top of page
  • Helly Barnes

Ingredients For Eating Disorder Recovery - "Choosing To Recover" Isn't Enough

Updated: 6 days ago

A shelf of recipe cookbooks

It's often said that to successfully recover from an eating disorder you need to want it enough, "commit" to it and ultimately "choose recovery". These flippant statements are too often made as if that's all that's necessary for someone to sail through a quick process of eating disorder recovery and job done.

Hmmm.... If only it was that simple.

I know I desperately "wanted" recovery for years. And I would have said I was "choosing" to recover each and every time I "committed" to treatment or any of my other recovery attempts. Yet despite how much I wanted it and how committed I felt, the freedom from the eating disorder I was desperate for continued to elude me.

To say that you just have to "choose recovery" or that if you don't recover it just shows that you were never "committed" is failing to consider the other factors impacting your capacity for change. It's also disrespectful and demonstrates a lack of understanding and compassion.

No matter how much you want recovery or how committed you feel, your chances of success will be made more likely by having some key ingredients in place in your life to make it more possible.

Having said that, it's absolutely true that you won't recover if you don’t really want to or if you don't choose it each day. It's a hard and exhausting process and without that commitment to keep going, it just won't work.

After all, if you haven't "chosen" to commit to the recovery process then you won't continue to decide to face the necessary challenges each day when the going gets tough. And the necessary brain changes and reprogramming that will take you to a full recovery only come through independent and decisive action.

Ultimately there are a multitude of factors or 'ingredients' that will impact the success of anyone in eating disorder recovery. You might not be able to access all of them and that's ok because everyone’s recovery is different. But the more of these supportive recovery ingredients you put in place, the more likely you are to reach the freedom that you desperately crave.

Ingredients For Eating Disorder Recovery

An Understanding of Eating Disorders & How To Beat Them

Most people with eating disorders are extremely intelligent and have consumed recovery content from every source possible and can quote recovery anecdotes or even research evidence until they are blue in the face.

It's very likely that you already know what you need to do for recovery and why. You likely understand the biology, your high hunger, the need to eat extreme amounts, the concept of weight set point and why overshoot is necessary...

It's more than likely that you are extremely well informed.

Sadly, that knowledge alone isn't enough to get you through but that knowledge IS important. When you are hit by the inevitable doubts about the recovery process, are struggling to cope with the weight gain and seeking reassurance, then having that background knowledge can be crucial.

But alongside this, there remains a need for more of the ingredients for success...

(**for anyone who wants a better neuroscience based understanding of eating disorders and what's needed to overcome one, please see my books which are linked below!**)

Anxiety Management Tools

Tactics to pull on when the intense fear response sets in as you are trying to override the urges to restrict or compulsively exercise are critical.

The fear experienced during the process can be all consuming and powerful. It will lead your brain to concoct some very convincing and powerful thoughts or stories for why eating more, resting or gaining weight is a very bad idea. It can drive you away from a situation before you have even realised what's happened.

It's therefore important to find ways to manage the fear and anxiety and recognise the tricks your brain is playing so that you can stay true to your recovery intentions, even when your fight or flight response is peaking.

Understanding Habit Change

To overcome an eating disorder you will need to change so many of your daily habits, rituals and routines. I often say that recovery necessitates shaking everything up!

The process involves learning new recovery positive habits to replace the old and deeply embedded disordered ones. This is likely to impact almost every part of your day.

Habit change is hard for anyone, no matter what that habit is. The amount of habit change needed in recovery can be overwhelming. Understanding the steps to take to make habit change easier will make long term success more likely.

A Support Network (or Cheerleading Team!)

Recovery in isolation is incredibly hard. I won’t say impossible because I don’t want to say anything is impossible but I've yet to meet anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder without a support network behind them.

What this support network looks like will be different for everyone. For some it will involve family – partners, spouses, parents, siblings or friends. It might involve health professionals - GPs, counsellors, nutritionists, eating disorder services, recovery coaches or other means of professional support. Peer support from others in recovery from eating disorders, support groups or charitable organisations can be beneficial.

Having a support network made up of people who are supportive of your chosen recovery approach and who will listen, encourage, motivate, cheerlead, help with accountability and be there when it feels that you can’t go on, will increase your likelihood of staying on the long recovery path.

Brain Space

One thing I can't emphasise enough is how much brain space it takes to actually bash an eating disorder every single day.

To change habits and manage peaks of anxiety, you need to be able to fully focus on what you are trying to do.

The brain can't focus on more than one thing at a time, so if you are trying to focus on work, school and other demands, it's likely that your brain will resort to the automatically habitual eating disorder pathways it knows so well and you will only later realise that the great intentions that you had to have a massive lunch today failed yet again.

The amount of brain space recovery demands is intensive, especially at the beginning. Over time, as you develop more neural pathways in a recovery direction, you will find that you can give a bit more attention to other things again, but the more brain space, by which I also mean life space, you can give yourself for the recovery process, the greater your chance of success.

Acceptance Of Weight Changes

I'm sure you knew this one was coming but ultimately to recover from an eating disorder, there needs to be acceptance that your body will change. This means accepting the level of weight gain your body needs to be optimally healthy for you.

You don’t have to love the weight gain but you need to at least tolerate and accept it, without attempting to manipulate it.

If you try to suppress your weight or control the rate or amount of weight gained then you won't be doing all that's needed to rewire and reprogram your brain and a full recovery is very unliklely.

Of course, suppressing body weight is a huge part of our modern culture, but it's not healthy or right and will only keep you stuck and entrenched in the eating disorder. Finding ways to accept your natural body weight and shape, without suppressing it and seeking support where necessary is going to be key to a full and lasting recovery.

Distress Tolerance

The emotional turmoil and distress that comes with the recovery process is incredibly challenging to put yourself through and it's often this that leads to ongoing engagment in eating disorder behaviours just to 'feel better' in the moment.

Restriction, compensatory behaviours and other rituals become a means of learnt emotional regulation and a distress tolerance tactic during the years of having an eating disorder. In fact, it's the most effective distress tolerance tool anyone will probably ever find.

Letting go of those automatic behaviours that are so effective at controlling your emotions, anxiety and stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed with a tsunami of difficult emotions, distress and even trauma. Learning ways to manage the intense emotional rollercoaster that will set in will be necessary. These might be commonly taught distress tolerance tools, a crisis plan, people you can talk to or ask for hugs and using a therapist or coach.

Without support for the emotional distress that will come, you are likely to find that the eating disorder pulls you straight back when the difficult emotions arise.

A Solid WHY to Maintain Motivation

To stay on track whenever we do something hard in life, it's crucial to have a strong reason for why we set out to do it in the first instance, to come back to for motivation when things get tough.

I've written before about how important knowing your 'why' is for any difficult goal in life and there's nothing harder than the goal of eating disorder recovery.

Your why can't be something external. Someone giving you £1000 to recover isn't likely to keep you going long as it's not a meaningful enough motivation to your authentic self. Your why needs to be emotional and meaningful, speaking to your true values.

At the start of recovery it can be as simple as not being able to tolerate living in the disordered misery any longer but then it needs to become more future focused, encompassing something truly meaningful that you hope for from your free life.

To succeed at recovery, having a strong and emotive why for what you are doing this for is going to make a difference.

And it goes with out saying that the most important ingredient is to abstain from the eating disorder with ABUNDANT FOOD, REST & NO COMPENSATION!


The ingredients for eating disorder recovery listed above will make a real difference to how effective your journey to freedom is. These ingredients are important to come back to and keep in place throughout the process. To say that "you just have to be committed" or "choose recovery" isn't enough. These factors are important too but these alone won't get you far.

If you are attempting to overcome an eating disorder at the moment then pull on as many of the ingredients listed above as you can as it will make a difference to your recovery success. Be honest too about just how many you can add into your mix and if there's resistance to some, question where that's coming from.

The more supportive recovery ingredients you have, the more likely it will be that you can continue to eat the volumes of food you need, break the compulsive and disordered behaviours and rituals and keep resting, so that you find freedom from the eating disorder sooner, not later.

Have you read my books yet?

For more information on eating disorders and how to overcome one, please don't miss,


If you like to listen, as well as, or instead of read, then this blog post is the transcript of a podcast episode which you will find on my podcast series,

available on this website, all mainstream podcast platforms and on YouTube.


bottom of page