Stages of Eating Disorder Recovery: Early, Middle & Rockin’ It


Hello my dear,

It’s o-dark-thirty here at my house.  I go to bed embarrassingly early (my kids may as well tuck me in) and am up at an hour that most people consider the middle of the night.  People seriously groan when I tell them when I get up.  Nevertheless, I have my coffee, my laptop and a fire going; it’s the coziest and quietest time of my day.  I require this self-care time in my nest before I go out into the universe and use my super-hero powers to help pry ED off of my clients...

During this time, I organize my day in my head.  I see X at 9 and Y at 10, etc.  Descriptors for my clients stage of recovery pop into my head - Early, Middle, & Rockin’ It.   Today is filled with many ‘Early’ clients.  This may be an even earlier-to-bed kind of night for me – you’ll see why in a sec!  I thought it might be helpful to share with you, from my therapist-y perspective, my thoughts on the stages of recovery.  As you know, recovery is not a perfectly linear process, so people move in and out of these stages in their own unique way, until, hope upon hope, they land more permanently in the land of Rockin’ It.   So here goes…

Stages of Recovery (over-simplified, which is how I like it):

Early:  Oh, how I love my Early’s!! As a therapist, I get SSSOOOO excited when I meet with a new client.  They are like wrinkly newborn puppies with the whole giant world in front of them.  Here’s the thing though with newborn puppies, they don’t open their eyes much.  My eyes, however, are WIDE OPEN with visions of all of the cool adventures on the horizon.  Early’s, as lovely as they are, are not the most self-reliant beings.  And that is A-Ok; it’s just where they are for right now.  This means the team (including friends & family) are holding all of the excitement and hope for their future recovered self. 
At this stage in treatment, there is very little active fighting for recovery.  The part of them that wants recovery is so teeny-tiny and tucked away, that sometimes they aren’t even sure if it’s really there.  They question whether they even deserve this ever-elusive thing we are all selling them.  With Scared and Skeptical at their side, I try to give my client space to settle in, all the while gently moving S & S further and further out.  My best approach for this is introducing Trust and Hope; these relationships take time to form.   I designate myself as the official hope-holder until the time comes when they are ready to share it with me, and then eventually, fully embrace it. 

I’m a very visual thinker, and very maternal.   I hold this vision in my head of what this stage looks like.  (Bear with me, if this gets awkward for you, just skip ahead!).  I’m in my office with Trust and Hope propped up on one hip (imagine giant, squirmy toddlers), I use my free arm to pry ED off of my Early’s back in tiny increments.  ED is a powerful force at this stage.  I don’t mind though, I’m helping my client fight for their life.  This is super-hero stuff!   

Middle: Seems like this is the stage where we hang out for awhile.  Ambivalence has sold out tickets and performs on the regular.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Repeat.  This stage is very hard work when you’re in recovery.  You go back and forth, back and forth – which is tiring.  And then, ever so slowly the grip on ED softens.  In the yoga world, as you hold a powerful pose, the teacher encourages you to ask a part of your body to soften where it can (as my legs tremble, I usually ask this of my hair).  Recovery is similar.   There’s a lot of teetering between softening over here on this symptom and remaining clenched tight over here on another.  I ask my clients to imagine what behaviors or thoughts they might be willing to hold more lightly.  When they get stuck, we get curious.  I ask them to consider what they are so attached to right now and if that’s serving their highest self?   

What I love, love, love about this stage is I get to hear my client laugh for the first time.  Their REAL personality resurfaces.  They sit less formally on the couch and get comfy.  The mask is starting to come off.  Trust and Hope are by their side more often.

Rockin’ It:  This is my most favorite part of being a therapist—The Big Reward Baby! When my clients enter the Rockin’ It stage of recovery, I sit way back and get the super gratifying privilege of listening to all of the magical things that are happening in their lives.  Rockin’ It’s, are no longer living their lives for ED, they have full-fledged claimed their life.  They have close friends, they even date, and make spontaneous choices to have fun; no longer are they slaves to their ED rules! 

The perpetual state of fear and anxiety they once inhabited, has transformed – now they are risk-takers, life-lovers, & pleasure-seekers.  Their willingness level is high – open to messiness, vulnerability and imperfection.  Other people want to spend time with them because they are in the land of the living.  Their family members say, “YES!  I’ve got my daughter/son/wife back!!” At this stage, my client has fully embraced their most meaningful life.  Their behaviors are in alignment with their values.  My heart beams with pride.  I tell my clients just how proud I am of them for all of their hard work (in our training to become therapists we are taught not to do this, out of concern that our clients will feel the need to ‘keep us proud.’  I do it anyway, because I spent my whole life following the rules, so now I enjoy breaking them from time to time). 

So, my dear, when you think about your own recovery, what stage do you think you’re in?  If you’re in Early or Middle, what would you be willing to do, maybe just for today or this week, to help nudge you a little closer to Rockin’ It?  Those of us that are Rockin’ our Recovery have found our way, one little step at a time to getting BEDR {better} BEAUTIFULLY EATING DISORDER RECOVERED!  We are all right beside you cheering you on!!  I promise it’s worth it!

Love + Light,


Hello, World!