Have you ever noticed that individuals who have successfully undergone alcohol rehabilitation are referred to as recovering alcoholics but those who have combated an eating disorder are simply said to “have had” anorexia or bulimia? Does this mean their food intake problems are behind them forever – unlike alcoholics who are one drink away from a relapse? The answer, as anyone who has ever successfully undergone an eating disorder treatment program, is an emphatic “no”. 

Although disordered eaters may have learned the skills needed to regain a healthy relationship with food, their control is just as fragile as that of alcoholics or drug users, because when you come down to it, all three are engaged in combating substance abuse. It doesn’t matter whether the substance is heroin, bourbon, or potato chips, those in recovery have to use the coping skills they learned in rehab to prevent themselves from giving in to the temptation to abuse the substance,

How to Recognize a Potential Relapse

When applied to substance abusers, a relapse is defined as a return to the habit they thought they’d put an end to. In the case of recovering anorexics and bulimics, the first sign of a potential relapse might be entertaining negative thoughts about food and obsessing over body size and weight. And just as in alcohol and drug recovery, the thought is the beginning stage of a relapse – not the first drink, not the first missed meal or the first purge. This is the time to put a stop to a relapse – while it is still but a thought; before it has a chance to materialize as a return to the habit.

How to Feel About a Relapse

 Relapses are far from rare. Recovery is a process. There is no express lane and everyone is bound to take a wrong turn. In fact, it has been estimated that over 90% of recovering alcoholics had at least one relapse on the road to lasting sobriety. And while the numbers for those recovering from eating disorders are slightly lower at 20% to 50%, a relapse is a red flag no matter what the substance is, and should be recognized as such.

Rather than giving into shame and self-pity, either of which can lead to abandoning the path to recovery, the key is to analyze what thoughts or situations led to the relapse, so that the next time they occur the individual will recognize where he or she is headed, and be prepared to cope with it. Individual is the operative word here for just as no two people are identical, neither are the circumstances that lead up to a relapse. It’s up to the individual to know his or her own particular danger signs of the head.

Warning Signs of A Relapse into Disordered Eating

No two people recover in quite the same way. Nor are the same occurrences that trigger a relapse the same for all. Perhaps the most difficult part of avoiding a relapse is that most of the things that trigger them are part of life and so are impossible to detour around. The common denominator is that they all involve stress, even joyful rites of passage like getting married, going away to college, getting pregnant, or being promoted at work. 

At times like these, some backslide in their recovery and seek solace in the old ways that once brought them comfort. Common warning signs are many They include

  • Seeking reasons to eat alone or avoid meals altogether
  • Showing irritability when the subject of food comes up
  • A change in attitude about recovery such as canceling therapy sessions and denying their usefulness
  • Insisting that they are not stressed.

While the pain is obvious to those watching a loved one go through this, it’s also obvious that anything they say will only make it worse. If this describes you, the best way to help is to seek more info about finding certified counselors who know how to lend a hand.