Relapsing is a real concern in eating disorder (ED) recovery. Recovery is a time and labor intensive process so it’s natural to want to protect your efforts. While relapses can occur, it’s helpful to have a plan in place. Below are actionable steps you can take to prevent an eating disorder relapse.
Reach Out To Your Support System
A support system is so important in recovery. It should consist of people that you trust and will not enable your ED (intentionally or unintentionally). This may include family, friends, mentors, and/or your treatment team. Let them know when you are struggling so that they can be there for you. Your ED may try to convince you that whatever is going on isn’t “bad enough.” But you always deserve support and getting it early could potentially prevent an eating disorder relapse. Reaching out for support can look like many things. This may include calling or texting someone when your ED is loud and you’re considering using behaviors. In these moments, your support person can help you to move through uncomfortable emotions and align with your recovery-oriented self.
Incorporate Meal Support
Meal and snack times can be especially challenging in recovery. If you find that nourishing yourself is becoming increasingly difficult, it can be invaluable to set up meal support with someone from your support system. This could be in-person or virtual. The main benefits of meal support are to provide accountability, emotional support, and distraction from intrusive thoughts. Ask your treatment team if they would be willing to do meal support in sessions with you.
Increase Your Support
Matching your current stage of recovery with the appropriate level of support is essential. Beyond leaning on your current support system and incorporating meal support, you can try signing up for support groups, scheduling more frequent appointments with your dietitian and therapist, or even adding a recovery coach to your treatment team. These options often come at an additional cost. If this is not financially feasible for you, talk to your treatment team about finding free and low cost options.
Reduce ED Triggers
Unfortunately our world is filled with ED triggers. They can be present at school, at work, at home, or online, just to name a few. While it is impossible to eliminate triggers, you may be able to reduce the ones in your life. Some examples include setting boundaries with triggering people and unfollowing or deleting triggering social media. Sometimes these are temporary measures and sometimes they’re permanent! You can make the decision that’s right for you.
“Play the Tape Through”
One strategy to help prevent an eating disorder relapse is “playing the tape through.” This is a therapeutic technique that involves visualizing what will happen if you take certain actions. For example, if I engage in this behavior, then this outcome is likely to occur. In difficult moments, when your ED feels comforting and you are tempted to give into urges, pause to think it through. What are the short term consequences of this behavior? What are the long term consequences? Compare these with the long term benefits of recovery. It can be helpful to write it out.
Reflect On Motivators
Another strategy is to think about your motivators for making a full recovery. These should be things that are personal and important to you. They can be big or small. Examples include having more energy to focus on your interests or hobbies, pursuing a dream career, being present for loved ones, being able to eat at restaurants without anxiety, etc. Write these things down on a piece of paper, on a sticky note, or on your phone. Place them wherever you can easily see and reference when needed including on a desk, bathroom mirror, or refrigerator. Use this to imagine what life will look like in recovery.
Seek More Care
Finally, you may need to seek out a higher level of care if you are still struggling. Although this may not be what you want, it is important to recognize that this may be the best thing that you can do for your recovery journey. Work with your treatment team to determine if this is the right next step for you.
It’s important to remember that EDs are complex and challenging mental illnesses. Sometimes relapses occur. This doesn’t mean that you are a failure or that you are not trying hard enough. Recovery is a journey with ups and downs and it can take time to figure out what works for you.
Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Maryland. Virginia, Washington DC. Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.
As a professional who used to work in a corporate setting, I have seen the negative, daily impact that diet culture has on people’s lives. This led me to discover intuitive eating and Health At Every Size ©, which I now use in working with clients in recovery at the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient level. I love helping clients find a way of nourishing, moving, and viewing their body that is satisfying and sustainable.