Eating disorders are a challenging condition to manage. Everyone’s experience is a little different, as is their relationship with food, self-esteem, body image, and other contributing factors. Recovery is not as easy as just “eating more,” and individuals should not view anorexia relapse as a sign that treatment or recovery have failed. It is a sign that something needs to change, and the person needs to re-evaluate how they are managing their condition.
It is important to recognize warning signs of anorexia relapse in order to get help before the situation becomes more severe. Some signs may be subtler than others, and family members should not discount their concerns. If you think something may be wrong, speak up. Here are some potential red flags to be aware of:
Falling Back into Old Behaviors
It takes a lot of repetition and conscious decision making to break old routines. If you notice that your loved one is starting to slip back into their old ways and do things they used to while in the throes of anorexia symptoms, it could be a warning sign that they need help. This could include things such as making excuses for skipping a meal or not finishing, finding a reason to workout harder, or being overly concerned about what they are eating.
Withdrawing or Spending More Time Alone
There’s nothing wrong with wanting some time to oneself, but if the person starts disappearing after meals or avoiding situations where socializing involves food – such as a party or holiday gathering – they may be struggling with disordered eating again. Individuals with anorexia often spend time alone to avoid eating or try to control their weight once they have eaten.
Developing Increasingly Rigid Eating Behaviors
Warning signs of eating disorders – or progression in that direction – is beginning to develop more rigid eating behaviors. During treatment, they likely established a schedule or routine for meals and snacks, as well as what types of foods and how much they should be consuming. If they start straying from this and restricting certain foods or food groups from their diet, focusing on only eating low-carb or low-calorie food, or making other limiting changes, it can be a red flag. This could also include being very specific about what dishes or utensils they use to eat.
Engaging in Negative Thinking
Disordered eating isn’t just about food. It’s also about mental health. Obsessing over the way one looks, comparing oneself to others, worrying about weight, or engaging in self-destructive thinking are part of eating disorders too. Try to help the person focus on the positives, what they like about their body, how strong or agile they are, or other encouraging things. When they let their mind slip back into negative thinking and self-criticism, it can lead to challenges with recovery and eventual relapse.
Becoming Complacent with Recovery Strategies
Eating disorder recovery involves creating a healthy, structured routine and strategies for managing diet, weight, and self-perception. It is important that the person follow this plan to support their continued recovery. Here are a few signs that they are at greater risk of slipping into relapse:
- Becoming complacent and skipping meals here or there
- Eliminating certain foods from their diet
- Cutting back on how much they are eating
- Weighing themselves more often
- Not practicing positive self-care
- Becoming bored or unmotivated
These are all signs that it may be time to change things up and figure out how to stay focused on continued good health and recovery.
Remember that anorexia relapse does not mean failure. Provide your loved one with the support and encouragement they need to reach out for help to get back on track. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Responding early can help them to regain control before risking eating disorder relapse.
Working with a treatment facility like Crossroads can allow you to get your loved one the help they need to overcome an eating disorder and create a solid plan for relapse prevention. This is even more imperative if they are also struggling with addiction or another co-occurring disorder. There is hope and help available. Crossroads is committed to helping women remember who they wanted to be through quality, individualized care throughout their recovery journey.