The ED Bites series on defining recovery

Next week (so soon? Ack!), I will be presenting at the London International Eating Disorders Conference on Defining Recovery with Susan Ringwood of B-EAT. We came up with the idea since there are no good, agreed-upon definitions of what recovery is. Certainly people have tried to define it, but it’s been difficult and many of the current criteria are very problematic.

Moreover, we wanted to look at how a variety of people defined recovery. Not just researchers, but also clinicians, sufferers, and family members. What do they think indicates that a person is “in recovery”? What qualifies as full and/or partial recovery? How do you measure it? Is recovery even the best word to use? Is “remission” a more accurate definition of what happens?

I started to get very interested in the subject when I was writing my latest book, Decoding Anorexia. I knew that definitions of recovery were fairly sparse and not necessarily all that descriptive, but it wasn’t until I really delved into the literature  that I came to understand just how limited existing definitions really were. I couldn’t address the subject in as much depth as I might have liked, but I did try to look into the subject in a decent amount of detail.

Piggybacking onto this is the latest presentation in London. It’s a chance for both Susan and I to look at the subject from a more holistic perspective, and talk to leading ED researchers and clinicians.

Since I have all of this great material, and since it all can’t go in the talk, I thought that I would create a blog series on the subject, both as a way to organize my thoughts on what I want to actually say, and since I think none of my readers will actually be there. So over the next few days, I intend to address some of the following topics:

  1. How do researchers define recovery?
  2. How do therapists, sufferers, and family members define recovery?
  3. What factors predict long-term recovery?
  4. What happens to people after recovery?

I hope you’ll keep reading and share your thoughts on the subject.

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17 Responses to “The ED Bites series on defining recovery”

  1. Looking forward to this, as it’s something I’m trying to figure out for myself right now…

  2. I have been wondering exactly this recently. Look forward to reading more.

  3. While I can’t define it myself–it’s a place that I’ve rarely been the past decade–I look forward to hearing what everyone says and hope to be there some day. Thank you!

  4. It is an interesting topic. I think we need to define specific stages of recovery, as opposed to “recovered” and “not recovered” or some other false dichotomy, for research purposes. I’m not sure it matters so much on an individual level, though.

    Frankly, I hate when people tell me that I’m not aiming high enough, or that I can “do better” in my recovery, or that I’m not recovered because of X or Y. It is so presumptuous. The idea that everyone’s recovery should have the same goal is ludicrous, and guilting and shaming people because someone’s recovery is not “as recovered” as someone else’s is also idiotic. It overlooks the different genetic and environmental components that lead to individual’s disorders and ignores history (both ED history and personal life history) and comorbidity.

    I really dislike those “Recovery means…” lists. Ugh. I’m fine with creating arbitrary (or semi-arbitrary) definitions, perhaps a scale or spectrum for research purposes, because that will make comparing papers SO MUCH easier, but on an individuals level everyone should really focus on their own recovery and their own well-being as opposed to telling other people what they should and shouldn’t be doing and just how recovered they are.

    Sorry for the rant, I think I’ve developed a strong negative reaction to this topic because of how many times people have assumed things about my eating disorder and my recovery and completely ignored how I FELT about things and how things ACTUALLY were. Mostly people who didn’t know me, of course, as people who knew me were so happy with where I was in recovery and how well I was doing.

    • It’s a fine line to walk, at least for my own internal struggles: not settling for less than I know I’m capable of and simply not thinking that a particular ED leftover is worth tackling.

      For instance, the body image stuff. Don’t love my body, most of the time, I’m not even sure that I like my body. I also largely don’t care. Some people may find working on this sort of thing essential, and I don’t.

      What I think we need to do is correlate the recovery lists with quality of life issues. Are there certain things that must be tackled for someone to resume an acceptable quality of life? Will those vary by individual or their phase in recovery? We just don’t know that.

  5. I’m looking forward to more info on this topic. Defining recovery is a topic that comes up with my clients (and their families) a lot and I would love to have more insight to share with them on this! I have one article that I reference back to a lot. I referenced it on my blog if you are interested. My assumption is you might have seen Dan W. Reiff’s definition of recovery already? If not, the link is below:

    • Thanks for this. Right now, I’m going to be focusing on definitions of recovery that are in the scientific literature that I can more fully assess.

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