Recovering from an eating disorder is a huge achievement, but it often involves a few setbacks along the way. Relapse occurs when an individual who has recovered from an eating disorder reverts back to some of their old disordered cognitions and behaviours, such as negative thoughts about food or their body. Relapses are completely normal, but there are some things a person can do to prevent them or make them less destructive to their overall recovery. This blog post discuses common signs of a relapse as well as some prevention strategies that can help facilitate a smoother recovery.
It is important to be able to recognize a relapse budding in order to make use of some of the strategies below. Some possible warnings signs are: frequent weigh checks, skipping meals, avoiding certain foods, an increase in exercise, looking in the mirror often, social isolation, wearing loose-fitting clothes, difficulty coping with stress, avoiding situations that involve food, desiring more control, and/or striving to be perfect.1
Strategy 1: Develop a Strong Support System: Find people who support you and encourage your recovery in a way that makes you feel comfortable. These people can be professionals, family members, or friends. Once you find a good support system, be sure to use it when you need to. Reaching out for the very first time may be difficult, but it will get easier. Remember that these people want to help you! It may also be helpful to generate a contact list that includes everyone on your support system so that if you feel yourself slipping, you can reach for the list and connect with someone.
Strategy 2: Identify Your Triggers & Develop A Coping Plan: Identify all of the triggers that bring you negative emotions or thoughts and lead you towards your old disordered eating habits. Planning to avoid any of the triggers is not a realistic and sustainable plan. Instead, identify a coping mechanism that will work to combat each of the triggers. Some examples of coping mechanisms include: reaching out to your support system, finding a peer support group, using positive affirmations, or distracting yourself with an activity you enjoy. Making a list of coping mechanisms that you can quickly access when you feel triggered can also help keep you on track with your recovery. Most importantly, be honest with yourself if you feel any eating disorder symptoms returning as the faster you address them, the easier you will find your way back towards recovery.
Strategy 3: Identify & Reduce Negative Influences: A negative influence is anything that is not helpful to your recovery. It may bring about negative and unsupportive comments, thoughts, comparisons, or emotions. Some examples of potential negative influences are people, social media, television, certain websites, magazines, a scale, mirrors, old clothes, and certain social settings. If the negative influence is a loved one, try to talk to them about the situation. If the negative influence is electronic, get rid of it. It may be useful to unfollow accounts on social media that stir up negative emotions and replace them with inspirational and motivating accounts. In addition, stop watching shows or movies that are triggering; instead, replace them with entertainment that makes you smile and laugh. You are able to choose your surroundings to a certain extent. Take care of yourself and do what is right for you.
Strategy 4: Eat Regularly: When trying to prevent a relapse, it may be useful to develop a meal and snack plan that helps you to eat regularly. Sometimes, returning to mechanical eating is very helpful in relapse prevention and involves planning what you will eat and when you will eat it. Be sure to choose meals and snacks that you enjoy so that you can look forward to eating. Alternatively, In addition, it may be helpful to prepare some meals and snacks in advance incase life gets busy or you find yourself reverting back to old habits.
Strategy 5: Do What Makes You Happy: It may be difficult to find the motivation and strength for recovery if one does not take care of themselves. It is helpful to engage in activities that promote physical and mental well-being. Try to fill your life with joy and happiness by spending more time with loved ones or participating in activities/clubs that you enjoy. It is also important make time for yourself to relax and unwind when you need it. This can mean taking a bath, painting your nails, putting on a face mask, getting a massage, meditating, doing yoga, listening to music, reading, writing, drawing, or anything else that brings you serenity.
When recovering from an eating disorder and trying to prevent a relapse, believe in yourself and try to find your inner strength and courage. Recognize how far you have come already! Relapses may feel like a step in the wrong direction, but they can just be a minor slip if you are determined to find your way back towards recovery. Each relapse can teach you something new about your triggers and strengthen your coping skills. Recognize that your journey will not be perfect, but the slips along the way will guide you towards a full recovery.
- Relapse Prevention. (2019). In Kelty eating disorders. Retrieved from: https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/recovery/relapse-prevention/.