Eating Disorder Relapse Prevention

“Today is going to be a good day.”

When you are recovering from an eating disorder the above phrase is a great one to say to yourself when you wake up in the morning. Recovery is a process in which sufferers will need to formulate a daily checklist in order to help them stay on top of their progress. Recoverers need to have resources close at hand for days that are difficult in order to prevent a relapse. Most important though; recovering sufferers need to fully understand that each day is a new day, and each day counts.

Relapses can come on quickly and many different things can trigger them. Stress, family conflicts, financial and work problems are only a few to mention. A sufferer going into recovery and their team need to be fully on the lookout for situations and circumstances that might cause a relapse.

Remember; Relapse is never planned, but prevention of a relapse can be.

Below is a list of suggestions that might help you prevent a relapse or deal with one after it happens:

  • If as a sufferer you are experiencing some of the Relapse Warning Signs, be sure to discuss this with your family/therapist or a member of your treatment team so that they can help you.
  • Regardless if you are a sufferer or a caregiver for a sufferer, do not punish yourself after a slip or relapse. Remind yourself that relapses are a normal part of recovery.
  • If you are a sufferer – during difficult times it is important to reach out and talk to someone about how you are feeling and about what is happening. If you are a caregiver it is important that you watch closely for signs that the sufferer may be struggling and be persistent in reaching out and asking them if they need help.
  • If a sufferer has a slip or relapse, all parties should learn from it. Understand why it happened and make a plan for how to prevent it in the future when faced with a similar situation.
  • Both sufferers and caregivers could benefit from making a list of situations that might cause you a slip or relapse. Look over each situation and make a plan ahead of time for how they can be dealt with without resorting to the eating disorder behaviors as a way to cope.
  • If you are a caregiver or a sufferer and there is a support group provided locally, consider joining it. Being around others that know and understand eating disorders can be very helpful.
  • Both caregivers and sufferers should take time out each day for self-care. Do something enjoyable and relaxing such as going on a nature walk, reading a good book or taking a nice hot bath. It does not matter what it is, just as long as it is something that you like and it is done for yourself.
  • This can be hard at times, but try to think positively. If you believe you will never recover, then you won’t, but if you believe that you will recover, then you will.
  • Do not dwell on past slips and relapses. Recovery is a one day at a time process. All any of us have is today and we need to live for this day.
  • Both caregivers and sufferers should continue to educate themselves on eating disorders. Keep up to date on the latest treatment research as this will potentially give you more options and recovery tools.

Making a plan ahead of time is a good way to prevent slips or relapses from occurring. If relapses happen they should be recognized, overcome, and then moved forward and away from. Relapses are to be considered learning opportunities and not failures. Recovery is a long road for both sufferers and caregivers and at times you may feel like giving up, but it is important that you do not stop fighting. Make use of those that have experience in recovery and do not be afraid to ask for help.

The Role of Family and Friends

When a person is recovering from an eating disorder, food is medicine. Parents, families, friends and healthcare professionals should be recruited in order to help the sufferer continue to recover. These people should also understand that any talk of body weight, dieting or detoxifying, no matter how innocently meant, could be extremely detrimental to the sufferers recovery process.

During the recovery process it is not always possible to avoid slips and relapses. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are very complex brain-based disorders and the recovery process will undoubtedly be complicated. Sufferers need to make every effort to avoid things that may potentially cause them to relapse. Parents of sufferers should also be very careful as to who they invite in to share the environment that their recovering child is living in. Especially in the initial stages of recovery, it is not advisable for a person recovering from an eating disorder to spend time with peers or family members who practice any form of diet unless that person can be trusted not to speak about their dieting practices when in the presence of the sufferer.

Surrounding a sufferer with people that hold a positive body image and a good attitude towards food can be helpful in the recovery process. When recovering from an eating disorder it is important that a respectful and positive relationship with all forms of food is established. No food group should be considered “bad.” This may require the whole family spending some time learning how to discuss or relate to food in a way that shows an understanding that all macronutrients have an important place in a balanced diet. Fats especially should never be referred to as undesirable or “bad” as they are a very important nutrient for optimal bodily functioning. Sufferers and parents of sufferers should understand that body shaming or fat shaming talk could potentially trigger a relapse for someone recovering from an eating disorder.


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Additional Reading:

Coping with Dieting Family and Friends During Recovery

Vacationing With An Eating Disorder

Dangers of the Wedding Diet



Updated by Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by: Colleen Thompson – 1997