Why we shouldn’t be focused on numbers in recovery

If you scroll through Instagram and poke around in the various corners of the recovery community on the internet, you’ll likely stumble upon photos of people in their underwear, information about weight lost/gained, and a decent amount of people who are still focusing on their bodies and the numbers that come along with recovery.

Eating disorders can often center around numbers–weight, calories, macros, you name it. As someone who believes in health at every size and intuitive eating, focusing on numbers in recovery sounds inherently based in diet culture.

And trust me: there is no room for diet culture in recovery.

Part of recovery can be stabilizing someone’s weight–if your weight has been fluctuating due to the use of behaviors, it’s understandable that we need to allow some time for things to even out. I am all for letting our bodies find out where they need to be, and I understand that some professionals feel it is best to monitor this process. 

What worries me, however, is when I see practitioners or people in recovery putting a lot of importance on weight and/or BMI in recovery. I am in no way saying that we should not aim to stabilize someone’s weight or monitor vital signs in early recovery at ALL, but time and time again I hear people report that their team has told them they need to gain X amount of weight or that X lbs is what they should aim for in recovery.

I can understand that there are medical complications that must first be addressed in the early stages of recovery, but I’m simply saying that I hope we–as the people who treat eating disorders–can practice in a way that supports those in recovery without putting too much emphasis on numbers.

If people in recovery are told that they need to weigh X lbs or they need to maintain in a specific range, we are perpetuating the belief that weight and size directly correlate with health and that specific numbers are more important than a healthy relationship with food and body.

I’ve worked with a dietitian in the past who refuses to weigh her clients because she feels it places too much importance on the body–and if you think about it, isn’t that what we’re trying to help people move away from? 


If we are trying to help people foster better relationships with food, body, exercise, and a lot of other things, focusing on numbers does exactly the opposite.

Additionally, the constant flood of body pictures on Instagram seems to maintain the connection between diet culture and recovery. When eating disorder recovery becomes solely about the physical changes that occur in our bodies, we misrepresent the holistic nature of healing.

Again, I understand the importance of stabilization and how monitoring someone’s vitals can prove beneficial in the early stages of recovery–but I’m always disheartened when I see people posting before and after photos or simply repetitively posting photos of their bodies on the internet.

For some people, posting pictures of their bodies can be a move towards self acceptance, body positivity, and self love. I support and appreciate the fact that for some people, pictures of their bodies DO JUST THIS. Accepting our bodies as they change and shift is a part of a recovery and a part of having a good relationship with our bodies, but focusing on this aspect of recovery seems like it can do more harm than good.

I think it’s important to see diverse bodies in the media, because seeing that helps us move away from the diet culture narrative that “good” bodies are thin, tall, and completely able. One of my favorite parts of the body acceptance and positivity movement on Instagram is the fact that we are exposed to a variety of bodies, people, and experiences. This helps us learn more about each other and ourselves–and it also challenges the unhealthy narratives woven in diet culture.

A lot of the body photos I see on Instagram, however, perpetuate the stereotypes about eating disorders, especially before and after pictures. These types of photos are normally side by side images of people that aim to document the body changes they’ve experienced in recovery, and a lot of times, these photos imply that most people with eating disorders are underweight and must go through weight restoration. 

While there are people who have this experience, there are plenty of people who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating who do not need to gain weight, or who’s weight stays pretty much the same in recovery.

Similarly, by focusing on the way our bodies have changed in recovery, we neglect the changes we’ve experienced in other areas of our life, like interpersonal relationships, academics, career success, and simply FREEDOM from an eating disorder.

People will continue to post pictures of their bodies on the internet, but I think it’s important to remember that there is more to recovery than weight gain, body changes, and before and after photos. I think it’s great that we live in an era where celebrating our bodies is more accepted, but I still think it’s important to be mindful of your intentions when you share photos of your body.

Eating disorders can be a physical issue, and while there are clearly medical complications that need to be assessed and treated, it’s important to remember that eating disorder recovery is a holistic process–one that spans far beyond our bodies and the numbers we associate with them.

How do you feel about body pictures on the internet or weight/numbers in recovery? Let me know in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Why we shouldn’t be focused on numbers in recovery

  1. mon says:

    My dietitian weighs me every visit, but we have had numerous discussions about not focusing on the number. She didn’t weigh me for the first 2 months until I went to the doctor and told her how much weight I had lost in a certain amount of time. It took a long time for me to accept and understand (hooray for malnourished logic), but we’ve discussed how weighing is necessary for her to make sure I am medically safe to continue outpatient care. We don’t discuss the number, but I’ve finally realized her #1 focus is on my behaviors but that my weight can be a professional liability so she needs to monitor.


    • feedmerecovery says:

      Right, and that’s exactly my point in the post that there IS a time for weighing to be beneficial—when someone’s medical stability needs to be monitored. However, treatment centers and treatment practitioners alike are quick to focus on a number simply because it’s a quantitative way to measure someone’s progress. In reality, the number does NOT measure emotional and mental progress.


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