Almost Two-Thirds of People With Eating Disorders Eventually Recover

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Recovering from eating disorders is typically described as a difficult journey with a high-risk for relapse, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. While recovery may be tough, almost two-thirds of all women with anorexia or bulimia eventually recover during their lifetime according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

“These findings challenge the notion that eating disorders are a life sentence,” said Kamryn Eddy, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program.

“While the road to recovery is often long and winding, most people will ultimately get better. I’ve had patients say to me, ‘Food and my body are only parts of who I am now; neither defines me anymore,’ or ‘My life became more full, and there just wasn’t room on my plate anymore for the eating disorder’.”

The latest findings go against past research indicating less than half of all adults with eating disorders eventually recover. However, the authors say past research rarely looked at outcomes up to or beyond 20 years later.

This could significantly impact the findings or past research as the latest study implies anorexia may take decades to recover from. The report shows that almost 63% of people with anorexia had recovered an average of 22 years later, while those with bulimia recovered more quickly.

The participants involved in the study joined between 1987 and 1991 and were then followed for 20 years of more. Of the initial 246 participants, 136 met the clinical criteria for anorexia and 110 were identified with bulimia.

For the first decade of the study, all participants were interviewed every six to 12 months. They were then contacted for a follow-up evaluation between 20 and 25 years after the study began.

By the end of the first decade, 68.2% of those with bulimia had recovered while only 31.4% of those with anorexia has similar progress. However, the gap closed by the time of the final evaluation, which found that 62.8% of those with the rate of recovery for bulimia had stayed stable and 62.8% of those with anorexia had achieved recovery.

The researchers concede that a number of both groups which had “recovered” by the first milestone had relapsed by the final evaluation. But, they were outnumbered by those who had not recovered at the first evaluation, but later achieved a clinical recovery.

“We set the bar for recovery as being a year without symptoms, and we found that most of those who do recover will stay recovered over time,” said Eddy, also an associate professor of psychology in the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry.

“Still a small subset of patients in both groups did relapse, and we need to work harder to identify predictors of relapse to promote enduring recovery.”

The findings show that while recovering from eating disorders may be a long and rocky road, most who travel it eventually achieve a happy and healthy life.

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