You’re Not Alone — Tips For When Disordered Eating Comes Back
We all know, everyone has different stories + health journeys — making it hard to compare yourself to another person’s experiences. One thing that is certain about eating disorders is that recovery isn’t linear + it will look different for each person. A problem I find with using the phrase *recovery* is that it insinuates there’s an ending to disordered eating. At least in my experience, + advice from my therapist, disordered eating doesn’t ever *really* go away. In general, this feeling of an ED coming back can be thought of as a relapse.
More technically, a relapse, according to NEDA, is: when someone resorts back to disordered habits, overly obsess about their weight, + has continuous negative thoughts regarding their body size, weight, + food.
As with everyone having their own ED journey, not every relapse is the same. One thing I wish I had known was that relapse is actually really common. Just as with any disorder or addiction, recovery takes work. It’s important to preface — I’m not a professional + while my story // some of these tips may help you, we always suggest going to a professional if you resonate with any of this.
Two years ago, I shared my eating disorder [ED] story with the CHAARG community. Although never diagnosed at the time, I now know I had been struggling with orthorexia. While it’s become easier for me to talk about my experience with overcoming this ED, talking about relapse has been really difficult.
For one, relapse isn’t usually talked about + I had no idea that I was experiencing it. People talk about their transformations — how they were able to overcome their ED, being open about their struggles ++ even inspiring others to get help. While I’m so grateful to have been a role model to some people from sharing my story, knowing that others resonate with my story has come with a big responsibility + a lot of pressure. For one, I didn’t want to talk about my struggles as I feared this would make me a disappointment to those who’ve connected with my story. I thought I would be seen as a fraud, thinking, *how could I help others when I wasn’t actually “recovered” myself?*. The truth is, after opening up about my current struggles, I still received support, showing me those fears were all in my head.
Again, it’s important to realize that relapsing is not a failure — a large portion of people will experience a relapse period at some point, some even having multiple *episodes.* I personally try not to think of relapse as a failure, but instead, as another challenge that I have to face on my journey. Some common symptoms of a relapse are: constant thoughts about food or weight, [re]emergence of restrictive eating, daily weigh-ins // constant check-ins in the mirror, or feelings of isolation. If you’re experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged amount of time [anywhere from a few days – weeks] you should consider relapse being the root. Some things that can be helpful during a relapse are —
#1] Don’t Panic
Feeling like you’re going through a relapse can bring a lot of panic // emotions. One thing I’ve learned when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed with symptoms is to remember my *why.* My *why* is why I wanted to find recovery in the first place. For me, this is remembering that I need to be kind to my body ++ it’s the only one I have.
#2] Let Someone Know
Ideally, you will seek a professional to talk at the first signs of relapse. If that isn’t an option or you don’t feel comfortable yet, at least let someone know your current situation. Letting people know your struggles shouldn’t make you feel guilty, after all, they would want you to feel your best. Letting someone else know what’s going on can give you the extra support you need in the moment you need it most.
#3] Ask for Help
Sometimes, just talking about your situation can help ease what you’re feeling. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or like something is *wrong*, it’s okay to ask for help [again]. Just because you go back to therapy or get a more structured eating plan doesn’t mean you’re going backward in your recovery. One way to look at it is that you’re using tools around you to move forward, rather than retreating back to previous [harmful] tools you might be thinking about using.
Can you identify any triggers that might have brought this on? For example, looking at old pictures can be a trigger for me — so, I know when I’m feeling particularly sensitive about my body, looking at old pictures is a no-go. Knowing your triggers can help in predicting another relapse in the future.
Self-care isn’t just bubble baths + skin masks. Dealing with an ED or relapse can be physically + emotionally draining, so it’s important to make sure you’re caring for yourself in this hard time.
Again, a lot of this is based on my personal experiences, my therapy sessions + research on disordered eating // relapse. We always recommend seeking professional help if you feel like something is wrong. Above all, know that you are not alone. No matter what’s going on inside your head, know you have an entire community supporting you <3