Navigating expectations in eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder recovery is full of questions: how did I get here? What is recovery? What if this had happened, or that had happened, instead? When will I recover?

Recovery can feel like such a subjective term. It ‘looks’ different on different people, and there’s hardly a strict definition of what it really is, as it’s such a unique experience.

With this in mind, it can be challenging to set our own goals for recovery that feel both meaningful and personal. It can be equally difficult not to judge our process or the time it’s taking for us to adapt to change, for, aren’t we all our own worst critics?

Below we share our thoughts on how you can mindfully cope with your own expectations and goals in recovery.

Clock the intention of your expectation

Expectations and goals can be important motivating factors in recovery, but the moment they become be-all-and-end-all, we can put ourselves in a space where we’re adding extra pressure and extra stress.

This is significant because recovery itself can already be very stressful. When someone engages in treatment, the treatment team isasking that person to participate in a transitional change. And when we’re firmly attached to a way of thinking or behaving, the prospect of change can be really challenging.

Expectations in recovery, therefore, have to be held very gently. When they are motivating and encouraging positive and constructive actions, they can really support our recovery journey. But the moment the expectation is combined with the self-critic – the part of us that says we’re ‘never doing or achieving enough’ – we tend to engage in self-sabotage and undermine our healing journey of recovery.

Make sure your goals are achievable

When crafting our goals for recovery, we need to hold the idea of realism around our expectations, reminding ourselves that we need to take things day-by-day, and that it would be impossible to achieve everything in one day. 

And this is ok! You are human! Pacing our recovery journeys ensures that we are making sustainable changes that aren’t going to cause too much overwhelm in the long run.

Remember, the small steps still count and can lead to big changes.

Communicate with your community

It’s worth consulting your treatment team on your expecations for recovery, so you feel informed and supported. It’s also important to factor in your physical health and wellbeing into your goals, and ensuring that these areas are really stable before engaging in any other goals pertaining to recovery.

This is especially so when it comes to food recovery. Until you are engaging with recovery from a dietetic perspective, all the other goals can feel exponentially harder to achieve.

So, take stock of your expectations, check in with your community and never work alone with your expectations for recovery.

It’s all about balance

In sum, expectations in recovery can help us to be goal-directed and to maintain alignment with our goals.

The flip side is that we have to be careful that they don’t become unrealistic or burdened by a self-critic who ultimately sabotages our recovery.

Finding this balance, and doing it with a trusted team of specialists, can be a really helpful way to approach it.

Our key takeaway…

Your journey is individual to you, nobody else.

There is no deadline to be fully recovered, nor is there a set pace. You define your path. 

Pressure can be good as it keeps us going, but, recovery is also about forgiveness, acceptance and developing a loving voice that’s echoed in regular practices of self-care.

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