.


Understanding what to look for in recovery helps parents recognize signs of improving health. Parents need to be encouraged to hope for recovery, even though statistics about recovery can be discouraging. Recovery may take many routes and may include setbacks and unexpected turns. However, all the evidence suggests that recovery should remain the desired destination and the hope for the future.


  • Coutier, J. and Lock, J. “What is remission adolescent anorexia?” The International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2006, 39:3, 175- 183.
  • Hudson, J. I. et al as reported in Eating Disorders Review, “BED: A chronic or temporary condition?” 2005, 16:6, 7.
  • Peterson, C. and Mitchell, J.E. “Self-report measures,” In Mitchell, J. and Peterson, C. Assessment of Eating Disorders. 2005, 98-119. New York: The Guilford Press