“Hitting a Plateau in Recovery: Quasi-Recovery” (By: Ashton Maguire)
What is Quasi-Recovery in Eating Disorders?
“Quasi-“carries two potential definitions: “apparently but not really” or “being partly or almost.” These two definitions make sense when referring to eating disorder recovery. The recovery process from an eating disorder takes consistent effort to maintain, including following a meal plan, eating snacks, pushing yourself to eat fear foods, escaping the restrictive safe food cycle day in and day out. There can be a point in recovery where an individual feels like they have hit a plateau. They may have made leaps and bounds from the previous stage of their eating disorder, but they might still feel stuck in some restrictive mentalities. This part of recovery is commonly referred to as “quasi-recovery.”
This discussion on quasi-recovery from an eating disorder requires the conversation about what is true “recovery” from an eating disorder. Clinically, recovery from an eating disorder would look like not meeting full criteria for a diagnosable eating disorder which is stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), including OSFED or USFED, and lacking clinical significance in terms of functional impairment on daily living. This clinical definition, however, fails to acknowledge the strained relationship with food and body that occurs during an eating disorder. Thus, for me, recovery involves more than just not meeting clinical diagnostic criteria; it involves a healing of one’s relationship with food and body.
Thus, in quasi-recovery from an eating disorder, one may lack clinical significance and not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, however, they may consistently struggle with navigating their relationship with food and their body. This may look like challenging the eating disorder in some areas while still maintaining control over food and body. Thus, individuals in quasi-recovery may have insight that they are partially recovered, or they may believe they are fully recovered when they still control eating and exercise behaviors. Therefore, the individual has made progress in some ways, but still falls victim to the eating disorder thoughts, keeping the rigidity of the disorder present.
So, what are some signs you may be in quasi-recovery?
- Honoring more hunger cues, but only with certain safe foods
- Still habitually checking nutrition labels
- Only allowing “x” amount of challenge foods/meals per week
- Eating more than you did earlier in the eating disorder, but not consistently honoring hunger cues or eating an appropriate amount
- Still labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and avoiding “bad” foods most of the time
- Anxiety around eating certain foods
- Using exercise to “earn” food
- Maintaining food rules about when and how much to eat
- Continuing to fear weight gain
- Avoiding looking in the mirror due to dislike of body
What is the way out?
I believe that the first step in moving through the stage of quasi-recovery is a brutal honesty with yourself about the progress that is still possible and necessary in recovery. The acknowledgement that there is still work to be done regarding the relationship with food and body can result in internal motivation to work on those beliefs. Further, the belief that full recovery is possible is crucial to maintaining motivation to keep challenging the eating disorder thoughts and continue to heal the relationship with food and body. Challenging quasi-recovery may look like purposely going against food rules, telling a safe confidant you are struggling in recovery, avoiding body checking after snacks/meals, avoiding exercise as a compensatory mechanism. These behaviors are intentional challenges to drive out eating disorder thoughts and compulsions, which will result in higher chances to reach full recovery.
There is an importance is believing that quasi-recovery is not the final end point. Recovery from an eating disorder requires internal work to alter faulty cognitions as well as challenge behaviors. It is through consistent challenging of self that full recovery is possible. Full recovery is possible, so do not settle for the “quasi” version.
About the Author
Ashton is Renewed’s Outreach Coordinator. She is an alumna of Furman University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Her passion for the study of eating disorders began in her undergraduate education where she researched eating disorders and witnessed disordered eating habits in the college environment. She currently attends graduate school at Vanderbilt University where she will earn her Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling in May 2024. Ashton plans to pursue licensure as a professional counselor working with those recovering from eating disorders as well as co-occurring disorders.