Relapse Prevention

Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, but it is not necessarily easy – for the individual or the family.

Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t a one-time event. It’s a process, and it takes diligence, perseverance, and, usually, professional support and treatment. There will be highs and lows along the way, and relapse is common on the road to long-term recovery and wellness. Part of maintaining eating disorder recovery for the long term is being willing to take an honest look at where you are, being proactive in caring for yourself, and not being afraid to ask for help if and when you need it.

Even after months or years of treatment, you may experience a relapse – and that is okay. Eating disorder recovery is often described as taking two steps forward and five steps back; whatever direction you are moving in, you are still making progress toward freedom and a full life.

In some cases, an eating disorder relapse may be something you are able to recover from fairly quickly. In other situations, a relapse can be more severe and something that begins to escalate into a situation that you can’t control. Whatever your experience may be with a relapse, remember that you are not at fault. A relapse doesn’t mean you have failed or won’t be able to continue with your recovery. What is important is to connect to the resources you need to get you back on track.

Understanding Relapse Risks

Just like eating disorder recovery, the experience of a relapse will look different for everyone. While there is no current standardized definition of relapse, there are certain behaviors that should be red flags, possibly indicating a regression back to past eating disorder behaviors

Relapse Warning Signs

  • No longer feeding yourself well
  • Not engaging in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Eating disorder behaviors begin to re-emerge
  • Obsessive thoughts about weight and food return

If something seems off to you at any point of your recovery, pay close attention. You can never have too much support along your journey, and intervention at a higher level of care, even temporarily, can help troubleshoot any issues you are encountering in your recovery.

“For me, relapse didn’t start with restriction or cutting out food groups; it started with not feeling hungry and struggling to force myself,” admits Amy-Jasmine in an article titled “Recognizing Relapse” on beatingeatingdisorders.org.uk.

When warning signs appear, how can loved ones help instead of making things worse? “If you have a good relationship with someone who appears to be eating less, you could ask them, ‘Are you having negative thoughts about food or your body?,’” Amy-Jasmine suggests. “This could be the opening someone needs. Often responding to a direct question is easier than open-ended, ‘Are you okay?’ questions where the easiest thing to say is ‘Yes, I’m fine.’”

Relapse Prevention

Part of relapse prevention for an eating disorder is ensuring that you have adequate treatment to begin with. Wherever you may be in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, it is never too late to connect to the help and support you need. Whether you are just starting the process or are experiencing a setback in your recovery after years of treatment, professional intervention can help you get back on track and support you in building the skills needed to maintain your efforts. You deserve a lasting recovery that allows you to experience the fullness that life has to offer you.

Putting It in Perspective

Research on eating disorder relapse is limited, but studies have found that risk of relapse may be higher among women with more severe eating disorders, according to a report in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Psychology. The same report suggests that the rates for relapse are higher in the first 18 months post-treatment.

While eating disorder relapses do not mean that a person has somehow “failed” at recovery, the experience of a relapse could reflect that more help and support is needed along the recovery journey.

Ongoing Help and Support

If you think you might need a higher level of treatment for your eating disorder or are in danger of relapse, please give us a call. One of our knowledgeable intake coordinators can help you determine what to do next.

For those who simply want to expand their eating disorder toolkit or go deeper in their understanding, consider attending our Life Without Ed® workshop at the Rio Retreat Center at Brighten Bay. Created in conjunction with Brighten Bay Senior Fellow Jenni Schaefer and based on her book by the same name, this weekend retreat isn’t a replacement for treatment, but it’s a great opportunity for continued personal growth.