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Making Goals For Your Eating Disorder Recovery

One of the things any good therapist or dietitian will ask you when you seek treatment for your eating disorder is, “What goals do you have for our time together?”

I’ve done the treatment rodeo enough times to know that this question is coming, but I still stumble over words and fumble trying to find the “right” answer to this age-old question. To be clear, there is no “right” answer – only you can decide what things you are ready to tackle in your recovery. However, when you determine what those things are, there is a way to make effective goals that will further your recovery.

When I was a youth counselor for boys in the juvenile justice system, we had a weekly group on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Did we tell the boys that this is the sort of thing they’d be learning if they’d been sent to a therapist instead of wilderness camp? No. But we did teach them how to make SMART goals.

SMART is an acronym to help you remember to make your goals specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. By making “SMART” goals, you greatly increase your chances of actually achieving the goals that you’ve set for your treatment and recovery.

Make SMART Goals for Your Recovery

Specific: What – exactly – is it that you want to do? Don’t be vague here! A goal like “be less obsessed with my weight” is vague. However, a goal like “I want to decrease how many times a week I weigh myself” is specific – one fifth of the way to a SMART goal!

Measurable: How will you know if you’re achieving your goal? If your goal is to “be less obsessed” how will you know when you’re getting there? By adding a clause with a number, you can make your goal measurable: “I want to decrease the number of times I weigh myself to once every other week.”

Attainable: Is your goal within the realm of physical possibility? Do you know someone else who has done it? In the case of our example, you can consider the thousands of people who don’t ever weigh themselves and know that only knowing your weight every other week is very possible.

Realistic and Timely: Realistic differs from attainable because it takes into account where you are currently. And the timeframe that you choose greatly affects how realistic your goal is. If you are currently weighing yourself sixteen times a day, only weighing every other week is absolutely attainable, but it is not realistic to expect it to happen within the next three weeks. At the same time, you want to have some sort of timeframe, or you will not be at all motivated to work toward that goal.

So what does a SMART goal look like?

“By Easter, I want to decrease the number of times I weigh myself to every other week.”

A SMART goal I’m currently working on is this: “By the end of March, I want to be eating a sandwich (on real bread) at least once a week.”

What can I say? Real bread is a little scary at the moment.

What are some goals you have for your recovery? Are they SMART goals?

6 thoughts on “Making Goals For Your Eating Disorder Recovery”

  1. Hello Jessica,

    My name is Sedona and I am 22 years young. I am an anorexic/ bulimic and have been this way since I was 13. I have been through numerous recovery programs and have seen many therapists and a couple psychiatrists. I have even gone as far as seeing a hypnotherapist and wholelistic healer. I have had my ups and downs for many, far too many years. At one loint my parents were to send me off to Remuda Ranch, but they could not afford it and I sought other help.I lived in the hospital because, my heart was to
    too weak to cope without the use of additional liquids. After a few months I showed signs of recovery, but secretly I was still hiding my monster. I have lost so many jobs because, of memory loss and my mental cognition is rewired to make me believe I am a failure and a burden. I have sought the help of anti-depressants to alleviate my horrific everyday thoughts, but I was not sure if it was the right approach for me so I removed myself from that program. Anyways, the reason I am leaving you this long drawn out pitiful plea is because, I truly need help. My heart hurts everyday and my confidence dwindles hanging on by a thread. My hope is still here, but I fear that I will always live with this monster and hope will never be progress, just hope. Pleaase Miss Jessica, I am on my last legs here and I can feel it, help me find a SMART permanent solution. I want nothing more, than to live my life happy with my entire self.

    1. Sedona,

      I’m so sorry to hear that you are struggling so much, but so glad that you reached out! I sense a lot of desperation in your writing – but the good kind, the kind that moves you to action. I would love to talk to you more about setting some SMART goals for your recovery and some ways to get the support you need where you are.

      Such a conversation would be far too long for this comment, but I’ll make contact with you via e-mail soon.

      Stay strong,
      Jess

  2. I’ve seen this SMART acronymn in covering schools. Looks like it has many applications. Methinks I may need to revisit one or two of my own resolutions.

    1. Missy,
      Eating disorders HATE accountability, you’re right about that. It’s so easy to have a vague goal like, “I’m going to call a dietitian and see what I need to go see him/her” (sound familiar? 😉 ) — but once you put specifics and deadline on it, it’s far more real. I’m proud of you for making a SMART goal during our conversation today and for letting me help hold you accountable!
      Jess

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