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Relapse Prevention

Recovery is never a straight trajectory forward

It instead involves many lapses and even relapses. 

A lapse is a temporary return to an eating disorder behaviour, while a relapse is a full-blown return to the eating disorder behaviours and thoughts. 

Neither a lapse nor a relapse signifies a failure to recover. Setbacks are an expected and normal part of the recovery process.

Lapses and relapses can provide an opportunity to: 

  • Consolidate the strategies that are and are not working 
  • Help to identify triggers 
  • Provide an opportunity to learn new coping techniques  
The first time I lapsed during treatment, I freaked out. I felt like a failure. But my therapist reminded me that it was just a one-off and I could get back on track right away. It helped me to realise I was much stronger than before, because I made healthy decisions even after a lapseLived experience quote

Identifying triggers 

Given that we expect that setbacks will happen, we can take steps to try to prevent them.  

Identify potential triggers that might set-off the eating disorder and minimise these wherever possible. 

Start by asking the person: “Are there any ‘high-risk’ situations, people or emotions that might trigger eating disorder thoughts and behaviours?” 

Potential triggers include: 
  • Unstructured time 
  • Stress from work/school/relationships 
  • Conflict with a partner/family member/friend 
  • Feeling bored 
  • Feeling of loneliness, shame, anger 
  • Feelings of uncertainty 
  • Eating a food that triggers feelings of guilt 
  • Becoming overwhelmed by emotion 
  • Role transitions (i.e. from being in a relationship to being single; from being a student to being in the workforce; moving out of home) 
  • Pregnancy 

Once you have identified potential triggers, brainstorm more adaptive ways of coping. 

For example: 
  • Develop a list of activities that can be done during unstructured time or when feeling bored (include self-care and self-soothing activities). 
  • Use problem-solving skills to minimise stress brought on by work/school/relationships. 
  • Practice Urge Surfing to help manage uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions. 
  • Increase access to psychological supports during difficult periods, such as role transitions. 
  • Talk to a support person.