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How to Handle an Eating Disorder Relapse

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Do you know how common relapse is for people with an eating disorder? Studies show that after 18 months, an average of 35-41% of patients relapse.

I don't find that statistic surprising -- I don't think anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder would. It's one of the most difficult conditions to overcome.

At least with physical illnesses, it's more likely that a doctor can pinpoint the source of the illness and develop solutions.

So after the worst has happened, what next? Keep reading to find out what to do after an eating disorder relapse.

What Is an Eating Disorder Relapse?

Usually, an eating disorder relapse doesn't hit you like a truck, but rather creeps in little by little. It often involves slowly falling back into unhealthy thoughts, habits, and coping mechanisms.

There are generally three levels of falling back into old behaviors. These levels are known as a lapse, relapse, and collapse. A lapse is an isolated incident, a relapse is a more prolonged period of symptoms, and a collapse is worsened symptoms to the point of needing professional supervision.

Signs of relapse include:

  • Skipping meals

  • Reducing meal size

  • Avoiding meal times

  • Eating alone

  • Eliminating specific foods

  • Eliminating categories of foods

  • Making excuses for not eating

  • Weight fluctuations

  • Restricting discussion of recovery

Patients who leave recovery before their weight stabilizes, who are experiencing social problems, who are not motivated to recover, who are not open to recovery methods, and who are still struggling with body image and self-esteem are at the most risk of relapse.

Letting Someone In

Recovery after relapse means letting people in. The first step is to tell at least one person whom you love and trust what is going on. The next step is to contact a trusted professional.


Although medical professionals have scientific methods to treat eating disorder recovery, it also helps to seek out a more holistic perspective as well. At RecoverED Now, I offer a unique outlook on eating disorders as a certified nutritionist, certified life coach, reiki master, and a person in recovery from years of disordered eating.

Treating Yourself

When in the midst of a relapse, it's essential to be kind to yourself. People in relapse are fragile, and they need to practice self-care and self-love.

Find those healthy coping mechanisms that make life more bearable. That might be taking a bubble bath, reading a book in bed, or coloring in a coloring book. You need to develop a stockpile of healthy coping mechanisms to replace unhealthy ones.

Triggers to Avoid

Triggers are the main cause of most relapses. That's because conditions like eating disorders are usually the result of unhealthy coping mechanisms people develop to deal with trauma. When someone brings that trauma up, unhealthy coping mechanisms come up as well.

Stressful life events like pregnancy, moving, injuries or physical illnesses, starting or ending a relationship, starting or ending a job, starting or ending school, or a traumatic event can trigger the return of disordered eating.

Preventing Another Relapse

Eating disorder relapse is common because healing is not a linear process. Instead of focusing on preventing another relapse, focus on building the best support system in case it happens again. That means knowing who you can turn to when life gets overwhelming.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, book some healing time with me today.

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