By: Rowan Hunt, second year PhD student
“Be gentle with your healing
start over as many times as you need to” - alex elle
It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: recovery is a journey. You don’t wake up one day, fully recovered. Instead, it can often take days (weeks, months, years) of hard work to overcome an eating disorder. Perhaps that’s why a relapse can seem especially demoralizing.
We don’t know exactly why people relapse from their eating disorders. Some research suggests that signs of relapse can be seen at the end of treatment -- if an individual discharges from a higher level of care with a high level of residual eating disorder symptoms, they may be at increased risk for relapsing (McFarlane et al., 2012). Other research has suggested that stressful work and social life events are significant predictors of relapse (Grilo et al., 2012). Realistically, why people relapse is probably an individual answer. Regardless of why people relapse, we know that relapses often happen slowly. It can begin with a skipped meal here or there, shaving a few calories off of your meal plan, or exercising a little longer than you should. Sometimes, these eating disorder behaviors can just be a blip -- a momentary slip-up. The eating disorder is sneaky, though, and other times these behaviors can accumulate until you’re right back into the eating disorder. These processes describe the difference between a lapse and a relapse.
The dictionary offers the following definitions of lapse and relapse:
Although there’s only a two-letter difference between relapse and lapse, they are very different. A relapse means diving back into the dark hole of the eating disorder. A lapse means slipping, falling, and getting back up.
First, an eating disorder is not your fault. Relapses are incredibly common; research suggests that over a third of those with an eating disorder will relapse (Keel et al., 2005). Even though relapses are common, they don’t have to happen. There are things that you can do to avoid letting a lapse turn into a full relapse. Below are a few tips to help you gain power over the eating disorder again before things get out of control:
The sooner you act on your lapse, the easier you’ll be able to climb out of the hole. Remember -- recovery is not a race. You just need to take things one step at a time.