Slippery Slope Dangers: How to Stay in Eating Disorder Recovery


slippery slope
Do you recognize the two main influences that propel you to the slippery slope and undermine your eating disorder recovery?

1.   Anyone who supports your symptoms rather than your recovery. Be wary and alert when someone encourages you to starve or invites you to join them in a binge.

2.   Eating disorders distort your thinking and your perceptions. Under the influence of that distortion you can rationalize and justify eating disorder behaviors. That justification puts you well on the slippery slope to relapse.

A vital part of your ongoing recovery work is to continually reality check so you can counter sometimes subtle dangers with what supports your eating disorder recovery.

Catch yourself if you feel the urge to use name calling or attempt to denigrate and humiliate others in order to feel good about your eating disorder choices. Those urges to ridicule someone for making a healthy choice come from a defensive stance.

Take a hard look at yourself to see where you may need to feel superior to others. The healthy choice threatens the unhealthy choice. If a person needs to elevate themselves above someone else she's looking for a feeling of superiority and safety. This indicates slippery slope ground, much like an alcoholic will ridicule someone who chooses not to drink. 

Seeking protection from an elevated place is natural, much like seeking high ground during a flood. But it doesn't constitute healing.

It could demonstrate quick wittedness and the ability to move fast in order to escape painful reality. This is life saving in terms of a physical flood. But if the elevation is based on justifying eating disorder choices the person is on the verge of sliding down the slippery slope.

A vulnerable time in recovery is when you use your fine mind to trick yourself.  You convince yourself that you are in the right, that you know better, when your defy health supporting behaviors that support you on your recovery path.

Slippery Slope Signals

You might convince yourself that you are healthy enough or strong enough to:

  1. stop journaling
  2. eat trigger foods
  3. deny yourself adequate sleep
  4. cancel psychotherapy appointments
  5. criticize people who continue to use healing tools
  6. spend time with people who act out their eating disorders or addictions.

Undermining your recovery in these ways is an inevitable stage in recovery work. Recognizing the danger and coming back to your recovery plan as soon as possible is vital.  Hopefully you won't stray too far on the slippery slope, and you will stop before you slide to the bottom. 

Placing people in your life, like your therapist or a support group, who will call you on your dangerous choices can help you grow and heal your way back to your recovery. Picking up your discarded healing routines, like journaling, can bring you to a more balanced viewpoint. You can develop a sense of kindness toward yourself and others that supports your health and creates internal respect and confidence.


Recovery means restoring, or establishing for the first time, a healthy way of living. This includes honest self understanding as well as respect for others. It means means developing compassion and finding peaceful solutions internally and with other people to resolve stress and conflict. These are the safeguards that protect you from the slippery slope.

Eating disorder recovery can't be done in isolation based solely on your own feelings, thoughts and experience.  The human world is much bigger than that. You can fool yourself into believing you are drawing on a broader experience than your own if you only listen to yourself. Isolation makes you vulnerable to the slippery slope. 

It's essential to recognize that slippery slope voice within you and in the voices of people you hear and read. These are the voices that minimize recovery work and lure you toward eating, dieting, drinking, party binging, body shape focus, mirror shaming, constant weighing and measuring, clothing size focus, diets and more.

Recognizing the slippery slope guides and staying clear about your recovery work builds self confidence and clear thinking. Each day you spend on firm recovery ground you become more secure on your path to eating disorder recovery.

  1. What's your experience with the slippery slope?
  2. Have you believed people who seemed to look good to you while they encouraged your eating disorder life?
  3. Have you slipped down that slope?
  4. How did you grab hold and come back up to your recovery work?
  5. What advice do you have for someone who is sliding off their recovery path?
Joanna Poppink, MFT, private practice psychotherapist, Specializing in eating disorders, PTSD and Anxiety recovery. 

E-mail for free telephone consultation. 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

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Jeannie Rust, PhD
0 # This is a wonderful article, Joanna. WhJeannie Rust, PhD 2011-02-10 16:02
This is a wonderful article, Joanna. When I think about relapse prevention, the slippery slope is something that needs to me in mind all the time!! As soon as I make it all about me and find I need to defend myself in my recovery, is the time for me to take another inventory. it's not about me now -- it's what I can do to help other people. I have no control over what other people might think, but I can control pretty much the thoughts I have in my mind.

Thanks so much, Joanna, for your thoughtful inspiration and knowledge.

0 # You've caught the crux of recovery work,pinkjoanna 2011-02-10 17:58
You've caught the crux of recovery work, Jeannie. We can't control what others think or say. That's what comes out of their psyches and life experiences. We need to tend to our own thoughts and actions, and be the best we can be.

Thank you for sharing your recovery thinking.

warm regards,

0 # I keep coming back to this blog, almostKymL 2011-02-11 21:38
I keep coming back to this blog, almost afaid to respond because I believe I'm on the edge of a couple slippery slopes. The first one is the idea of "normal eating." I've been doing some reading on the subject and my struggle is that I'd love to "listen to my body" and eat intuitively, but my wise mind knows that could just be a label or cover-up for my desires to restrict. I'm sure the concept of intuitive eating is a good one....but maybe farther down the road when my body's voice is louder then Ed's; it's just so hard to be patient when you so badly want to be "normal."

My other slippery slope has to do dealing with something very painful right now. I've been dealing with the pain by focusing on how good life has been with recovery but now I'm thinking I'm only ignoring the feelings and pain I'm thinking I might be numbing out feelings with recovery? is that possible? And if it is, ED's telling me that it's no better then numbing out by restricting so who am I'm fooling. Ed is also telling me that no one would judge me if I relapsed now with what is going on; kind of justifying a little ED behavior, just to make it through this pain. My wise mind knows I won't stop at "just a little to make it through," but the slippery slope question is: isn't numbing out, numbing out no matter how it's done?
0 # Dear Kym, You are in a courageous strpinkjoanna 2011-02-12 23:43
Dear Kym,

You are in a courageous struggle. Thank you again for writing here.

You may have reached a developmental stage in your recovery where you are ready and need to shift to a different way of thinking. Your old way worked for you. Now you are going deeper and need to rely on a different kind of self perception and view of recovery.

If you believe you might be numbing out feelings with recovery you need to redefine an outmoded view of what recovery is. Recovery is not feeling good. Recovery is being fully the woman you are and capable of feeling good and bad. Recovery means that you are developing a stronger and more reliable internal structure so you can bear what you couldn't bear before whether it be feelings, self knowledge or information about someone else.

You seem to be at a time of crisis. Please don't be afraid of your fear. Many such times occur throughout eating disorder recovery. You are only feeling this now because you've gotten strong enough and healthy enough to feel what you couldn't feel before.

Maybe you also know something that you couldn't bear to know before. Or maybe you are on the verge of knowing something.

Please know that anything you may remember you already survived Anything that you look at now that you never looked at before has been here and didn't destroy you.

You may be feeling something that is appropriate for what you experienced in the past but couldn't feel then. You weren't strong enough. Now you are.

Use your support systems. Journal. Write down your dreams. Hang on. You will learn something important. You will move beyond this place by going through it.

This is part of your journey, and it will make you wise and free.
0 # You're right, I have been thinking of reKym 2011-02-13 07:41

You're right, I have been thinking of recovery as enjoying all the new discoveries about myself. Before this, I have enjoyed actually feeling "negative" feelings like anger, but this one was hard for me.

I know little Kym gave me a repressed memory now because she felt I was ready for it, but I've forgotten that "being ready for it" means working through the pain, not the ability to numb it out in a more "healthy" way.

I did reach out to my support systems yesterday and did some self care things....but I also made some mistakes around my eating. But it's a new day and I will take what I learned and move forward. Thanks

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