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Fully Recovered vs. In Recovery: A Discussion of the Similarities and Differences

When someone has an eating disorder, their goal is to eliminate the disorder from their life. In most cases, this involves engaging in an appropriate treatment program, such as one that provides anorexia nervosa treatment. The phrases “recovery,” “in recovery” and “recovered” are often used interchangeably, which can be confusing for the people involved in the process, as well as those who have loved ones with an eating disorder. For this reason, it is important to define these terms clearly.

Defining “Recovery”

Recovery is the process by which someone overcomes an eating disorder. During recovery, patients undergo a variety of therapies to help them understand why their disorders exist and to challenge these disordered thoughts and behaviors. During this process, they may also address co-occurring issues, such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders or other problems that make eating disorders more difficult to treat.

For many patients, recovery will continue even after treatment. The process of recovery is not complete until the individual is no longer affected by the eating disorder in any way. The recovery process looks different for every patient, and the time it takes to complete can vary considerably. Some people could have a recovery period that lasts for many years, while others may recover fully within months of completing a professional treatment program.

Defining “In Recovery”

When someone is “in recovery,” it means they are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. This may mean you are actively involved in a bulimia or anorexia treatment program. For example, you may be undergoing treatment at a residential anorexia nervosa treatment facility, or you may be in a day treatment program focused on helping you cope with bulimia. The phrase “in recovery” could also be used to refer to someone who has completed a treatment program but does not consider himself or herself to be fully recovered from the eating disorder. This individual may be living everyday life outside of treatment, but he or she continues to deal with urges to engage in disordered eating behaviors, such as bingeing, purging or severely restricting food intake.

Defining “Fully Recovered”

To be “fully recovered,” an individual must be completely free from all symptoms of his or her eating disorder. In addition, the person must have also accepted his or her natural body size and shape, and he or she will no longer engage in any behaviors related to food or body size that could be considered self-destructive. Instead, this person will have an appropriate perspective on food, body weight, body image and other such issues. Full recovery is the ultimate goal of anyone who has an eating disorder, as it signals the individual is now free from the majority of the negative effects of the illness.

Why It Matters

When the terms “in recovery” and “fully recovered” are not properly defined and understood, it can be confusing for all those involved. It can be difficult to understand what someone means when they say one of these phrases. In addition, opinions on whether full recovery exists may also differ, so having clear definitions is important. Furthermore, understanding these definitions makes it easier for people who need to recover from an eating disorder to set goals and develop a clear vision of what they want their future to look like.

Different Perspectives on Recovery

While someone is enrolled in an eating disorder treatment program, they are likely to be described as “in recovery”. However, there is also a school of thought that believes everyone who has ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder remains “in recovery” for the rest of their lives, even if they are no longer experiencing any of the symptoms of the disorder. In fact, some bulimia and anorexia treatment centers subscribe to this school of thought and pass this way of thinking on to their patients. Other people, however, believe it is possible to become fully recovered, which means the eating disorder is no longer having any impact on the individual’s life.

Is It Possible to Achieve Full Recovery?

When it comes to the possibility of a full recovery from an eating disorder, people disagree. While some people believe an individual will continue to deal with triggers and a desire to engage in disordered eating behaviors for the rest of their lives, other people believe it is possible to eventually free yourself from these issues entirely.

Among those who believe in the possibility of a full recovery, it is important to note that full recovery doesn’t necessarily occur when treatment ends. It is possible to complete a treatment program, be free of symptoms and still be considered “in recovery”. In such cases, the individual is no longer experiencing the symptoms of the eating disorder but continues to deal with poor self-image or spends too much time focusing on food.

Similarities and Differences

To help both patients and their families better understand the terms “in recovery” and “fully recovered”, below is a discussion of the similarities and differences between these two terms.


Some of the similarities between people in recovery and those who are fully recovered include:

  • A history of an eating disorder

    Both people who are in recovery and fully recovered from an eating disorder have dealt with this condition at one time.

  • Recognition of the existence of the eating disorder

    Both people who are in recovery and fully recovered from an eating disorder have acknowledged the existence of this issue.

  • Active pursuit of recovery

    Both people who are in recovery from an eating disorder and those who are fully recovered have taken steps to eliminate the symptoms of this disorder and achieve full recovery.


Some of the differences between people who are in recovery and those who have fully recovered include:

  • Body image

    Someone who is in recovery may still deal with a negative or distorted body image. Someone who has fully recovered, on the other hand, will have a more positive and realistic view of his or her body.

  • Enrollment in a treatment program

    Someone who is in recovery may be actively participating in a treatment program. However, someone who is considered fully recovered is no longer undergoing professional eating disorder treatment.

  • Disordered eating

    Someone who is in recovery may occasionally engage in disordered eating behaviors or at least have the urge to do so. Someone who has fully recovered is no longer dealing with this issue.

  • Fear of relapse

    An individual who is in recovery may have an intense fear of relapsing. However, if an individual is fully recovered, he or she will no longer fear relapse or consider it a possibility.

Achieving Full Recovery

The idea that full recovery is possible brings hope to many people who have been diagnosed with eating disorders, as well as to those who simply suspect they may have a disorder based on the problems they are experiencing. While the road to a full recovery may be long, it will be be worth the time and effort. Not only will you return to a healthy sense of self and no longer engage in disordered behaviors, but you will also be free from any preoccupations related to the eating disorder.

The first step in achieving full recovery from an eating disorder is to enter an appropriate treatment program. For example, if you are interested in full anorexia recovery, you need to explore anorexia nervosa treatment options. When it comes to professional eating disorder treatment, a wide variety of options exist. One of the most important choices you will make with regard to eating disorder treatment options involves choosing between residential eating disorder treatment and outpatient treatment. While residential eating disorder treatment programs require you to remain in the facility for the duration of the treatment program, outpatient treatment programs do not. There are both advantages and disadvantages to each type of program, so it is important to weigh your options carefully.

Another important issue to consider when working toward a full recovery from an eating disorder is the different therapies and treatments available from the facility you choose. In general, it is best to look for a facility that offers a wide variety of options and customizes each treatment program to meet the needs of individual patients. Some of the most common treatments available from bulimia and anorexia treatment centers include individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, exercise education, nutrition education, medical care and psychiatric treatments.

Whether they are looking for anorexia treatment centers or centers specializing in another eating disorder, many patients will also need to consider other more practical factors when selecting an eating disorder treatment program. Some of these more practical considerations include cost, location and whether the facility accepts your insurance policy. If you want to be fully recovered from an eating disorder, however, the quality of the treatment you receive must be your top priority. If cost is an issue, many eating disorder treatment facilities offer payment plans to make treatment more affordable.

Get Help from Monte Nido

At Monte Nido, we believe that full recovery is possible for any patient with an eating disorder, and we operate all of our programs under the guidance of this belief. We give our patients the hope and encouragement they need to work toward a future that does not include their eating disorders.

Monte Nido offers anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment and treatment for all other types of eating disorders. All of our treatment programs are customized based on the backgrounds, preferences and needs of each patient who enrolls in treatment at our facility. For example, a patient who comes into our facility seeking anorexia nervosa treatment will not receive the same services as someone receiving treatment for a different disorder.

Our bulimia and anorexia treatment programs have excellent success rates, with the majority of our patients reporting positive results. Bulimia or anorexia recovery is possible with the right treatment. Monte Nido believes in your ability to recover, and we are here to help show you the way. Please contact us today to learn about anorexia nervosa treatment, bulimia nervosa treatment and treatment for lesser-known eating disorders at one of our facilities.

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.