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A relapse is something that can happen when recovering from an eating disorder such as anorexia. But, remember that a relapse doesn’t mean that you have failed. Instead, view it as an opportunity to learn, move forward and become stronger in your recovery.

If you are worried that you are experiencing an anorexia relapse, or are concerned about someone else who is recovering from an eating disorder, we have looked at the common warning signs as well as the steps to take to get access to the right support.

What are the warning signs of anorexia relapse?

Typically, when you have completed a treatment programme for anorexia, you are given a recovery eating schedule and a set of coping skills to help you stay on track. You will also have spent time learning about these things during the treatment programme.

One of the first warning signs for relapse is gradually diverging from your eating schedule. For example, you may:

  • Remain within your recovery eating schedule but start making small changes e.g. avoiding specific food groups or cutting food into tiny pieces before you eat it
  • Start skipping meals or snacks that have been recommended as part of your eating schedule
  • Start reducing the portion sizes of the meals in your recovery eating schedule
  • Become complacent or show a lack of interest in using the skills you have learned during treatment

Other warning signs of an anorexia relapse include some of the more general symptoms of anorexia, such as:

  • Weight loss and being unwilling to gain weight
  • Controlling food and limiting the amount you eat and drink
  • Making yourself sick after meals
  • Exercising excessively
  • Abusing laxatives
  • Obsessively counting calories
  • Becoming obsessed with other people’s opinion of your body shape and appearance
  • Repeatedly weighing yourself
  • Becoming stressed and anxious at mealtimes
  • Feeling guilty and ashamed when you eat
  • Feeling exhausted due to starving yourself
  • Self-harming

What to do if you think you are experiencing an anorexia relapse

If you are worried that you are going through an anorexia relapse, it’s important that you reach out for support.

You can use an ED helpline to make contact with a professional and discuss the emotions you're feeling. You can also make an appointment with your GP to discuss your worries and any symptoms you are showing. They will be able to assess your condition and advise on the steps that you can take to address the relapse.

It can also be useful for you to share your worries with your family and friends. It may be that they have already started to notice that something has changed and can be there to support you through this next phase in your recovery journey. You could ask them to come with you to the GP as well, for moral support.

Your GP may refer you for intensive anorexia treatment at a specialist eating disorder centre such as Life Works. Our evidence-based anorexia 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
  • Access to off-site Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) meetings, if you wish to attend these sessions
  • An expert treatment team
  • A comprehensive family programme for people who stay at Life Works for 28 days or more

While we prefer people to have a GP referral, this isn’t essential and you can also contact Life Works directly to discuss your needs.

If you are worried that a loved one is experiencing an anorexia relapse, it’s really important that you speak to them about your concerns and do everything you can to support them.

Experiencing an anorexia relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Life Works can help you to get back on track with your recovery so that you have the opportunity to keep going from strength to strength in the future.

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

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