Recovery from eating disorders – what are the signs?

We wish that we could tell you that recovery from eating disorders is a linear process. It’s not. The truth is, eating disorder recovery looks very different for every individual.

You’ve probably read about the different stages of recovery. You know that your loved ones’ treatment plan is built around these stages. And you’ve accepted that there will be times in the recovery process where it feels like you take one step forward and three steps backwards.

There is no perfection in recovery from eating disorders. But what does eating disorder recovery look like? What are the signs you’re looking for in your loved one to know that recovery is on the right track?

Awareness of the problem

While your loved one being aware that they have an eating disorder is far from recovery, it’s an important step in the journey. This is often the first step a person takes before they’re willing to accept help – from you or from health professionals – and ultimately start their recovery.

It may also take you some time to accept that your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder. That’s also a completely normal part of the process. Many parents, family or friends, feel guilty that they didn’t notice the signs earlier. The sooner you can move through this, the sooner you can give your loved one the support they need.

Talking about their eating disorder

Being aware of an eating disorder is one thing. It’s another thing to talk about it openly. Particularly if your loved one can talk about their eating disorder in a purposeful way.

There are other verbal cues that you might pick up in your loved one that may indicate they’re on the road to recovery from their eating disorder. Maybe you notice that they react differently when the topic of body perception is raised. Or they may start to talk positively about food or their body.

Awareness of the problem

Eating in front of others

People experiencing eating disorders can feel ashamed when they’re eating in front of other people. Or they eat alone to hide their symptoms. For many people, one of the signs of recovery from eating disorders is when they feel comfortable eating with or in front of others.

As you know, there are many different types of eating disorders. The signs of recovery will differ depending on the individual and their eating disorder. You may notice that they’re more comfortable joining the family at the dinner table. Or they voluntarily reach for food to serve themselves. Whatever the case, the change might be subtle but you’ll likely notice it.

Physical signs of recovery

There are also physical signs of recovery from eating disorders. These physical signs may be the first signs that you notice that indicate your loved one is recovering.

Your loved one’s body may start to stabilise. As will their vital signs. Their nutrition deficiencies may start to replenish. These are all positive signs. But remember that it’s a long road ahead. Every positive step is one to be celebrated… but don’t be disheartened if it’s followed by a few steps backwards. It’s all part of the journey.

Psychological signs of recovery

Probably the most important signs of all are seeing your loved one begin to engage with family, friendships, relationships, work, school, activities and experiences.  These are all indications that your loved one is leaving behind old self-belief systems to re-connect with life.

It’s important to understand 

Stages of change for someone with an eating disorder are a necessary part of their healing. The stages of change are Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Termination.


Psychological signs of recovery

During these stages, progress is not linear and relapse is the rule and not the exception. Often a person experiencing an eating disorder will spiral through the stages of change 3 or 4 times before they exit. Be prepared for complications! Distress and social pressure can often precipitate relapse. Be aware that guilt and self-blame exacerbate the relapse.

Progress takes place in all stages and moving from stage to stage is progress. Invisible changes will take place in the first 3 stages – changes in awareness, emotions, self-image and thinking. Visible changes take place in the last 3 stages – action, termination and maintenance.

The path of successful change for anyone requires an openness and willingness to learn, to make change a top priority, increase understanding of how the problem works for and against them and develop new coping skills and strategies. Believing that change is possible is more likely to bring success. These beliefs stem from words, thoughts and images and our loved ones can use their own mind power to create change.

We’re here for you

We founded Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) to provide support to the families and carers of people with an eating disorder. As a crucial part of your loved one’s eating disorder recovery team, we provide you with the resources and information you need to support their recovery. 

Learn more about EDFA and our mission or tap into our resources for parents, carers and family members.