How to Set Responsible Recovery Goals

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Most of us are familiar with goal setting – we all set goals all the time. We want to finish a project by a certain time, save a certain amount of money for a holiday and for those who are dieting or trapped in the cycle of diet culture, they set “goal weights.” If you’re reading this right now and reminiscing on setting exercise and caloric goals, you’re not alone.

Goals are important to achieving progress in anything, including recovering from an eating disorder… but while recovering, it’s crucial to set responsible goals.

Here’s where many go wrong with their recovery goals:

Problem 1: Their goals are numerical.

For plenty of recovery warriors who have previously been accustomed to setting body-based goals that are measurable by the size of their jeans or the number on the scale, it can be highly tempting to set similar numerical goals in recovery.

  •      I will get back to at least a size X.
  •      I will gain X kilograms/pounds in the next month.
  •      My main meals will be no lower than X calories.

However, whilst it’s important to focus on setting up healthy behaviors and gaining weight sustainably through nutrient-dense foods, setting numerical goals can trigger relapses and subconsciously reinforce negative pattern-seeking behavior… the very behavior that you’re trying to re-write!

The key here is to ensure that your goals aren’t solely numerical – so that even if they do have to include a numerical element, there’s another more emotionally based aspect of the goal for you to latch onto.

An example of an irresponsible/unrealistic goal: I’ll fill out my old Size X jeans by next month!

An example of a realistic goal: I’ll focus on gaining weight in a healthy way so that my clothes fit better and my body functions well.  

Problem 2: Their goals are unrealistic.

This is a common problem. Because recovery can be scary and difficult, it’s understandable to want to skip through it and get back to health as quickly as humanly possible.

Because of this desire, many people wind up setting unrealistic goals to try and shortcut their recovery – and as a result, when they’re unable to achieve these goals, they feel negative about themselves which again can trigger a relapse if the individual is accustomed to processing their feelings with negative food/exercise based behaviors.

When you’re trying to recover, the last thing you need is your inner-critic yelling in your ear that you’re a failure because you haven’t met your goals.

This is why it’s so important to set smaller goals that are realistic, responsible and achievable. Ticking off smaller achievements on your list is far less daunting, gives you a confidence boost and allows you to see your progress towards health from day-to-day, as well as allowing your doctors/counselors to monitor your progress and make sure your mind and body are recovering safely. If you’re only replacing one form of unhealthy thinking with differently unhealthy goals, then ultimately that will be detrimental to your mental health in the long run

An example of an irresponsible/unrealistic goal: I’ll eat at least double what the doctors recommend me to eat today so I can gain weight faster!

An example of a realistic goal: I’ll continue to eat what my doctors recommend for me. Even if I can’t see my progress immediately, I’m committed to recovering in a healthy way.

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Problem 3: Their goals account only for forward motion.

When you’re recovering, the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of a relapse. However, it’s important to be prepared for the fact that no matter how well you’re doing in your recovery, there may be days where you feel low, lethargic, anxious or depressed. And you need to have a contingency plan for these days by employing responsible goals.

Where many people go wrong is in viewing relapses as failures or as an absence of achieving a goal, but those thoughts are lies.

A relapse is not a failure, it doesn’t take away from any successes that you’ve already achieved and it doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to achieve your recovery goals. Relapses are merely setbacks, and they shouldn’t alter the path of your goal.

Remember, your overall goal should always be getting to a place of mental and physical health – relapses don’t change this.

This ties together the crux of why responsible goals are the best goals – because you can attain them within the time frame that you set for yourself, measuring your happiness and health by your overall wellbeing rather than a fixed variable.

An example of an irresponsible/unrealistic goal: I’m going to keep going and have at least X weeks without any bingeing/purging.

An example of a realistic goal: I’m going to focus on getting healthy and learn better ways to cope with whatever life throws at me. I’ll learn from every experience every day.

Are your recovery goals responsible? Ask yourself the following questions:

  •      Do your goals force you to compromise your self-care or self-esteem to achieve them?
  •      Do your goals force you to compromise your relationships with others?
  •      Will you be very upset if you don’t achieve that exact goal?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, you may want to consider reframing your goals to be more flexible, compassionate and kind to yourself.

Remember: a huge part of recovery is not just physical recovery, but mental recovery. You’re focusing on setting up healthy mental patterns that will take you through the rest of your life… that’s something that shouldn’t be shortcut through.  By setting responsible recovery goals, you can reward your own progress, be compassionate towards yourself and achieve your goals in a healthy way.

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3 Comments

  • Loved this article. I have been really struggling with beating myself up every time I “fail” at recovery, and I think a large part of that is because I set unrealistic and irresponsible goals for myself. Jessica Raymond likes to say, “Expectation free is the way to be!” and I really love that. As a perfectionist, it’s easy to get caught up in setting lofty recovery goals to replace lofty weight loss goals, but this is only setting yourself up for feeling like a failure. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and you could simply avoid by not having expectations.

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