How long does bulimia recovery take?
Recovery from bulimia nervosa, or another eating disorder, is rarely a linear process. Although lapses into your disordered eating behaviors are incredibly frustrating, they do not negate your hard work and may provide valuable insights toward your continued recovery.
There is no set time for recovery from bulimia nervosa and it's not unusual for recovery to slow or stall. The pace and nature of recovery depend on your individual circumstances, including the patterns of your bulimia nervosa symptoms, co-existing medical conditions, and more.
While navigating your relationship with food and your body is a lifelong process, by seeking professional help, you can learn strategies to help you cope with your negative thoughts and emotions without resorting to eating disorder behaviors (i.e., binging and purging). Plus, aftercare support is there for you should you suffer setbacks.
The 5 bulimia recovery stages (Stages of Change model)
Recovery from bulimia nervosa can be a long process, and many people benefit from the help of a multidisciplinary team of professionals and the support of family and friends.
It's common for those living with bulimia nervosa to be unsure about their progress or for loved ones to feel disengaged from the recovery process. These potential stumbling blocks can lead to feelings of ambivalence toward recovery and difficulty with remaining engaged in the process. Therefore researchers developed models to help explain the stages of eating disorder recovery, including the bulimia recovery stages.
While the stages of change model isn't perfect, as bulimia nervosa recovery looks different for everyone, it can provide an insight into the recovery process and how the definition of "recovery" changes throughout the cycle.
The key components of bulimia recovery
While recovery from bulimia nervosa - or any other eating disorder - is highly personalized and varied, in general, it includes five key elements:3
Nutritional recovery involves restoring regular eating patterns, eating an appropriate amount of food to meet individual needs, eating various foods from all food groups, and learning to recognize and respond to the body's hunger and satiety cues.
This component of recovery also typically involves learning to eat with flexibility, as well as eating socially and for pleasure and enjoyment.
Nutritional recovery will look different for everyone due to various factors, including:
- Individual health conditions or chronic illnesses
- The impact of autism or ADHD on interoception
- Cultural variation in food norms and traditions
- Accessibility needs
Physical recovery is generally associated with the physical health complications caused by your eating disorders and addressing issues of malnutrition.
Improvements in vital signs, such as body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, may also form a part of physical recovery, as can improving gastrointestinal and hormonal function and health.
Helping heal someone with bulimia nervosa psychologically is just as important as healing them physically. People with eating disorders often experience psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, as well as low feelings of self-worth, typically linked to a poor self-image.
It's not uncommon for those with bulimia nervosa to suffer from co-existing psychological conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and mood disorders, which will also be addressed concurrently with the treatment of eating disorder symptoms by a mental health professional.
People with bulimia nervosa will often also get support in making functional improvements in their life as they recover from their eating disorder, including boosted energy levels, improved concentration and memory, better sleep quality, and becoming more engaged in social, work, and school lives.
Eating disorder treatment will help the individual improve the social domain of their life. This can include spontaneously engaging in more social activities with loved ones, letting go of rigid food rules or exercise regimes that previously impeded your social life, and improving relationships and feelings of social connectedness.
Recovering from bulimia nervosa has no set time frame, and it is rarely a linear process. Instead, your recovery should be viewed as an ongoing cycle where you may pass through certain stages multiple times or revisit certain stages for different bulimia nervosa symptoms.
No matter what stage of recovery you're in, remember that each stage is an integral part of your recovery journey. Continuing to stay engaged and curious and reaching out for additional support are essential to navigating this complex and winding process.
If you're struggling with bulimia nervosa, support is available, and healing is possible. It is never too late to reach out for help and start your recovery journey.