Entering eating disorder treatment may have been one of the most challenging decisions you ever had to make. Taking a break from your personal life, putting school or work on hold and deciding whether you want to share your story with others or keep it private are all difficult hurdles to overcome to enter treatment. Re-entering back into mainstream society after spending weeks or months in a recovery program, you will most often be faced with unexpected challenges and incredible surprises. Maintaining a healthy life outside of treatment is difficult because you may be surrounded by peer pressure, triggers, and negative influences that were not present during treatment and you may have many new hurdles to tackle such as rebuilding broken relationships, regaining trust or learning how to re-enter into financial freedom. There is no instruction manual for success after treatment but there some general expectations after treatment that may be helpful to be aware of.

Relapse does happen

Studies show that relapse rates range from nine to 65 percent and having the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa or a childhood history of physical abuse were two factors that made individuals more likely to relapse following discharge from treatment. Whether the relapse consists of binging and purging or engaging in excessive exercise or diet pills to lose weight, a relapse can be a sign that an individual may need a higher level of care and re-entry back into therapy. Relapse is not a sign of failure but rather a sign that you may need a different treatment approach or more time to recover, so please be gentle with yourself if you do relapse.

You are now responsible for your actions

When you are back in the real world (working to earn money, doing housework, walking your dog, and grocery shopping) no individual is going to “watch over you” like they were while you were receiving acute treatment. You are responsible for your actions and decisions. You may feel like you are always around people or environments where you feel pressured to make poor decisions about your diet or engage in behaviors such a binging or purging that can result in relapse. However, these are your choices to make, and you are now in control.

Your recovery has not ended

Just because you have completed an eating disorder treatment program does not mean you are fully cured and no longer need to engage in treatment support. Recovery is a long-term and may even be a lifelong process where you will continuously participate in community support groups and outpatient therapy on a weekly or bi-weekly basis; also known as aftercare.

You may have to find a new support network

Before entering treatment, you may have had friends who did not hold your best interest at heart. Maybe you were in a toxic relationship and did not recognize the unhealthy triggers that contributed to the development of your eating disorder. It is important to stay clear of anyone who does not support your recovery, which may result in you leaving people from your past, in the past. This also gives you the opportunity to make new friends and find a new support system of individuals who will support you fully in your recovery. As you create your list of “safe people,” ask yourself:

  • Who can I connect with regularly to remind myself of the importance of recovery?
  • Who are my healthiest relationships with?
  • Who will truly support me if I need help, without judgment?

You must always remain flexible

Embracing your imperfections is a huge part of eating disorder recovery. Rigidity, rules, and perfection characterize eating disorders, so it is imperative that you continue to be flexible in your recovery. Life outside of treatment is no longer about following rules and regulations; instead, recovery is about learning to trust and accept anything that comes your way. Beyond the eating disorder’s rigidity is a world full of spontaneity, surprises, and joy. Always remember that there are no magical solutions for having success after treatment. Everyone’s journey is different.