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An Overview of Conceptualizations of Eating Disorder Recovery, Recent Findings, and Future Directions


Purpose of Review

This review delineates issues in the conceptualization and operationalization of eating disorder recovery, highlights recent findings about recovery (since 2016), and proposes future directions.

Recent Findings

A longstanding problem in the field is that there are almost as many different definitions of recovery in eating disorders as there are studies on the topic. Yet, there has been a general shift to accepting that psychological/cognitive symptoms are important to recovery in addition to physical and behavioral indices. Further, several operationalizations of recovery have been proposed over the past two decades, and some efforts to validate operationalizations exist. However, this work has had limited impact and uptake, such that the field is suffering from “broken record syndrome,” where calls are made for universal definitions time and time again. It is critical that proposed operationalizations be compared empirically to help arrive at a consensus definition and that institutional/organizational support help facilitate this. Themes in recent recovery research include identifying predictors, examining biological/neuropsychological factors, and considering severe and enduring anorexia nervosa. From qualitative research, those who have experienced eating disorders highlight recovery as a journey, as well as factors such as hope, self-acceptance, and benefiting from support from others as integral to the process of recovery.


The field urgently needs to implement a universal definition of recovery that is backed by evidence, that can parsimoniously be implemented in clinical practice, and that will lead to greater harmonization of scientific findings.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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NIH Grant R01 MH095860 to Anna M. Bardone-Cone (PI).

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Correspondence to Anna M. Bardone-Cone.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Eating Disorders

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Bardone-Cone, A.M., Hunt, R.A. & Watson, H.J. An Overview of Conceptualizations of Eating Disorder Recovery, Recent Findings, and Future Directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20, 79 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0932-9

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  • Eating disorders
  • Recovery
  • Course
  • Outcome
  • Remission
  • Transdiagnostic