Deal with Relapses
Freedom from Eating Disorders, LLC
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Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course
Deal with Relapses
By applying the principles in this lesson, you’ll be able to put relapses behind you and work toward preventing future relapses.
I was convinced that if I tried to recover again, I’d only relapse. That belief kept me bound for a very long time. Relapses are difficult, but I hope this lesson will help you turn them into something positive for your recovery.
Don’t be surprised if you relapse. Relapses in eating disorder recovery are a very common part of the recovery process. This journey is filled with stops and starts; steps forward and steps backward; renewed motivation and giving into the eating disorder; hope and hopelessness; falls and victories. You may forge ahead for a time, then become ambivalent and give only reserved efforts. After a period of success, you may lose that initial resolve and get stuck or relapse.
Relapses occur for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you’re faced with an emotionally heavy problem, or became well acquainted with someone else also facing an eating disorder who isn’t as far along in recovery. Maybe you’re bombarded by triggering foods or hear comments that cause you to doubt you’ll ever recover. You might struggle with your resolve to recover and simply give into the eating disorder sometimes. The possibilities are endless, so it’s easy to see that it’s nearly impossible to get through recovery without experiencing relapses.
Please be patient with yourself and understand that what you’re going through is very common. Eating disorders are complicated, so it only stands to reason that breaking free of them is a difficult and sometimes perplexing process. Changing your mindset about relapses can help.
Insights about Relapses
- “Back and forth” thinking is just part of the process. Going from wanting to recover to not wanting to recover is normal. If you weren’t trying at all, you would give up and not experience times of resolve, so give yourself a pat on the back for trying.
- You aren’t alone when it comes to doing what you wish you wouldn’t or not doing what you wish you would. Even the apostle Paul clearly described his own struggle. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19). It’s part of being human; it’s going to happen. The main thing is not to let it stifle your recovery.
- A setback doesn’t define your recovery. Try your best not to give it that kind of power. Reverting back to old behaviors doesn’t mean you’ll never break free, you’ve lost whatever ground you’ve gained, or you’ve failed. No! Every step forward you took to that point is still evidence of your hard work and your growth. Apply what you learn from the relapse to help you emerge from it even stronger than before.
- There will always be things that will trip you up and lure you to the eating disorder. Sometimes these triggers will get the best of you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from those experiences and stand up against them in the future.
- A slip is one thing. It means you struggled in the moment. You engaged in a behavior once or twice, but then stopped. It’s another thing when that slip leads to another and yet another until you’re back into eating disorder behaviors on a regular basis again. A slip doesn’t have to lead to a full-blown relapse.
Take the power away from relapses by changing your mindset about them. If you chide yourself for a relapse, you’ll just fuel the eating disorder. Take a relapse for what it is, turn it into a learning tool, leave it behind you, and be kind to yourself in the process. Then you can not only dilute its effects on you, but use the relapse to propel you forward. Read on for tips to help you do just that.
Tips to Deal with Relapses
- Give yourself permission to have a less than perfect recovery experience. It’s okay to struggle, and even fall, sometimes.
- Acknowledge that the eating disorder didn’t appear in an instant and it won’t just go away quickly and easily. Give yourself time to address the complicated issues that make up an eating disorder.
- Identify what drives you to eating disorder behaviors. Some of these causes may be easy to recognize and others might be more subtle. Also, if you aren’t used to watching for them, this might take some practice. Examples include: a specific food, a particular emotion, anticipation of a dreaded event, a troublesome comment from someone, conflict in a relationship, challenges in school, work stress, going too long without eating, weighing yourself, and veering off your meal plan. There are numerous possibilities.
- Ask God for discernment as to why these things draw you to food-related behaviors. Talk to someone you trust or write in a journal to explore what thoughts and feelings are associated with these triggers. Then deal with them the best you can. Perhaps you’ll recognize a lie you need to replace with the truth or some hidden emotions you need to release.
- Avoid what provokes you when you can. For example, if it’s a specific food, don’t have it available; if it’s going too long without eating, adjust your intake throughout the day.
- Pray for help to stand up to what draws you in. You don’t have to give in to any of these things. Look to the Lord for direction and strength when you feel lured into food-related behaviors. “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13b).
- Evaluate how you might respond differently to your triggers in the future. Make a plan to do something else when they occur.
- Change your perspective on your triggers. You don’t have to fear them. Instead you can look at them as opportunities to refocus your attention on the Lord, and invite and experience God’s power in your recovery. Think of it as a prompt to turn to the Lord instead of the eating disorder.
- Be mindful that if a trigger gets the best of you and you slip, that doesn’t mean you can’t recover. Refrain from “all or nothing” thinking. For example, if you get off track in the morning, that doesn’t mean the whole day is a failure. It means you got off track early in the day. That’s all. You don’t have to keep reverting to eating disorder behaviors for the rest of the day just because you slipped in the morning. Just because you struggled for a time in the day doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track for the rest of the day. Each minute is a new one.
- Celebrate that there’s no limit on how many times you can get back up, return to healthy choices, or renew your resolve to recover. These are choices you can always make. Find encouragement to stay on track in the Have Perseverance lesson.
- Do your best not to condemn yourself when you get stuck or even when you step backward. Recovering from your eating disorder is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do. Give yourself credit for the courage to try.
- Make a list of reasons you want to recover. Refer to this list when tempted to revert to food-related behaviors. Use it as a reminder to stay on track to reach your recovery goals.
- Maintain a list of your steps forward in recovery. Remember to include when you get back up after a slip or a relapse. Use this list to remind you of the times you’ve said no to a behavior and yes to a healthy choice. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again.
- Trust that while your resolve to recover might wane, God’s desire for you to recover will never waver. Let him be your rock. When you feel all over the place, take steps forward and steps back, fight and then give up, remember that he is rock solid. Look to him when you need strength to steady yourself. There’s no one more reliable. Find and meditate on verses that speak of his solid, steady, and secure presence. Here are some to begin your list.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Ps. 61:1-4).
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Ps. 9:9-10).
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom” (Isa. 40:28).
- Recognize that it takes time to work through the underlying issues that drive you to the eating disorder. Meanwhile, it’s only natural that food-related behaviors are going to be enticing. So it’s especially important to rely on God’s power. You don’t have to do this yourself. He’s ready to help you do what seems impossible, to say no to what you’ve reached for for so long. Find and cling to verses about his power so these truths are with you and you can grab for them in the moment. Here are some to start your list.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16).
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Ps. 147:5).
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph. 6:10).
For more on his role in your journey, see the lesson Invite God into Your Recovery.
- Consider what you can learn from a slip or fall. In addition to recognizing what caused it, perhaps you learned something about yourself in the way you responded. Ask the Lord for insights. Take anything positive from the experience that you can. Use the setback as a stepping stone to a stronger you.
- Focus on what you did right. For example, even if you slipped, you may have initially fought it. After a slip, you may have prayed and asked God to help you not to do it again. After being in a relapse for an extended period of time, you may have reached out for help and determined to get back on track. Give yourself credit for the positive and healthy steps you’ve taken. They count.
- Put the relapse behind you, just like Paul put issues behind him as he matured in his faith. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13b-14).
- Imagine placing your relapse in God’s hands, a place where you no longer have to ruminate on it. You don’t need to keep dragging it around with you. Carry what you learned from it, but leave the rest behind.
Avoid the triggers you can. Plan ahead for the ones you can’t. Learn what you can from your relapses and come out stronger. Let God help you get back on track. Remember that he wants only the best for you so you can trust him with your recovery concerns. Be gentle with yourself, and celebrate your victories.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I find it so hard to stay on track in my recovery. I need your help. When I’m on the verge of a relapse, please give me insight so I don’t fall. When I’m in the midst of a relapse, please give me motivation and strength to pull out of it. After a relapse, please help me to learn from it and then put it behind me. I open my heart to your work in my recovery.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.1
Journey of Faith
Step, step, step…
Forward, upward –
purposeful, peaceful, pointed.
Step, step, step…
Backward, downward –
faint-hearted, faltering, falling.
Step, step, step…
reflect, recall, remember,
eyes fixed on Jesus –
Forerunner, Forgiver, Faith-builder…
Inside focus –
Distraction, doubt, despair…
Afraid, afraid, afraid…
to step, to try, to trip,
to fall, to fail.
Afraid to step forward, upward,
Fear stepping backward, downward.
Reach, reach, reach…
for hand to hold,
Lord to lead,
strength to step,
Spirit to steer,
for faith to forge onward,
courage to conquer,
a steady stride,
and power to prevail.
Faith, faith, faith…
in All-Powerful Almighty,
in Promised Power,
to listen, to lend,
to father, to forerun,
to foster, to fortify
this journey of faith.
Make a relapse plan
- Identify what triggers you to eating disorder behaviors. Think back to times when you did well in your recovery for a time and then slipped or went into a complete relapse. What happened, what was said, and what did you think and feel when you reverted back to an eating disorder behavior?
- List your triggers. They may be related to social situations, specific foods, certain emotions, troublesome thoughts, or difficult family relationships. Take your time to evaluate what specifically draws you to food-related behaviors.
- For each trigger, consider why it drives you to the eating disorder. Pray, journal, and talk with someone you trust about what tempts you to engage in behaviors.
- Pray for strength and discernment to manage what drives you to food-related behaviors. Trust that the Lord wants to help you.
- Make a plan for each trigger. Think of things you can do instead of turning to behaviors. For example, you might do an activity such as completing a chore or calling a friend, meditating on verses and inspirational quotes, writing in your journal, working on some type of creative project, or listening to music that inspires you and redirects your thoughts. These are just some ideas to help you start your list.
- Do your best to implement your plan when the trigger occurs.
- Evaluate your plan to make any needed changes. If you slip, learn what you can from the experience and adjust your plan accordingly.
- Celebrate your victories!
The remaining features for this lesson, as listed below, are printable. You may download the PDF file here.
Answer Key for Quiz
1Laurie Glass, Inspiration for Eating Disorder Recovery, 2015.
All Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Find out about other lessons on the Recovery Course page.
Change Your Thoughts
Learn to Deal with Emotions
See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out
Address Your Relationship with Food
Invite God into Your Recovery
Let Go of Control
Face Your Fears
Experience Inner Healing
Let Go of Perfectionism
Let Go of Guilt
Let Go of Shame
Deal with Relapses