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When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder such as bulimia, a relapse is a possibility. If this is something that you are going through at the minute, remember this doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Instead, view it as a chance to learn, move forward and become even stronger in your journey to wellbeing.

If you think you may be having a bulimia relapse, or are worried that someone close to you is relapsing, we have provided information on the signs of an eating disorder relapse and advice on the steps you can take to get the right support.

What are the warning signs of a bulimia relapse?

If you have already completed a treatment programme for bulimia, then you should have a recovery eating schedule in place, as well as a series of healthy coping mechanisms to help you navigate life after treatment. However, one of the first signs that you may be going through a bulimia relapse is diverging from your eating schedule and coping mechanisms. You may find that you:

  • Start making small changes to your recovery eating schedule e.g. not eating during the day but eating more at night instead
  • Start changing the healthy meals or snacks that have been recommended as part of your eating schedule, and eating more junk food that you used to binge on
  • Start to show bingeing and purging behaviours again (even if these aren’t as severe as they were before), especially when you’re experiencing difficult emotions such as stress
  • Become uninterested or complacent when it comes to using the skills you learned during treatment

Other signs of a bulimia relapse include some of the more general symptoms of bulimia, such as:

  • Bingeing (eating a large amount of food in one sitting) followed by purging (making yourself sick, taking laxatives or exercising excessively in order to rid your body of the calories you’ve consumed)
  • Being obsessed with food, calories and controlling your diet
  • Becoming obsessed with your appearance and body shape, and what other people think of how you look
  • Having a very negative body image
  • Feeling guilty and ashamed after eating
  • Being embarrassed about eating in front of other people
  • Repeatedly weighing yourself
  • Experiencing physical problems as a result of induced vomiting and laxative abuse
  • Self-harming

What to do if you think you are experiencing a bulimia relapse

Remember, going through a bulimia relapse doesn’t mean this is the end of your recovery journey – you can take steps to get back on track and it’s important that you reach out for help.

As a first step, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your GP to talk through your symptoms and worries. They will then be able to assess your condition from a medical perspective, and provide advice on next steps to address your relapse.

As well as seeking professional help from your GP, it can also be useful to share your worries with friends and family so you have that extra level of support. In all likelihood, the people you’re closest to have probably already recognised that your behaviours have changed, and so by bringing them into the loop and talking openly with them about what you’re going through, they’ll be on-hand to support you in the next phase of your recovery journey. You could also ask a close friend or family member to come with you when you go and see your GP, so they can be there as moral support.

After assessing your condition and symptoms, your GP may be able to refer you for bulimia treatment at a specialist eating disorder centre such as Life Works. Our expert eating disorder treatment programme at Life Works consists of:

  • A free eating disorder assessment
  • Flexible inpatient, day care and outpatient treatment options, depending on the intensity of the support you need
  • 1:1, group and family therapy
  • A range of practical dietetic techniques and therapeutic approaches
  • An expert treatment team
  • A comprehensive family programme for people who stay at Life Works for 28 days or more

You can also contact Life Works directly to discuss your unique needs with one of our treatment specialists.

Remember, experiencing a bulimia relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed in your recovery. At Life Works, our dedicated treatment experts can support you to get back on track, helping you every step of the way towards overcoming your eating disorder and returning to the healthy life you deserve.

This page was medically reviewed by David Waller, (BACP, FDAP), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.

Coronavirus information

While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog. You can also find out about our approach to addiction treatment during COVID-19 by accessing our dedicated page.

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