Relapses are quite common in eating disorder recovery and while they can easily derail an otherwise great effort to get better, it might be useful to view them as learning opportunities. According to eating disorder expert and psychologist, Sarah K. Ravin, many recovered persons are convinced they will not relapse because they no longer have a drive for thinness or a desire to relapse. While this is an understandable logic, according to Professor Ravin, eating disorders are not rational disorders. The very thing that may have sparked the disorder in the initial stages, such as dieting, might not be what triggers a relapse. It is possible to relapse unintentionally.
What is a relapse?
Eating disorders are serious psychological disorders that require professional intervention. While it is possible to recover from an eating disorder, whether Anorexia, Bulimia, or Eating Disorder not otherwise specified, such as compulsive overeating, the road of recovery is not always smooth. In residential treatment we often see dedicated clients suddenly resort to old methods of coping manifesting as restricting, binge/purging cycles, and attempts to over-exercise or seeking laxative or diuretics. When these behaviours emerge whilst in residential treatment, it is possible to work with the feelings that drive these behaviours and thought patterns, thereby minimizing the extent of the relapse or slip. Naturally this level of support is rarely available outside of the treatment centre, which is why relapse prevention plans are essential in order to weather the storms that will invariably set in during the course of recovery.
It might be a lofty promise to say that relapse can be altogether prevented. The road of recovery can be bumpy and rather than getting stuck and viewing these setbacks as failures, it might be useful to view them as human errors to be learnt from. After all, while full recovery is possible, the underlying temperamental and biological predisposition is inescapable. This is why it is essential to work on a sound relapse prevention plan while undergoing treatment. This is a practical tool that offers, not only guidelines for how to minimize chances of relapses but also assists the person who is or has relapsed. Once relapse has happened or is contemplated it is important that help is sought. By seeking the support of a friend, a therapist, or a family member, early on, many relapses can be arrested so that the relapse becomes a ‘slip’ and not a full blown relapse lasting for weeks or months.
A life-long commitment
Because eating disorder recovery (especially in the early stages) involves a certain degree of fighting against your nature and natural impulses, recovery is such a precarious undertaking, but not impossible. Those in recovery must therefore remain conscientious with their self-care, always ensuring good nutrition, sufficient sleep, and the maintenance of a healthy body weight. Additionally, it is important stress levels and general mental health is managed in order to prevent relapse. And importantly, successful recovery is greatly eased by a good support system of friends and family who are prepared to intervene if necessary. So while the road to recovery might have a few bumps along the way, fortunately recovery is entirely possible once a decision to do so has been made from deep within.