Eating disorders are extremely complicated and recovery is not a linear process. Relapses are inevitable but knowing that a relapse is not a failure, but a natural part of recovery is an important first step. However, there are a few ways that you can prevent relapses from occurring.
- Get help from a professional. There are many great resources out there, and a therapist or psychologist specially trained to help people with eating disorders is a great one. They can help you identify signs that you might begin to relapse, figure out which behaviors or activities have been helpful in your recovery, and construct a plan for you to prevent a relapse.
- Seek treatment for other disorders like depression or anxiety that contribute to your eating disorder. Depression and anxiety are two disorders that are strongly linked to eating disorders. Getting treatment for these alongside your treatment for the eating disorder can further reach the heart of the issues you face. Prevention of relapses begins at the source of stressors or feelings of helplessness.
- Practice compassion towards yourself as a way to develop acceptance of yourself. Self-love is incredibly important to prevent eating disorder relapse. It can be difficult to remove the feelings of helplessness and failure associated with these disorders, but it is also essential. Realizing that your self-worth comes from within rather than from your weight and ability to keep it where you want requires compassion for yourself. You are enough just as you are, despite the voices telling you otherwise.
- Maintain and practice a positive inner dialogue with yourself. Never underestimate the power of positivity. While it is not a cure-all, it can help you take productive steps in your life and bring about feelings of empowerment, happiness, and self-worth. It can be incredibly difficult to do this when your eating disorder seems to take over your thoughts and only provide negativity. Maintaining this positive dialogue also shows that you are in control of your thoughts, attitude, and outlook. This sense of positivity and control can be a major help in preventing a relapse.
- Listen to your body when it tells you it is hungry or full and eat healthily. Getting back to a healthy relationship with your body is essential. Listening to its cues and signs can develop trust and love of your body. Eating healthy food and exercising the proper amount boosts the nutrient levels in your body and stimulates endorphin production. You have control over what you put in your body, and your body will let you know what it does and does not like. When you do good to your body, your body does well to you!
- Develop a relapse prevention and correction plan. You may be able to do this with your psychologist, but you can also do it on your own. Knowing the patterns that keep you in disordered behaviors and being able to identify when they are coming on is key to prevention. Write these triggers or patterns down and then identify behaviors and strategies that have helped you through in the past. Next, write down any situations which may trigger eating disordered behavior and try to avoid them as best you can. In the event that you cannot avoid them and you feel the possibility of a relapse coming on, it is important to also have a list of other behaviors or activities you can turn to cope with the stress. Coping behaviors other than eating disorder behaviors are essential to keep in mind!
- Remember that you have gotten through before! If you relapse or the fear of relapsing is extremely intense, keep in mind that you have done this before. Know that a relapse is not a failure and that you were strong enough in the past to overcome the urges and normalized behavior. You can do it again and come out stronger and more confident on the other side!
Preventing relapses of eating disorder behavior will likely be a lifelong journey. It can be a daunting task to do this, but it is important to know that your health and well being are more important than giving in to the negative and all-consuming thoughts and feelings brought on by an eating disorder. A helpful quote is one by Winnie the Pooh author, A.A. Milne, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.”