It happens to us all at some point in our journey from sickness to health: we hear a comment, see a magazine article, or wake up with rose-tinted glasses that throw us back into a tirade of insidious thoughts, ideas, and what if I just‘s.
What if I just exercise more?
What if I just restrict a little bit?
What if I lose just ten pounds?
What if I just cut out xyz?
What if I just…?
And of course: I’d feel so much better if I was thinner.
The answer is you won’t. You’ll feel worse. You will always feel worse.
Engaging in eating disordered habits will mean spiralling down right back into the hellish Pit of Misery. You can convince yourself that you won’t end up there, but you will. And even if you don’t, engaging in any kind of eating disordered habits isn’t exactly taking a vacation to Disney World. It’s dark and dangerous, and it is joyless.
Here are some things to think about when you can feel the pull of a relapse:
- Ask yourself this: what did your eating disorder give you? How did you benefit from it? Okay, I know it made you thin, but what did you actually gain from being thin? Did it give you stable, healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners? Did it find you a fulfilling job? Did it buy you a nice home? Did it contribute towards your education? Did it make you feel better about yourself? Did it bring you happiness? I imagine the answer is no. Eating disorders help us feel in control (which is only an illusion), but beyond that, they don’t give us anything real.
- Think about your own personal reasons for recovery. Write them down and think about them. Is it worth abandoning those goals for the sake of losing weight? Your reasons might include the things mentioned in number 1. They might also include decreased anxiety, trips out with friends, being present in your day to day experiences, keeping your body healthy in order to have children, being involved in your hobbies and passions, being able to enjoy social events, being able to enjoy food, improved sleep, having time to do the things you want to do, dedicating your energy towards enjoying life, being productive and fulfilled by doing things that matter to you and are important, physically feeling a million times better, and regaining your identity.
- Use your support network. Friends, family, partners, doctors, therapists, helplines, online support forums – USE THEM! They are there to help you and are often crucial in remaining strong and continuing on in your journey. You may feel ashamed or like you have failed, but that isn’t the case – we all slip backwards at one point or another. It’s all part of the journey. Don’t suffer in silence: seek support.
- Eliminate negative influences. Get rid of those triggering gossip/women’s magazines that spout diet culture bullshit. Unfollow those accounts on social media that make you feel like you are doing recovery wrong. Stop looking at that vegan paleo raw blogger who survives off smashed avocado and vegetable juice and works out 7 days a week because it makes her SO HAPPPPPPY (it doesn’t). Follow people who are crushing their eating disorder, eating fear foods, and resting. Follow people who are body positive and food positive. Follow people don’t set rules for what health looks like – because it is different for everyone. Cut toxic people out of your life. Assert your boundaries with your loved ones who comment on your body/food choices/lifestyle/exercise habits or who won’t stop talking about the diet that they are on. Motivate yourself to move forwards by using the positive influence of those who truly push you onward.
- If you find yourself missing food here and there, make yourself a schedule. Ensure you eat regularly and consistently. If you find yourself making excuses not to eat, then you may just have to put yourself on a more rigid plan until you are able to go back to eating intuitively. Three meals, three snacks. Adequate amounts, and no excuses not to eat them.
- Know your warning signs! If you find you are:
– Finding reasons not to eat/avoiding situations involving food
– Increasing your exercise
– Weighing yourself again/more regularly
– Worrying about food/weight/exercise
– Changing the way you dress/hiding your body
– Body checking/spending time scrutinising your body in the mirror
– Cutting out certain foods or thinking about cutting out certain foods
– Desiring control
– Hiding disordered behaviour from others
– Feeling like you NEED to change how your body looks
– Feeling guilt after eating/resting
then any of these could mean that you are approaching a relapse or in a relapse. If you know what your own warning signs are, and are able to recognise if you find yourself doing/thinking those things, then you will be able to address and resolve the problem a lot quicker. This will enable you to bring yourself out of a relapse/prevent a relapse before it snowballs into something more ingrained. It may also be a good idea to tell your partner, friends, and family what these red flags are so that if you are unable to see them in yourself when they happen, they can point them out and support you in getting back on track.
- Remember that recovery isn’t linear, and every setback is an opportunity to learn and take bigger steps forwards. Some of my most important lessons learnt were during the slip ups that I made during my recovery. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and don’t let the tide sweep you up and carry you back. Keep wading upstream, and take the knowledge with you for next time.
- Keep busy and use distraction techniques. This list is not exclusive but here are some ideas of what to do when you are sitting with anxiety/guilt/relapse temptations:
– Watch a movie
– Read a book
– Paint or draw
– Knit or sew
– Research something you are interested in
– Play XBOX
– Play games on your phone
– Do fun internet quizzes
– Play computer games
– Call a friend or family member
– Meet up with someone
– Watch a documentary
– Play a musical instrument
– Do homework
– Tidy your room
– Do some internet shopping
– Take photographs
– Do puzzles
Write these tips down. Save this article to your bookmarks if it helps. Make a reasons to recover/reasons not to relapse poster or screensaver. Watch my YouTube video on that topic here. Remind yourself how strong and brave and beautiful you are. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it through. Keep on trekking on, and you can and WILL beat your eating disorder.
I’m so grateful for this article. I was unconsciously thinking about relapsing for a while now. Your article helped me realize what I was really doing.
I just want to thank you, Sarah, for everything that you’re doing. You are a great role model and a wonderful person.
Can you go back to making YT videos? We miss you…
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I tried to make one just for you but it seems my camera is dead and doesn’t seem to want to charge…I’ll try and do one sometime soon but also I haven’t made a post here for yonks etc etc
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I recovered from anorexia under the help of Minniemaud a few years back and I remembered reading your posts over and over to get myself on the right track. I recently felt I was going to relapse and thought of you. So glad to see you still here! Thanks for your work. If only I could give you a Nobel prize …
Aw thank you! So good to know that my words are helping. Keep moving forwards!!!