The eating disorder recovery process is highly personalized and depends on the individual. It’s an extremely challenging undertaking, but rest assured, you’re not alone. In this post, we discuss 6 tips you can use to avoid eating disorder relapse during the coronavirus or in other high stress events in your life.
6 Stages of Recovery
Before we jump into the 6 tips to avoid eating disorder relapse, here are the 6 stages of change for someone in recovery with an eating disorder:
Notice that relapse is a part of moving towards eating disorder recovery (learn more about these 6 steps to eating disorder recovery here). Unfortunately, relapse is a very common part of recovery. If you find yourself relapsing or falling back into your eating disorder, it is an opportunity for you to further grow. Relapse is by no means a failure. It can often be an important part of the learning process and indicative of areas where more work needs to be done.
Let’s go into 6 tips you can use to avoid future eating disorder relapses:
1. Have a Support System
Having people you trust and can open up to is an invaluable resource when trying to overcome an eating disorder and avoid falling into an eating disorder relapse. This support system may include several people such as a family member, a therapist, a dietician, or a support group who understands exactly what you’re going through. Eating disorders naturally make most people suffering from them isolate themselves and feel ashamed, so having a person or persons you can trust is crucial to recovery.
Knowing that you have the love and support of another person is always helpful, however, if you really want to maximize the benefit of having this person’s support, you must start to share with them your experiences so that they can be more effective in supporting you. Often people with eating disorders feel that they don’t want to burden others with the “gory details” of their eating disorder. They fear disappointing these people or they don’t want these people to “suffer more than they already have.” This type of thinking is not helpful. It creates a barrier between you and those who are intimately connected to your recovery. The more that your support system knows the ways in which your eating disorder impacts your thinking, your behavior, and your emotions, the better able they will be to detect if you are having a tough time. Now, sometimes the eating disorder does not want that. The eating disorder thrives in secrecy so the less your support network knows about your symptoms and struggles, the more it can dominate your life. It takes a lot of strength to pull back the curtain and really share the truth with your support network but in the long run, it will give your eating disorder less places to hide. The more transparency you have with your treatment team and your loved ones, no matter how difficult it may be to share this, the better your chances are at making a full recovery.
2. Understand Your Triggers
Your triggers are the circumstances, emotions, or situations that cause you to want to engage in your eating disorder. It’s important as you progress in recovery to know exactly what your triggers are so that you can know when to avoid certain situations or work through them carefully.
Having a realistic awareness of your triggers allows you to manage your life more effectively. You can review with your team how you want to handle these triggers so you are prepared to cope with them in a new way. Everyone in recovery will have triggers but over time they can diminish in their intensity. This will only happen if you learn new ways of coping so that you can face these situations without a fear of relapse.
3. Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Self Care
After you identify the circumstances, emotions, or situations that trigger your eating disorder, developing coping mechanisms is another great tip to avoid eating disorder relapse.
Self care is also especially important for someone trying to avoid an eating disorder relapse. For example, eating enough food regularly, getting enough sleep, and attending your schedule meetings with your therapist can make a huge difference in avoiding a relapse, especially during a high-stress event like Covid-19
4. Celebrate Your Wins
Recovery from an eating disorder can take years for some, and shorter for others. During the recovery process, it’s important to have a reward system in place to help show you that progress is being made and you are overcoming your eating disorder.
Here are some examples of reasons to celebrate:
- You followed your meal plan for a full week
- You ate a challenging food your therapist recommended
- You attended your support group for a month straight
- You met regularly with your therapist/dietician/support staff
- You openly expressed your feelings to your support group
5. Recognize your eating disorder voice
Even when you feel that you are doing well with your recovery, there may be times when you slip into more negative, critical, or disordered thinking. Often, this starts with an increase in negative body image. You may find that you are comparing your body more often to the bodies of other people, you may have more days when you wake up “feeling fat,” or you may find that you are avoiding certain social opportunities because you are uncomfortable in your body (like going to the beach because you don’t want to wear a bathing suit). For other people, they may have the desire to engage in eating disorder behavior when under stress, even though they have not done this in a long time.
What is important in these moments is to be honest with yourself that it is happening. It is important to fully acknowledge when an eating disorder thought or urge just came up for you so that you don’t act on it. Mention it to your therapist, journal about it, or just be curious about why you responded with your eating disorder rather than in some other way. What is important is that you catch these early warning signs before they become a pattern of behavior that is hard to undo.
6. Get Help
There are times during your eating disorder recovery process that you need to get help from a professional. Eating disorder recovery can be a process that may be difficult to handle all on your own. Thankfully, you don’t have to. If you sense that you’re starting to relapse, a professional can help you through the process to overcoming your eating disorder.
Get Eating Disorder Recovery in Miami
I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist in Miami who specializes in eating disorder treatment (all types including anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment, and binge eating treatment) and other long term conditions, including addictions, bipolar, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety treatment, depression treatment, and much more.
Have any questions about the eating disorder recovery process? I’d be happy to answer them. Simply reach out to me and I’ll be sure to answer anything you want to know.
I look forward to helping you obtain a brighter tomorrow.