Although eating disorders have a lot in common with addictive conditions such as alcoholism and drug abuse, there's one significant difference between them. You don't need drugs or alcohol to survive. However, consumption of food is required to live. Because of this, the risk of experiencing a relapse into harmful behaviors during or after treatment for an eating disorder is generally much higher than that of other maladies because of the constant exposure to the source of the issue. There are things you can do, though, to reduce the risk of slips and relapses. Here are a few ideas.
Write In and Regularly Review Journals
Journaling is a simple activity that has many therapeutic benefits for people recovering from an eating disorder. Writing in a journal can help reduce stress, which is a common trigger for relapses. It can also help you work through problems in a healthy way. For instance, you can brainstorm positive ways to resolve interpersonal issues with other people rather than resorting to self-destructive behaviors fueled by an eating disorder.
Most of all, though, a journal can assist you with recognizing things that may trigger your desire to relapse back into your eating disorder. If you feel the need to self-harm after someone says something negative about your appearance, for example, a journal can increase your awareness about this particular trigger. You can use this information to develop strategies for dealing with it, such as cultivating a better self-image or confronting the person about his or her comments.
Make a habit of writing in your journal every day and review it at least once per week to help you recognize patterns and better manage your recovery.
Recognize the Signs of Relapse
Learning about the signs of an impending relapse can help you recognize when you're at risk of falling back into detrimental behaviors and take steps to prevent a relapse. Some signs of a relapse include:
- Weighing yourself or looking in the mirror more than what's considered normal
- Constantly thinking about food, exercise, or your weight
- Feeling guilt or shame after eating, or having the urge to "purify" yourself after consuming food
- Engaging in secretive behaviors such as hiding food or going to great lengths to avoid eating when other people are around
- Skipping meals
- Increasingly or continuously equating thinness with happiness
- Using food as a way to reduce stress or mitigate negative feelings
A journal can be immeasurably helpful in recognizing when you're engaging in these behaviors. However, feedback from trusted friends and family members is also helpful. Once you realize what's going on, talk about what's happening with a counselor, therapist, or trusted friend who can help you avoid relapsing and get back on track.
Get Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Eating disorders don't arise from nothing. In fact, it's not usual for people suffering from anorexia, binge eating, or other disordered eating problems to suffer from co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Not only can mental health concerns trigger a relapse, they can significantly impede the recovery process. For example, a person suffering from depression may feel too tired or emotionally vulnerable to participate in therapy sessions.
Needless to say, getting treatment for co-occurring disorders is crucial to helping you fight the temptation to relapse into harmful behaviors. If you don't feel comfortable bringing the issue up during treatment for your eating disorder, at least speak to your family doctor about your concerns. He or she may be able to prescribe medication or other therapies that can help improve your mental and emotional well-being.
For more tips on preventing relapses or help with overcoming an eating disorder, consult with a counselor who works in eating disorder outpatient treatment.