There’s nothing quite as terrifying as the moment when you realize your recovery has started to spiral out of control and that you’re headed straight for a bulimia relapse.
One minute you’re feeling fine, you’re starting to feel confident in yourself, you’re feeling in control of your food choices – maybe you’re even starting to feel as though you can actually do this and then BAM, totally out of the blue you find yourself surrounded by triggers and overwhelmed by binge urges.
And the worst part of all?
You have no idea what to do!
Well here are 5 tips to help you avoid a full blown bulimia relapse.
1. Get to know YOUR bulimia relapse warning signs
Although it may seem like those bulimic urges are creeping up on you from no where, there is a good chance that you’re just missing the first really subtle signs of a bulimia relapse.
The good news is that if you can learn to recognise those early relapse warning signs a little sooner, then you’re going to find yourself in a powerful position to stop any future relapses before they have a chance to derail your recovery.
Awareness always needs to be the first step in relapse prevention because let’s face it, relapses are much easier to avoid when you see them coming.
In order to avoid bulimia relapses in the long run it’s important to get to know your own personal relapse triggers and vulnerabilities.
For me the initial warning signs usually came in the form of my own complacency.
So any time when I let my recovery plan slip, stopped putting enough focus on my structured eating plan, or avoided engaging in healthy coping mechanisms like journalling and reaching out to others at Bulimia Help then it always spelled danger for my recovery.
Another very common sign that you may be approaching a bulimic relapse is if you find yourself ‘missing’ being bulimic…
Of course no one likes to admit that they can miss something that caused them so much pain and upset, but a lot of people do miss the escape and emotional release that bulimia used to provide, I know I did. It’s far better to accept this as one of your warning signs (if it’s relevant to you) than to pretend it doesn’t exist. Try to be honest with yourself when exploring your true warning signs.
Other common early warning signs of a potential relapse may include…
Experiencing more frequent ‘fat thoughts’, feeling compelled to check your weight more often, actively cutting calories or skipping meals in an attempt to lose weight, or finding it increasingly difficult to make decisions or to cope with your daily life.
Q. What types of subtle changes, thoughts, situations and behaviours could be early warning signs that you are headed towards a bulimia relapse?
2. Amplify the focus on your general well-being.
When those first subtle signs that you may be headed towards a relapse begin to show themselves, the best advice I can give you is to amplify the focus on your general well-being.
A. Carving out time EVERY DAY for rest and relaxation.
I really do appreciate that this is especially difficult for people who have very busy lives with lots of important responsibilities, but relaxation is a really important element of relapse prevention because when stressed we tend to fall back into old damaging behaviour patterns more easily.
Try cutting back on additional responsibilities at work or asking for more help from loved ones at home. Please understand that regular down time is almost as vital as regular eating when it comes to recovery.
B. Appreciating the importance of sleep, hydration and moderate exercise.
Sleeping for at least 6-8 hours will increase your ability to deal with highly emotional situations in more rational ways the following day. Keeping well hydrated will help you to feel energized and avoid false hunger signals. Moving your body regularly will help to keep levels of depression and anxiety in check.
Always remember that your physical state is deeply connected with your emotional state. When you take steps to care for your physical well-being, you’re directly impacting your emotional well-being.
C. Striving to consistently feed and nourish your body.
Even the best thought out strategies and bulimia relapse prevention plans can not help you to avoid relapsing unless you’re taking the time to nourish your body first.
That means committing to regular, balanced, non-restrictive meals, and making structured eating your number one priority at all times.
Whether you’re experiencing multiple, unexplainable relapses, or simply feeling that something is a little off with your recovery, there is a good chance it is connected to food. Turn your focus back to your structured eating plan.
- Are you getting enough calories?
- Are you eating enough carbs?
- Are you accounting for calories burned through exercise?
- Are you depriving yourself of certain foods?
- Are you still living by unrealistic and damaging food-rules?
- Are you SURE that you’re being honest with yourself when answering these questions?
D. Focus on making one positive change at a time…
Taking steps to address your general well being at at the first sign of a bulimia relapse will definitely help you to avoid falling off track, but it’s a lot to take on all at once, so instead try to set yourself small, manageable, attainable goals. Tackle one thing at a time and the positive changes will soon add up.
3. Practice postponing the urge to replapse
If overwhelming urges to relapse have already taken hold then the most powerful step you can take is to work on ‘postponing’ that relapse by delaying it for 10 minutes.
You don’t need to worry about getting through the rest of the day, the rest of the month, or the rest of your life without giving into those urges.
All you need to do in that moment is focus on breathing and surviving the next ten minutes without relapsing.
As much as the urge may try to consume you try to calm and reassure yourself by looking at the clock and waiting it out. Tell yourself that if you still want to binge or engage in any other bulimic behaviour after the ten minutes is up then that’s okay – but you’re going to wait it out first.
Then, when the ten minutes is up, see if you can go another ten minutes, and keep repeating until the urge dies down.
This is a technique that you’ll already be familiar with if you’re currently recovering with the Bulimia Help Method, and it’s something I heavily relied upon during my own recovery too.
I know it sounds very basic, but I really don’t want you to underestimate what a difference it can make to your recovery. Many of the people who I work with via coaching regularly use this exercise to successfully avoid relapsing. Give it a shot, you may surprise yourself.
4. Even if you do end up relapsing realize that you have NOT failed.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes it’s simply not going to be possible to avoid relapsing. But you know what? It’s okay to mess up. In fact, not only is it okay to mess up, it is essential to do so!
Forgive yourself, learn from the experience and do not let your relapses define you.
You may find this hard to believe right now, but those painful episodes of relapse are often exactly what we need to experience in order to find full, lasting, recovery.
Well a bulimia relapse tells us that something isn’t quite working in our recovery plan. It can let us know that we’re not eating enough food or that we’re not resting enough. It can show us that we still need to work on developing new healthy coping mechanisms, or that we’ve become too complacent in recovery.
Experiencing a bulimia relapse pushes us to improve our existing recovery plans, to develop new strategies and to constantly evolve and move forwards in recovery.
More than anything a truly awful phase of relapse can actually ignite a new fire within us that pushes us to want to recover more than ever before.
I’ve said this so many times before, but I really do believe I’d still be bulimic today had it not been for the lessons I learned during my own phases of relapse.
So please try to not be too hard on yourself if you’re experiencing lots of relapses right now because relapsing has nothing to do with weakness
5. Remember Relapses are an unavoidable part of the process…
They are not a sign that you have failed. They are not a sign that you are doomed to spend the rest of your life cycling through phases of recovery and relapse or that you have ceased to make progress.
You have to remember that right now you are in the process of recovering from a life threatening eating disorder. You are facing so many fears and making so many changes. It’s going to be hard. you’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to fall down more times than you ever thought possible. All that matters is that you continue to stand up again after the fall.
Really try to be patient with yourself, practice treating yourself with the compassionate understanding that you deserve and try not to write off an entire day as a failure if you do relapse. Instead see each day as a series of segments that can be a collection of positive and challenging moments.
Trust me when I say that one day you’ll look back on all of this and realize that you actually learned your most valuable recovery lessons during the most challenging of times.
In health and love,