We hear so often that “relapse is part of the process” when it comes to eating disorder recovery, but what exactly does that mean? Are we all really destined to relapse at some point in recovery? Well, no not necessarily, and when we do what that looks like will not be the same for everyone. That said, at some point along the way many of us will find ourselves relapsing in some way shape or form. Is work stressful and your telling yourself you need to skip lunch? Had a hard conversation with your significant other and now you find yourself signing up for Weight Watchers again? Family argument and suddenly a Whole 30 sounds like a great idea? Did a particularly nasty ex try to come back into the picture and now you are realizing you have been restricting carbs all week? Of course, sometimes the relapse is quicker and less subtle than this, but often these little things are what we initially at least, notice and if we do notice usually try to ignore.
This is typically where things really start to spiral. When we ignore these seemingly smaller, more “innocent” behaviors, we typically see things continue to progress, and fairly quickly. Before we know it, we are fully engaged in eating disorder behaviors and help can feel very out of reach. Eating disorder behaviors are also great at giving us a false sense of control in situations where we feel like we have none, which makes stressful situations an especially strong trigger for relapse. (We can also easily justify our behavior under the guise of stress, which can also help the behavior continue).
So what can we do in these situations? We can start by working to recognize these seemingly smaller behaviors when they arise, and address them at that point, rather than actively ignoring and/or rationalizing them. This absolutely is easier said than done, and often requires help and support, but being able to recognize these behaviors earlier on can do so much for dealing with relapse and long term recovery. If we can recognize that desire to subtly restrict and work to change our behavior at that point, we are already a step ahead in getting “back on track” in so many ways!
Questions about anything eating disorder/food and body image related? Feel free to ask!