How to Prevent an Eating Disorder Relapse

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Eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are among the most fatal mental illnesses in the United States. As one might imagine, making a full recovery from an eating disorder takes plenty of planning, motivation and perseverance. Statistics suggest that the vast majority of women with eating disorders will, at some point, relapse and resort back to disordered eating behaviors. Therefore, it’s imperative that women prepare for life after treatment with a thorough relapse prevention plan that they can adhere to.

Social relationships can be a crucial resource for support. Shame and distorted thinking contribute to the presence of eating disordered behaviors. Both shame and distorted thinking are exacerbated by silence and isolation. Surrounding yourself with supportive people who can walk with you through your struggles and successes is truly an asset to your recovery. Having someone who can listen to and persevere with you without pitying you, becoming overwhelmed with what you share, or try to fix everything, can be crucial to challenging those self-defeating thoughts and behaviors while assisting you in not feeling so alone in your journey.

 Eating disorder support groups are also excellent resources for women in recovery. These groups help women meet others in recovery who understand what it is like to have an eating disorder. And because everyone’s experience is a little different, this is also a great place to hear alternative perspectives that may be helpful for you in your own recovery journey. Support groups can provide the peer support to assist with motivation needed to stay in long term recovery from eating disorders.

It is also be helpful to be mindful of triggers that can lead to an increase in eating disordered related thoughts and behaviors. Each person’s triggers will be different and specific to their personal experiences, but in general be careful with what you choose to surround yourself in your environment. Some examples may be:

  • Media (social media, movies, magazines, etc.)
  • Trauma Reminders
  • Scales
  • Buffets
  • Unhealthy relationships (people who are not supportive, people who support engagement in eating disordered behaviors and/or are active in their own disorders with no motivation for recovery, people who make comments about your weight, food intake, mental status, etc., and/or people who are highly critical)

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid these things at all times, it’s important to understand how they can trigger negative feelings about your weight and body image and have a self-care plan prepared to respond if challenging feeling and thoughts arise.

In recovery, planning your meals ahead of time can be helpful in assisting you to stick to a healthy meal plan. Working with a dietitian to assist you with individualized meal planning, accountability, and support, also can be very beneficial to navigating challenges that may arise with meals.

If and when relapse does occur, it’s very important to try to view it as a learning experience rather than a failure. A relapse in behaviors is more indicative of your current stress level and need for additional coping skills, not as a reflection of your success, ability, or value. Analyzing triggers and warning signs that led up to the relapse is helpful in preventing and responding to those situations in a different way in the future. Some of the most common warning signs for an eating disorder relapse include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Justification of eating disordered behaviors (restriction, purging, over-exercising, laxative use, etc.)
  • Increased struggles with body image
  • Substance abuse
  • Other self-harming behaviors
  • Withdrawing from activities you normally enjoy
  • Allowing food to take priority over your plans, relationships, engagement in activities, etc.
  • Hiding eating habits from family/friends
  • Making excuses
  • Lying
  • High anxiety, depression, and trauma-related responses
  • Missing therapy appointments, support groups, medical appointments

Magnolia Creek Treatment Center for Eating Disorders offers an extensive family and aftercare program as part of our treatment curriculum. All our clients receive individualized discharge plans and access to recovery protection process groups. Our clinicians also keep in touch with our alumni members by providing therapeutic and dietetic consultations over the phone. Our family program helps the entire family establish relationship goals while also providing family members with information on eating disorders and mental health. We currently offer an intensive two day family workshop which is very intensive.

To learn more about enrolling at Magnolia Creek Treatment Center for Eating Disorders, please call our admissions office at 205-409-4220 or fill out our contact form. We are an in-network treatment provider with BCBS and Aetna insurances.


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