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how often do people recover from eating disorders?


Posted by k.n.

 
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I get asked this question all the time. It's a complicated one to answer. It's not as clear cut as, say, "how many people recover from having strep throat?" When we ask this question we need to consider several things. Perhaps most important, what does "recovery" mean? Amongst clinicians there is much debate about how to define recovery. Should "recovered" mean "at a healthy weight" or "without eating disorder symptoms" or "with lessened eating disorder symptoms" or some combination of these, or something different? I tend to subscribe to a holistic view about recovery. At the minimum, I believe someone needs to be physically healthy enough that he/she can function in her life. Other than that, I think a good guideline is the quality of someone's life and quality of her relationships. There are myriad factors that affect what happens in treatment and recovery: how long someone has suffered from an eating disorder, how severe it has been, what kind of support she has for treatment and recovery, what age she was when the illness began... all of these affect someone's prognosis. When people ask me the "how many people recover?" question, or "how long does it take?" I talk to them about all these variables. And I try to help them come up with a definition of recovery that makes sense in their (and their family's) life.

I get asked this question all the time. It's a complicated one to answer. It's not as clear cut as, say, "how many people recover from having strep throat?" When we ask this question we need to consider several things. Perhaps most important, what does "recovery" mean? Amongst clinicians there is much debate about how to define recovery. Should "recovered" mean "at a healthy weight" or "without eating disorder symptoms" or "with lessened eating disorder symptoms" or some combination of these, or something different? I tend to subscribe to a holistic view about recovery. At the minimum, I believe someone needs to be physically healthy enough that he/she can function in her life. Other than that, I think a good guideline is the quality of someone's life and quality of her relationships. There are myriad factors that affect what happens in treatment and recovery: how long someone has suffered from an eating disorder, how severe it has been, what kind of support she has for treatment and recovery, what age she was when the illness began... all of these affect someone's prognosis. When people ask me the "how many people recover?" question, or "how long does it take?" I talk to them about all these variables. And I try to help them come up with a definition of recovery that makes sense in their (and their family's) life.

Hi K.N.,

You know, Juliet makes some good points here. The vast majority of people with an eating disorder DO recover. Early treatment is essential to improve recovery rates - but it is never to late to get into recovery.

About 25% of people may not recover or may have symptoms that persist, but most do recover.

A comprehensive treatment team (therapist, medical doctor, nutritionist, medication when warranted) has been shown to significantly improve the rates of recovery.

Dr. Sari Shepphird

This is a site that addresses some good statistics on eating disorders:

http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm

I would say that a) it varies widely depending on the type of the eating disorder, b) it depends on how quickly treatment is attained - the longer one remains in a pattern of disordered eating, the harder it will be to overcome that pattern and break the cycle, and c) it depends on the support system the person builds with medical and mental health practitioners and family and friends. 

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