Does having a bulimia dream mean you’ll relapse?

Catherine Liberty's picture

I must have been in bulimia recovery for no longer than a week when I had my first dream about relapsing. The memory of it is hazy now, but I’ll never forget the intense feelings of fear, confusion and guilt that it caused. 

I remember convincing myself that it was some kind of bad omen, that bingeing and purging in my dream meant I was about to experience a relapse in real life.

If you’ve experienced one of these dreams, or should I say nightmares, then I’m sure you can relate to those feelings.   

I soon started dreaming about bulimia every night…

While I tried to pull myself together and move on from that initial binge dream, I soon realized that this was just the beginning. I went on to have dreams about relapse for months, and they happened almost every night. 

I’d awaken each morning crippled by guilt over the acts that I’d committed in my dreams. I wanted to recover so badly, and I thought I was doing so well, so why were these images of relapse haunting me every time I closed my eyes? 

What causes relapse dreams?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one exact cause for these types of dreams, but here are two possible explanations:

1. There is a definite consensus that dreams can be inspired by events that are happening in your life at that moment. So although you may not have experienced a relapse recently, it’s likely that you’re spending most of your waking hours focusing on recovery, which could definitely be influencing your dreams. 

2. I’m sure you’ll agree that when you’re bulimic, the acts of bingeing and purging become integral to your everyday routine. So it’s only natural that the thoughts and memories of your former bulimic life will spill over into your dreams every now and then. 

“If I have a bulimic dream does it mean I’m headed for a relapse?”

Not necessarily. In fact while looking for research into the links between recovery and relapse I discovered that a lot of therapists actually view dreams of relapse as hugely positive events. 

3 Benefits of bulimia dreams…

1. Your reaction tells you a lot about your dedication to recovery

Relapse dreams can be indicative of the progress that you have made in committing to your bulimia recovery, especially if you find yourself waking up feeling guilty or upset. Think about it, would you really be that devastated by an episode of relapse if you were not fully committed to recovery? A negative reaction to a bulimia dream is evidence that you truly value your recovery.

2. You may be ready to deal with recovery on a subconscious level

Dreaming of bingeing and purging can be a big sign that your subconscious is finally starting to process your conscious decision to recover. This is very significant because challenging those subconscious thought processes is essential to recovery. 

3. You can become motivated to re-evaluate your recovery

It is possible that dreaming of relapse could indicate that something is not quite right with your recovery. Perhaps you’ve been struggling a little more than usual recently? If so then the shock of a relapse dream may allow you to reassess your current recovery plan and create some more effective recovery strategies, before a relapse happens in real life. 

Remember this...

Although bulimia dreams can be extremely unsettling, they can actually be a really good indicator of progress. Rest assured that they will pass as you continue with your recovery.

If you're a member of Bulimia Help then why not share your own bulimia nightmare experiences below! Your words could go such a long way in helping others in recovery to come to terms with this distressing experience.  



AmyL's picture
The timing of this post is

The timing of this post is uncanny as I had my first ever dream about relapse last night. Thanks Catherine. This was meant to be. xx

Karmen's picture
Wow...this is sooo crazy, I

Wow...this is sooo crazy, I just had those nightmares like a week ago. I had two in a row - first one I literally woke up with teary eyes and sooo disappointed in myself and then when I realized it was a dream, I went back to sleep and had the SAME DREAM! holly Molly! I was terrified...I would rather have a nightmare someone chasing me with the gun than this :D but I definitely think it is related with the progress in recovery. Thank you for sharing Catherine!

Much love!


Karma's picture
Had equivalent dreams under

Had equivalent dreams under these circumstances:

Quitting smoking -- Dreamed I had a cigarette! Nightmare, actually.

Going strictly vegetarian -- Dreamed I accidentally ate a hamburger. Woke up terrified thinking it had actually happened.

Working on recovery with a wonderful new therapist and better meds, so the bulimia nightmare may happen, too.


Tania's picture
Catherine, what can I say,

Catherine, what can I say, just thank you! This is coming at the PERFECT time of my recovery.
I used to have nightmares over the years where I was binging and then I was not able to purge, so basically the focus was on the inability to purge (and then get fat because of the binge).
Just a couple of nights I had a nightmare where I was in recovery, even wearing the same clothes I had during the day, and I was binging and purging in a pretty violent way. The purging part was particularly intense, and I happened to wake up just when in the nightmare I had finished doing it. I opened my eyes and, oh my, the very first feeling was of huge relief: "Yesss, luckily it was JUST a nightmare". I think I smiled and my partner thought that smile was for him :-P. The joy of not having lived that situation for real made my day really.. It's like my subconscious has shifted from the fear of not being able to purge to the one of actually doing it. I believe it has to do with the "click" I've experienced about the fact that purging is not an option.
Again, Catherine thanks for keep posting such great and useful articles: they are precious!

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Thank you so much for the

Thank you so much for the comments everyone!

Agh I know, believe me, when I had that first dream I felt like I was the only one it happened to as well.

Amy - I'm so glad this article got to you at exactly the right time, that first dream of relapse can be so confusing!

Karmen - Definitely, I agree with that too, a as scary as they can be I love the idea that they indicate progress.

Karma - Yes me too. When I first went vegetarian I used to have meat eating dreams all of the time, and equally, when my husband was quitting smoking I used to dream that he was smoking, how funny!

Tania - You have such a brilliant outlook on life and recovery. I love that you were able to feel relief because it hadn't actually happened in real life :)

ardnassac79's picture
Wow, so I pop over here to

Wow, so I pop over here to see what the "Articles" section of the website has, and the very first post is about something I experienced for the VERY first time in all my 19 years of b/p-ing - a dream where I was making myself purge. And in my dream it was kind of difficult, like it wasn't coming up, and I was stressing that I was taking too long and someone would come looking for me. I think I'll take that as a sign that perhaps my subconscious is maybe opening up to the idea that I'm ready to make a real commitment to recover - not just stop purging. That's happened before, but I've never addressed the urges to binge. Perhaps I'm finally done hiding it not only from the world, but from myself as well.

Determined 86
Determined 86's picture
Wow like so many of these

Wow like so many of these comments, I too just had my first dream about relapse but it really reminded me just how bad I felt when b/p which made me feel even more determined to continue with recovery :)

Just be happy with yourself and its so simple to grow <3

EndlessHope's picture
I love reading these

I love reading these articles! They are so helpful.... just thought Id share my experience... had the dream that I binged/purged... woke up so so happy! Firstly because It was JUST a dream, and secondly because it made me realise how much recovery meant to me! Had a good day in recovery the next day. made me strong!

'Learning is a gift. Even when pain is your teacher.'

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