Lapses & Relapse

Lapses and relapse are part of the recovery process for many people.

Experiencing an eating disorder lapse or a relapse is not a sign of ‘weakness’, ‘failure’ or inability to recover. Rather they are signs that old ways of coping need to be replaced with new ones.

The most important thing to remember is that both lapses and relapses can be overcome.

The path to recovery is not a straight line. Change takes time and when moving towards recovery people may face obstacles that set them back temporarily (a lapse) or for longer periods of time (a relapse). If you do experience a lapse or a relapse it is important to remember that you can overcome these, and you can achieve your goals.

How likely is a lapse/relapse?

While many people with eating disorders will encounter a lapse or relapse as they recover, there are some factors that can increase the risk of lapses. It is important to be aware of these and to prepare in advance for lapses and strategies for getting back on track.

Factors that might increase chances of a lapse:

  • The longer duration of the eating disorder

  • Older age of onset of the eating disorder;

  • Engaging in excessive exercise

  • An increased focus or recurring concern with body shape and weight

  • Low feelings of self-worth, self-criticism or difficulties in relationships

  • Negative and stressful life events

Specific risk factors for lapse/relapse

In addition to the above risk factors, there is also evidence that relates to people experiencing anorexia nervosa. The following risk factors have been associated with relapse for a person with anorexia nervosa:

Risk factors

  • Consuming an overall diet of lower energy density or a limited variety of foods

  • When a person wishes to be a lower weight than their current weight

  • Lower per cent body-fat in recently weight-restored women

If you have experienced a lapse or relapse

It is important to still maintain hope even when you’ve experienced a lapse or relapse in your eating disorder. Lapse and relapse are common and can be overcome.

While a lapse or relapse can feel like a step backwards, these are opportunities for learning more about the way your eating disorder operates.  For instance, you may be able to identify and learn about experiences that triggered the lapse/relapse to help you prepare differently for managing this trigger in the future., You may also learn new things about how the eating disorder emerges at times to help you to cope with difficult emotions, deepening your understanding of this and developing new ways of tending to your emotional wellbeing. These learnings can help get you back on track and continuing to build resilience against your eating disorder.

If you have experienced a lapse or relapse, these tips may help you:

  • Remind yourself that a lapse or relapse are a normal part of recovery

  • Shift your focus toward learning and finding your way back to recovery

  • Talk to someone you trust and seek support, it can be incredibly difficult to get back on track in your own

  • Consider what may have triggered the lapse and use this information to prepare other ways to manage in the future

  • Use the helpful coping skills and strategies you have developed

  • Spend time with your support network and keep engaging in activities that bring you joy


Further information

For more information on lapse and relapse, you can read the following resources:


Accessing support

Find professional help in your local area or phone the Butterfly National Support Line on 1800 ED HOPE.


See also

Treatment Options

When considering treatment approaches for an eating disorder, it is important to understand that different people respond to different treatment…


The Care Team

Eating disorders are complex and multifaceted.


Stages of Change

The stages of change model can be helpful in understanding how a person living with an eating disorder may be…


Barriers to Care

The number of people with an eating disorder who access treatment in a year is considerably less (19-36%) than people…



Recovery from an eating disorder means different things to different people.



The cost of individual treatment is dependent on the type of treatment needed, frequency and setting.



The Stepped System of Care for Eating Disorders outlines the different levels of treatment that people can access.