Inside Look

Bulimia Recovery Stages: A Comprehensive Guide

Oct 16, 2023

“Our power lies within the space between trigger and response. When we choose how to respond, we choose freedom.” —-Victor Frankl


The Bulimia Recovery Stages: How Long Does it Take?

Bulimia recovery is unique to each individual. Yes, your effort is predictable of your success, but recovery, like the disorder itself, is multi-factorial. No one simply chooses an eating disorder and it happens. Eating disorders are a complex dance between genetics, mindset, and environment. Each eating disorder has unique brain and gut microbiome characteristics still being discovered today. Each individual starts their recovery at different stages of the illness, therefore nutritional rehabilitation and medical interventions are also unique to each person. On top of all that, each individual responds differently to different types of therapies. What one human finds acceptable, comfortable or successful, may not be suitable for another. Bulimia recovery is a long and winding road.

I have created a general roadmap I think of for recovery that explains how we move through certain stages of bulimia recovery. This is my own personal roadmap, it's OK if your recovery has looked different or if you have been stuck in one stage for a long time. For a more in-depth roadmap or explanation of the stages of eating disorder recovery, I recommend purchasing Carolyn Costin's 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder, both the book and workbook. Sarah and I work through these books with our private clients.  Remember, bulimia recovery isn’t linear and relapse is normal. You are human and you deserve compassion and love throughout your recovery.

Bulimia Recovery Stages: Stage 1

You feel totally caught and controlled by triggers. You REACT immediately without time for thought. You may have started eating disorder treatment, perhaps learning about the illness and more about yourself. However, this is just the beginning of your journey. The road ahead will be challenging, but not impossible. It is not your fault you are struggling with bulimia, but it is now your responsibility to commit to treatment. You may have the thought, "other people can recover from bulimia, just not me." Sarah and I had this exact thought, and the majority of our clients do too...at first. It's important to understand that full recovery IS possible. You are capable of accomplishing whatever you set your mind to.


Bulimia Recovery Stages: Stage 2

You realize you have been triggered but feel like you cannot help yourself—you REACT with an eating disorder behavior even though you know it isn’t a healthy behavior. This is often thought of as the hardest stage because you want to recover & you “know better.” This stage is about cultivating self-knowledge and relearning physical cues from your body about hunger, thirst, pain, or more. At this stage, you are becoming aware that you may have more triggers than you thought. You are committed to regularly nourishing your body but it is challenging. Meal plans and meal support are normal. You are trying new mindfulness practices to increase self-awareness and calm your mind but sometimes you forget or don’t prioritize them. RELAPSE is common. According to an article published by The National Library of Medicine, Reduced mentalizing in patients with bulimia nervosa and features of borderline personality disorder: A case-control studyrelapse rates range between 27.6 and 41% within 2 years after remission. 


Bulimia Recovery Stages: Stage 3

Some aspect of the trigger arises but you don’t act out. You feel it but remind yourself that the behavior isn’t good for you and it will make things worse. You purposefully RESPOND with a new positive practice that replaces the old negative eating disorder behavior.

You are nourishing your body, mind, and soul regularly. You generally respond to bodily cues with self-compassion and behaviors that align with your goal. You understand that your body’s energy needs change daily. You recognize that daily practices that allow you to be still or feel your emotions are necessary. You are proud of your commitment and feel stronger. Your weekly check-ins with your recovery care team feel less problematic and leave you feeling even more empowered. 

On a personal note, I can clearly remember being in this stage. I remember feeling particularly sick on vacation one morning. I was triggered to purge, but I knew it would only keep me trapped in the cycle of bulimia. So instead, I sat with the discomfort, listened to an empowering podcast, and chose to journal. It was incredibly challenging-it took all of my mental strength to sit with that discomfort. And, it had taken a long time to respond to the trigger that way, but I always look back and remember this moment as crucial in my bulimia recovery.


Bulimia Recovery Stages: Stage 4

The triggers are gone and the reaction does not come up. Sometimes you move through life as if you never had the illness. There are beautiful surprises in full recovery when you order foods that once were “forbidden” without even thinking about them.

You prioritize intuitive movement, regular bedtime, reflective practices, and positive social connections. You understand the unique needs of your mind, brain, body, and soul. You are committed to a nourishing lifestyle not only to maintain full recovery but because it makes you feel strong. You have successfully shifted your mindset for kindness and self-compassion.


Conclusion: Full Recovery From Bulimia is Possible

The stages of recovery are unique to each individual. There is never a set timeline. It takes daily time, intention, and practice to override the neural pathways of old habitual reactions and replace them with new positive responses. Small lifestyle changes eventually rewire your brain and enhance your gut-brain connection. Every seemingly small moment of change adds to a big transformation!

Regardless of where you are in your recovery, I believe in you. Full recovery is possible.


Author: Merrit Elizabeth


If you or someone you love is struggling with Bulimia, there is hope! Conquering Bulimia is a one-of-kind, private, self-paced online course led by Certified Eating Disorder Coaches who have both fully recovered from Bulimia. Use coupon code “RECOVERY” and receive 20% off now.

Go to: Conquering Bulimia - Online Course