Eating Disorder Relapse or Recovery Opportunity?

Eating Disorder Relapse or Recovery Opportunity?Light and clarity are near. Hold on. Storms pass.

During this pandemic women write they fear they are having an eating disorder relapse. They report that they are binge eating. They report that they are worthless and doomed to failure.  They do not recognize recovery in action.  

If you are feeling eating disorder storms and believe you are in the midst of an eating disorder relapse, you can learn to respond with recovery thinking.

Eating disorder relapse thinking

Wanting to take action and taking action are very different. Feelings andthoughts, familiar from when you were dominated by an eating disorder go like this:
  • "I want to quit therapy."
  • "I want to throw furniture around the room"
  • "I want to tear up all the loose paper in my house."
  • I want to cry in the corner and not pick up my children from school."
  • "I want to scream at my husband in restaurants."
  • "I want to run, yelling, out of my house in the middle of the night."
  • "I want to binge."
  • "I want to cut myself."
  • "I want to throw up."
  • "I want to zone out in front of the tv with piles of food."

Not taking action means you are bearing your feelings. You are moving beyond your comfort zone partially created by your eating disorder.

Every moment you feel these "wants" and don't act out you are getting stronger. You are meeting areas in your heart, psyche and soul that need TLC as you learn what helps you to grow beyond these primitive ways of finding costly relief.

Is it an eating disorder relapse if you want to act out?

Just because you want to do something doesn't mean you have to.   Emotional storms pass. When it does, if you can bear your feelings and not act out, you won't have to deal with a messy aftermath. You'll feel good about yourself. Plus, you'll be that much stronger and healthier for your next challenge.

Is it a relapse if you act out for a day or two?

Not necessarily.  If you have recovery for a substantial period of time and then find yourself acting out you are getting a powerful signal that self understanding and psychological work is needed.  Acting out doesn't have to mean you are back where you were.

Your eating disorder relapse probably indicates that during this pandemic you are experiencing new kinds of stresss. You are experiencing frustration, or anger or anxiety that comes from new and different challenges. In your past recovery work you brought yourself to where you could be stable, confident and clear of your eating disorder behaviors in your normal life.

But life is not normal now. Your psyche will reach for familiar coping mechanisims to deal with your suffering.
But the recovery work you've done is still with you. Your eating disorder thinking and actual behaviors are signals that you need to address new challenges through personal growth and understanding.

This is a time to go back to your recovery work. Journal. Write down your dreams. Get back into psychotherapy for a while.

Use your eating disorder relapse as a strong signal that you psyche wants help. And give yourself the help you need. Knowing how to respond to an eating disorder relapse means you recognize your needs and how to provide yourself with what your psyche calls for now. 

This is a sign, not of eating disorder relapse, but of ongoing recovery thinking and self-care.

Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice serving California, Arizona, Florida, Utah and Oregon.

Author of 
Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder. 

To schedule a free telephone consultation write: 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


0 # It took me awhile to actually start beliKymL 2011-05-21 18:40
It took me awhile to actually start believing this because ED would tell me that if I was really strong or progressing in recovery, I wouldn't be tempted at all. But I'm past that now and when the temptations come, I am able to acknowledge it with “oh, I see that's still hanging around me.” My biggest temptations come around when it gets close to weigh in time but I ask myself, “what is it that I am trying to tell my treatment team by losing weight?” Both these things have been very helpful and I believe you're right about building up strength because this approach felt awkward at first but is pretty much second nature now!!

Thanks Joanna!! Nice to see a new blog from you!! I know you've been busy with your book....I just miss them!!
0 # Nice to hear from you, too, Kym, especiapinkjoanna 2011-05-21 19:10
Nice to hear from you, too, Kym, especially with such recovery wisdom.

Yes, I'm back blogging again. It wasn't so much about being busy with my book, although that is real. It was and is more about the transition from writing the book to going into publicity launch mode. I needed to reorient before I could take on these new tasks.

Writing is going deeply in. Now I need to go out to media, websites, potential reviewers and endorsers and get myself together for the video shoot next week. Very different way of being in the world.

It's all good, but that doesn't make anything easy! :-)
0 # I really like what you said about writinKymL 2011-05-21 21:57
I really like what you said about writing bringing you inwards and now you have to go outwards. Do you think the same is true for ED recovery? I feel like I've been in my head for so long, first focused on weight and dieting and then it moved on to recovery. I've been checking in with myself over and over and lately I'm feeling like I've just changed one compulsion for another. Don't get me wrong, I think I needed to do that, but I think it's time for me to go out into the “real” world and experience Life for what it is....not as it is in relationship to recovery. Does that make sense? Instead of checking in to see how I'm feeling about my recovery, checking in to see how I'm enjoying what's going on around me; Mindfulness of what's going on outside of my head instead of just mindfulness of inside my head. Anyway, your comment just got me thinking.......
0 # We have to be able to change gears, chanpinkjoanna 2011-05-21 23:27
We have to be able to change gears, change orientation, be flexible and resilient. And when it's difficult, as it has been for me this past week, we have to respect that and find our way to the directional change we need.

There's a lot in my book about strengthening our ability to do just that. Here's a hint. Pick one or two ordinary tasks you do every day or often every day. Switch hands and do them with your nondominant hand. A good one is to brush your teeth with your other hand.

This kind of tasks breaks up rigidity and wakes up brain cells. It's not about food or relationships, but it's definitely about recovery. :-)
0 # I feel like in every near-relapse or minshh 2011-05-23 13:55
I feel like in every near-relapse or mini-relapse, is another secret wanting to surface, another moment of realisation waiting to happen.

Every time I go round the cycle of wanting to binge, wanting to quit, wanting to feel calmer and more in control...I get a little bit stronger, a bit more tolerant, and I get to know myself a little bit more!

And as I go round and round this upward spiral, I'm starting to realise that being me isn't all that bad, I'm stronger than I sometimes give myself credit for, I have some nice, positive qualities that I often fail to acknowledge, and maybe I'm not the person that those people in my past wanted me to be and wanted to make me into, but d'you know what, I'm better than that thing they wanted me to be, cos the person that I am is real!
0 # I'm in the "I want to quit therapy" stagPTC 2011-05-23 15:56
I'm in the "I want to quit therapy" stage. Well, I wouldn't quit because I never quit anything, but I have the "I don't care if she fires me because I have no intentions of gaining any weight and if she wants to fire me, then oh well" attitude. I'm not relapsing, just don't have a desire to move forward.
0 # Sounds like you hit a plateau, PTC. Whypinkjoanna 2011-05-23 16:47
Sounds like you hit a plateau, PTC. Why not journal about what is going on in your life right now? Describe the physical environments you live and work in. Go into detail. You can learn at lot at a plateau.
0 # Shh, Being real is everything! It alpinkjoanna 2011-05-23 16:50

Being real is everything! It allows all opportunity and gives you a way to make a real life that is worth living. It's wonderful to hear about your progress, all the more sweet for going through the dark times. :-)
0 # Thanks Joanna I know there are plentyshh 2011-05-23 17:10
Thanks Joanna

I know there are plenty of challenges and things still to overcome, but my life is starting to gather a bit of shape & direction now.

I'm planning a big career change, and I'm 4 weeks into a degree course (that I need to facilitate the change), most of it is distance learning (to fit in with the children), but I have been attending tutorials & day schools at the weekends and enjoying the social side as well as the academic, it's good!
0 # I'm not really into journaling. BlogginPTC 2011-05-23 17:31
I'm not really into journaling. Blogging is about as close as I get to it, but I guess that's a bit different. It's just that I am not going to gain the weight that she wants me to gain, therefore she will fire me, so why should I care anymore about faking gaining the weight? I shouldn't because eventually, like when I wear shorts on Friday when she weighs me instead of the heavy jeans I've been wearing, she's going to see that I'm not near where she thinks I am weightwise.
0 # PTC I just hope your T sees on Friday,shh 2011-05-23 17:36
I just hope your T sees on Friday, what I see when I read your posts.
You might not be in a position to acknowledge it at the moment, but there are people on here who are rooting for you! xx
0 # Sorry...just re-read what I put and realshh 2011-05-23 17:50
Sorry...just re-read what I put and realise that it could be taken out of context...
...I guess what I mean is, not everyone cares (about themselves or others) - sometimes it's too hard and too painful to care.
But your T should know that, and I know that too...and right now you might not care whether your T cares, whether I care, whether Joanna cares, whether other people reading this care about what happens to you...but hopefully when you feel in a better place, you will see that people do care about you, and that you are worth caring about!
Sending you lots of hugs - it might not feel like it right now, but you can do this PTC!
0 # Thanks Shh! I wrote a comment but it goPTC 2011-05-24 08:29
Thanks Shh!
I wrote a comment but it gotten eating by cyberland when I tried to post it. Oh well.
I know my T cares about me and she doesn't want to weigh me (trying to convince her to stop), but she'll still "fire" (my words) if I'm not a certain weight. That's why I've taken the "I don't care" approach. So, she fires me, then what? Nothing, I just keep doing what I'm doing I guess.

Thanks for your comment.
0 # But do you want to be fired...or would yshh 2011-05-24 09:34
But do you want to be fired...or would you really rather continue with your Therapist? Think you need to ask yourself this - as sometimes it's convenient to get fired if we're not in the right place to tackle stuff, but if you truly don't want to be fired and you really want to tackle things, then maybe you need to have this convo with your Therapist? Sometimes it takes realising that you really are that close to getting fired to spark something that helps to spur us on.
0 # I don't want to get fired but I don't waPTC 2011-05-24 12:22
I don't want to get fired but I don't want to gain weight. It's that simple, yet that difficult.
0 # Dear PTC, I invite you to explore thepinkjoanna 2011-05-24 12:46
Dear PTC,

I invite you to explore the life of Eleanor Roosevelt for inspiration.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do”

Eleanor Roosevelt: American United Nations Diplomat, Humanitarian and First Lady (1933-45), wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US president. 1884-1962)

She was invited to write the Bill of Human Rights as part of the foundation of the United Nations charter. And she did!
0 # PTC, I don't want to trivialise your feeshh 2011-05-24 13:21
PTC, I don't want to trivialise your feelings, or how hard it is for you to allow yourself to gain weight...but maybe talk to your T about your relationship with her and how to strengthen it to a point where you feel that you can trust her to support you in facing your fears and the loss of control associated with gaining.

If you are totally honest with her, she will cradle you and your emotions as you embark upon this, and slowly, ever so gently, let you go gradually and guide you to a place where gaining isn't quite as scary.

I know it feels as though people are asking the impossible from you - but you can do it! (((hugs)))
0 # Hi Joanna, It's not that I can't do it,PTC 2011-05-24 14:24
Hi Joanna,
It's not that I can't do it, I don't want to do it. There's a difference.

Shh, thank you. I know that she would totally do everything you said in paragraph two, but nothing can be done if I am not willing to gain the weight. I don't need to gain weight so I don't know why she's pushing it so much. I have to keep a food journal for her this week and give it to her on Friday. Maybe if I bring it tomorrow she won't make me do it the rest of the week. I hate writing everything down.

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