Bulimia relapses and how to deal with them.

Catherine Liberty's picture

Okay, it's time to talk about one of the more challenging aspects of recovery - RELAPSE.

Hands up - who has experienced a bulimia relapse or at least a "slip up" on the road to recovery?

Honestly I would be very shocked to meet anyone who hadn’t experienced some kind of relapse or “slip-up” while recovering from bulimia.

Why would that be so surprising to me? Well the reality of recovery is that relapses happen. They are a very normal aspect of recovery.

As you will find as you continue your journey, it’s really your attitude to relapse that is the most important thing.

When we relapse it can leave us feeling trapped in a really scary place. We can feel like failures and often like all of the hard work that we have put into recovery so far has been for nothing. We can feel like we’re ‘back at square one’ and often for a time our bulimic behaviours can return with a vengeance.

Relapse can repeatedly make us feel like:

1. Recovery will be impossible,

2. Recovery only happens for other people, or

3. A true recovery never really happens for anyone - feelings like this can be especially true for those of us who experience relapses quite far on into the recovery process.

It’s crazy to think that I have been a strong believer in all three of those scenarios at one point or another through the years.

Now though, I can happily report that all three are completely untrue. In many ways it is your attitude to relapse that can end up having the most profound effect on your recovery experience.

My own recovery story was a little different to most, mainly because I didn’t have my first bulimia relapse until just after 6 months of successful recovery. When that first relapse did happen I was terrified.

I had a really bad attitude towards relapse because it was “the unknown”, I thought I would be different, I thought I would be the one person who had “the perfect recovery”.

Of course relapsing made my recovery less than perfect and for a time I hated that. As time passed however, I began to change my relapse attitude from fear to acceptance.

It was a pain to get back on track after slipping up, it was hard to go straight back to structured eating after a binge and it was horrible to accept that recovery couldn't be the perfect smooth process that I had hoped for, but as hard as it was to accept those things it WAS possible - and you will find the same.

It is very important that you begin to accept that sometimes relapse will be unavoidable. More than that, it is important that you start to understand just how valuable episodes of relapse can be.

Your should never underestimate how positive an episode of relapse can be.

I know many of you probably think I’m a little insane for writing the words “relapse” and “positive” in the same sentence, but it is the honest truth.

A relapse lets us know that something isn’t quite working in our recovery plan. It can let us know that we’re not eating enough, not getting enough rest, not developing our strategies enough to cope with emotional triggers.

Experiencing relapse can help us to develop new plans and strategies and to be stronger next time we face the same triggering situation.

Even more than that a relapse can often let us see how truly wonderful recovery actually is.

There was a time where I found myself “needing a break” from recovery. When that break finally came (in the form of a relapse) I realized just how horrible bulimia was. I couldn’t believe I had lived that way for almost 11 years. Relapsing at that time actually ended up really boosting my recovery motivation.

You can read a blog I wrote about one of my own relapse experiences here.

I believe that it is impossible to recover without experiencing some phases of relapse, but that's okay. As painful as it can be in the moment, it is the bad days that teach us the most.

It is the hard times that offer us true enlightenment.

Today I want you to think about your own attitude to relapse:

  • What can you learn from relapse experiences and how can you ensure that you do learn from them?
  • How does or has relapse made you feel about recovery?
  • How can you use those experiences to keep moving forwards with your own recovery?
  • Have your attitudes towards relapse changed over time?
  • It can be a great idea to create your own relapse plan so you are prepared and know what to do when you experience an episode of relapse.

Sometimes recovery can be trial and error and it will never be smooth running but that’s okay because we have to let go of these make-believe ideas of perfection and control, they simply do not exist in the real world and that’s where we’re trying to get ourselves right?


Talk soon,
Catherine Liberty


julianne026's picture
Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this article!! I really needed this advice because after a couple wonderful months of freedom, my bad days are starting to outnumber my good days of SE. Sometimes when I feel out of control with b/p I am afraid that I will be stuck with bulimia forever. But the fact that you still made a full recovery is such motivation for me to keep trying :)

ardnassac79's picture
Catherine, as always - the

Catherine, as always - the emails we get always seem to hit home at the best possible time. Another little amazing thing about going through recovery here... I had my first relapse last Friday and now another yesterday - the first one freaked me out and then after yesterday I'm really looking at them to try to learn. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of getting too wrapped up in work, neglecting to drink enough water or eat my snack - then feeling completely stressed out by lunchtime. Working from home then just enables me to b/p after that cycle. It's still a process, but wanted to say thanks - this is an article I can bookmark and keep coming back to again and again.

flaumie's picture
Catherine, thank you - your

Catherine, thank you - your email and reading through your blog has made me realize that the day I suffered my first relapse I could have seen it coming if I'd have been a bit more aware of things . . . it was a very stressful day, I wasn't able to eat properly, on time, using SE.
so, this will, hopefully, make me stronger and more vigilant. I know that I must continually be aware of my weaknesses, and must keep to the structure as much as possible, planning ahead when needs be.
thank you for all of your input and your support.
Yours in recovery,

Runnermom's picture
This article couldn't have

This article couldn't have come my way at any better of a time. It is true--there is no perfect recovery. I felt crestfallen after a serious relapse, and thought all of the work I'd done for 10 months was for nothing , and it has kept me In a cycle of relapse for 3 days now. I'm scared I'm stuck back in the hole again; I hate what b/p turns me into . Yet-- the relapse is my fault, and my failure to embrace because I made the choice (or didn't make the choice) to stay on top of SE. I hate how I've felt and it is so true , there is always a silver lining, if you look for it in a dark time -- no recovery is perfect. Life is not perfect , we are human, don't beat yourself up and stay down in the hole-- pick yourself up and learn from it, and most importantly --- never give up on yourself-- ever. Life is in the journey, recovery is NOT a destination it is a journey with roads that twist, turn, rise, and fall -- but I'm choosing to look up and forward , so I can avoid the potholes and bumps , and yet remembering I need to keep my eyes on the road, so I can prepare for avoiding them. You will still hit some; we are human. We are imperfectly perfect, so let's embrace the journey together.

"be the change that want to see in the world" - Gandhi

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