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Eating Disorder Recovery Is More Common Than Previously Thought

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Eating disorders are extremely difficult to overcome, and popular knowledge claims that they're a lifelong battle. But a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry offers some serious hope for those who are struggling.

Over the course of a 22-year-long study on eating disorder recovery, the researchers involved found that 63 percent (almost two-thirds) of patients treated for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were considered recovered. The study authors note that previous research had indicated that less than half of patients recovered, so these results are especially encouraging and groundbreaking. Since the previous studies were done on much shorter time frames, they weren't able to capture the full picture of the recovery cycle, and the length of this new study seems to have been the key to discovering that while recovery can take a long time, it is very much possible—and more so than we thought before. (Eating disorders aren't always obvious. Here, find out about the epidemic of hidden eating disorders.)

Another finding of the research that's worth noting is that those with bulimia recovered significantly faster. In the study, recovery was defined by one full year without symptoms, and though a subset of patients did relapse, the number was quite small. The patients who participated in the study were interviewed every 6 to 12 months (for 22 years!), which is how the researchers gathered their data. After 10 years, 68.2 percent of women with bulimia had recovered, while only 31.4 of those with anorexia did. The study doesn't speculate about why this is, but it's definitely an area for further research. And it's worthwhile to know that bulimia recovery seemingly happens faster. After 22 years, the total percentage of recovered subjects had raised to an overall 63 percent, or our two-thirds number.

"These findings challenge the notion that eating disorders are a life sentence," said Kamryn Eddy, Ph.D., one of the study authors and codirector of the MGH Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program, in a press release. "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.'" For those who are currently in treatment or trying to combat disordered eating on their own, these findings should bring hope. Although eating disorder recovery can take a long time, the majority of sufferers do make it to the other side and are able to live healthy, happy lives.