How can I stop an eating disorder relapse?

Dipping back into old, problematic behaviours can suck when you're in recovery for an eating disorder but relapses are common and are nothing to be ashamed of.

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Feeling withdrawn from your friends and family could be a sign of a relapse.

What is a relapse?

A relapse is when a person in recovery declines after a period of improvement. With an eating disorder this can mean that disordered thoughts and behaviours start to return.

What are the warning signs?

The warning signs of a relapse include:

  • Dishonesty: If you’re starting to bargain with yourself when it comes to eating patterns or you’re beginning to twist the truth to those around you then you may be trying to rationalise disordered thoughts.
  • Feeling guilty: Eating disorders can often stem from negative feelings towards yourself, your situation and what you’re eating. A big part of recovery is learning how to deal with these negative thought patterns. If you are struggling, speak to your GP, therapist or whoever is supporting your recovery.
  • Isolation: Starting to feel depressed or withdrawn from those around you is a sign that you may need extra help.
  • Changing eating habits: Eating habits are a big part of eating disorders and recovery. If you’re dipping back into old routines then there may be a problem. If you’re supporting a loved one through recovery then this is something more obvious to look out for.

Why does it happen?

Relapses are a normal and expected part of recovery so don’t feel ashamed if you experience them. Being in recovery for an eating disorder is tough work. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stay on one straight path as there are always ups and downs.

Circumstances in your life can change or you may experience unavoidable triggers. There are many reasons why someone may begin to dip again into patterns of an eating disorder.

Can you prevent a relapse?

Although it can be hard to predict if and when you may relapse there are a few steps you can take alongside any professional treatment you’re receiving:

  • Set ACHIEVABLE goals: If we could put ‘ACHIEVABLE’ in shiny, glittering lights then we would. It’s super important to have goals in recovery. Dreaming big is wonderful but sometimes having goals that are too big will only put pressure on you and make it harder for you in the long run. Setting achievable goals, even something as simple as making sure to eat breakfast every day, ensures you can succeed more often.
  • Write down your possible triggers: Noting down triggers can make you feel more in control and prepared for any future confrontation with them. Your triggers may feel overwhelming but it is important to be aware of them so you can seek help, from your doctor or therapist, to overcome them.
  • Have a plan in place with family and friends: If you prepare for a relapse with family and friends in advance it will make sure they know what to do if it happens and will know how to spot the warning signs. They could prepare how they’ll speak to you about it, have some distraction ideas ready or make a list of contact numbers and websites for support.
  • Remind yourself of your progress: Self care is important no matter who you are or what you’re going through, but if you are experiencing an eating disorder relapse it is an essential part of your recovery. Remind yourself of your progress by talking about it with someone close to you, make a happy box full of comforting memories or simply reflect on one good thing every day. This will keep you positive and motivated.
  • Stay positive on bad days: Looking after yourself is even more important on those bad days you will inevitably have. Take a chill day, spend time with good friends and treat yourself especially well. Don’t let your negative thoughts spiral.

Remember that relapsing is nothing to be ashamed of and it can be a normal part of the recovery process. By being aware and prepared for the possibility of a relapse you’ll make it easier to get back on track. If you need any more information visit Beat‘s website.

Read Emily’s story about beating anorexia.

Read Lucy’s story about overcoming bulimia.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 05-Aug-2016

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