Relapse & Recurrence
Relapse can be a common part of the recovery process; many people with eating disorders experience a relapse or recurrence as they recover from their disorder and learn to manage their eating habits.
It should be kept in mind that a relapse or recurrence does not signify a failure to recover; instead, it should simply be seen as a normal part of recovery.
Many people with eating disorders view relapses as an opportunity to learn from the experience and to improve their skills so they can cope with the relapse next time.
How likely is a relapse?
While many people with eating disorders will encounter a relapse or recurrence as they recover, those who display certain risk factors may be more likely to relapse during the process of recovery.
When considering how likely relapse and recurrence will be, the below should be taken into account:
The amount of time the person has been living with the eating disorder; the longer the duration of the illness, the higher the chances of relapse
The age of the person at the onset of their eating disorder; the older the person is at the time of onset, the more likely they are to relapse
Whether the person has been treated in a general hospital/clinic or a specialised eating disorder clinic; patients who are treated in an eating disorder clinic are much less likely to relapse
Whether the person carries out excessive exercise, even after recovery is complete
Whether an increased focus or recurring concern with body shape and weight is present, even after recovery
Low self-esteem or poor ability to interact with others
The occurrence of negative and stressful life events
Specific risk factors for relapse
In addition to the above risk factors, there is also evidence that relates to people suffering from anorexia nervosa. The following risk factors have been associated with relapse for a person with anorexia nervosa:
Lower per cent body-fat in recently weight-restored women
Lower desired weight (when a person wishes to be a lower weight even after recovery, there is an increased chance of relapse)
Consuming an overall diet of lower energy density or a limited variety of foods
If you have relapsed
It is valuable to still maintain hope even when relapse/recurrence has occurred. Remember that relapse is common.
While relapsing may feel like a step backwards, you can still learn much from a relapse or recurrence. For instance, you may be able to identify the triggers that caused the relapse or you may learn new coping techniques, which can help you recover more quickly or easily next time.
If you have relapsed, these tips may help you:
Remind yourself that relapse is a normal part of recovery
Try not to focus on the fact that you have relapsed; instead focus on finding your way back to recovery
Seek help from your clinicians or support network and don’t be afraid to tell them you have relapsed
Try to identify the triggers that have caused the relapse and consider how you could deal with these triggers next time
Employ the coping skills and techniques you have learned throughout the recovery process
Boost your self-esteem by spending time with your support network and/or engaging in activities that you enjoy
For more information on relapse and recurrence, find professional help in your local area or phone the national support line on 1800 ED HOPE.
The Therapeutic Team
Due to the complex nature of eating disorders, treatment can often mean working with a multidisciplinary team of practitioners.
Stages of Change
The Stages of Change model is a guide to understanding the five different stages on the way to recovery, although some people may skip back and forth between these stages, especially in cases where relapse is common.
Barriers to Care
Vital access to treatment and recovery can be hampered by a limited availability of care or lack of care in remote areas, by stigma, poor professional skills and poor understanding of the pathways to care.
It's different for everyone, but recovery from an eating disorder involves overcoming physical, mental and emotional barriers in order to restore normal eating habits, thoughts and behaviours.