Eating disorders are self-destructive habits that take on greater and greater centrality and importance in the mind and life of the sufferer. As one progresses into a more active and severe eating disorder, one becomes more "restrictive" and/or "impulsive" in eating and exercise behaviour, and the more one's general emotional state is negatively affected.
The weight control attitude associated with an active eating disorder is characterized by varying degrees of restrained (restricted) eating and disinhibition/binging, and more or less extreme weight loss goals. Different combinations of anorexic and bulimic behaviour patterns are possible.
As people recover from eating disorders they become more flexible and moderate in their eating intentions and behaviour. The recovered patient remains more concerned about her weight and more restrained in her eating compared to the non-eating disordered population, but there is a significant increase in the level of moderation and in the integration of this behaviour change.
The changes in weight and eating attitudes with recovery are correlated with equally significant changes in mood, life satisfaction, coping and body esteem.
The amazing thing about someone with an eating disorder is that she pursues a course of action which she knows has negative consequences, and yet sticks to the disorder, much like an addict. That's why you can't treat eating disorders by prescribing diets, or even by hospitalization, without dealing with the essential irony of the problem. You help someone gain self-awareness and deal with emotional coping, and she finds her own motivation to change.
As Bruch and later Garner and Garfinkle pointed out, there is an overriding importance in the overall cause and maintenance of the disorder of a feeling of ineffectiveness, even defectiveness, and a desperate attempt to organize oneself in the service of a goal, even if that goal has negative side effects. Unless a person can overcome the general negative feelings about herself, she will not be capable of motivating herself to recover from the eating disorder. The goal of recovery must become stronger than the attraction to the habit.
As the motivation for recovery grows and the change process proceeds, the restrictiveness and impulsiveness of eating thoughts and behaviours are normalized.
Finally, it's important to remember the recovery from eating disorders is a long-term process. Recovery should be measured over several years.
Stephen Stotland, Ph.D.