It’s not a relapse, it’s a lapse. How you can get back on track with your eating disorder recovery.

If you are reading this blog in the midst of a relapse, know that your experience is completely valid and that relapse in eating disorder recovery is very normal.

Below, we offer ways on how you can be kind to yourself during these moments, and still honour your recovery.

Take some time, before we step forward with in this journey, to think about your own unique strengths and resources that you have that you feel may hold strength in your recovery journey.

As we mentioned in a previous blog, recovery isn’t always about recognising the ‘wins’ and the days where you show up for yourself. Recovery is also very much about acknowledging that there are and will be difficult days. In these days, it is important to welcome understanding and compassion – and to try and not beat yourself up about what makes you human; we are not perfect, so will make mistakes. There is no ‘right way’ to do recovery, each person takes a different path on their journey however you should not hesitate to reach out for support.

Perhaps, we can offer our guidance…

Try to consider your motivation to change

In the course of a recovery journey you will certainly have some wobbles and there will be times when you will be very tempted to return to old eating disorder behaviours/choices. This could be because they may have worked in the past – they may have offered you safety and understanding during moments you feel vulnerable.

To help you at these times, it is important to reflect on your motivation to change and to focus on what you will gain by moving forward and towards a new life that has more to offer you than your eating disorder. Think of all the possibilities the future, recovered you can do!

Plan for your future

The fact is, you deserve to live a life that’s free from the eating disorder’s rules, restrictions and routines.

If you feel “lost” in your relapse, what can help in your present is mapping out where you see yourself right nowcompared with what you want to get to in the future – and whether your eating disorder will be part of that vision and mission.

You could consider your:

  • Relationships
  • Work and productivity
  • Hobbies
  • Fun activities – socialising
  • Dreams and aspirations

It is building upon that sense of hope that your future requires – nurturing the belief that you can recover and that you will have an identity and a sense of belonging to your life as you are, without the eating disorder.

Be curious and talk about your thoughts

Lapses in eating disorder recovery can be good opportunities for growth.

Dr Joanna, Orri’s Lead Psychologist, advises in her video to firstly seek support (this could be from a trusted person or a healthcare professional). Then, be curious and ask yourself, “why has this happened?” 

What what was around me at the time? 

Are the situations similar or different for me each time? 

What was I thinking? 

What behaviours did I use most frequently?

Really take a moment to consider your thoughts and behaviours built around the relapse to make sense of why you are going through it. What can help you to process your thoughts is to note your observations on paper (in a journal or a diary), or on your phone. This may provide good talking points for when you talk them through with somebody.

Have a plan for tricky situations

A relapse could be an indicator of stress or of something you feel you need a safe behaviour to resort to, to help you manage in a difficult situation. Rather than succumb to eating disorder behaviours or *avoid these situations, we suggest you find the tools that help ground you. What tools have you found helpful in the past?

  • If you have 9 minutes to spare, you could focus on your breathing and practice mindfulness with Pippa, Orri’s Yoga and Body Awareness Therapist.
  • How about journalling? Perfectionism and black and white ways of thinking can be prevalent for people suffering with eating disorders, which is why journaling can be a great space to begin challenging some of these qualities. A time to embrace the mess of our thoughts and to step into the grey areas!
  • Going for a walk in nature and reconnecting with your surroundings could help distract you from any uncomfortable feelings around your relapse..

*Avoidance is recommended while you develop the skills to manage these situations in the future. Avoidance is not recommended as a long-term plan through, as it is impossible for you to avoid triggers and risk all the time. An important point to remember is, avoidance of a situation is possible but avoidance of feelings is not.

Keep in mind the 3 D’s…

Delay: Urges only last for a period of time and will pass – so delay acting on your eating disorder thoughts for a minute at a time until the urges pass

Distract: Do some other activity that matches with the energy of your urge to help you distract (as mentioned in our point above)

Decide: Make that decision not to react with your old eating disorder thoughts/behaviours and think of all the things that you don’t like about your eating disorder. All the things you have to lose. Urges only remind you of the good things about engaging with your eating disorder, so challenge those thoughts and remember all the reasons why you decided to change in the first place!

It is important to know that urges to listen or engage with your eating disorder are only thoughts and feelings and cannot hurt you. They will only last for a period of time and YOU CAN push through it if you believe you can.

We hope these have offered you some hope during this time of struggle and confusion. The key is to remember that you are so worth fighting for…sometimes, it’s about reminding yourself that!

Here are some feel-good activities you can do to nurture yourself today:

• Plan your day with some activities that you can do/enjoy

• Break down some difficult tasks into smaller parts

• Engage in some mindful movement •

• Give yourself some credit for the small thing you do

• Get involved in a fun activity with someone you enjoy

• Listen to music you enjoy

• Get emotional support from family member, friend, or mental health professional

• Read a funny book or watch a series on Netflix that you love

• Buy yourself something you have been wanting

Remember, you are not a failure. You just happen to be going through a really hard time right now.

Orri’s Lead Psychologist, Dr Joanna, gives her advice to those experiencing a relapse here.

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