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:

Risk factors

  • 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.


See also

The Care Team

Eating disorders are complex and multifaceted. While the minimum treatment team is a medical practitioner and a mental health professional, input from practitioners from a range of disciplines is often necessary for comprehensive care. Family and supports are integral to the care team.


Stages of Change

The stages of change model can be helpful in understanding how a person living with an eating disorder may be thinking and feeling at different stages of illness and recovery. There are six stages of change that a person experiencing an eating disorder may go through.


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.


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