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5 Reasons You Might Be on the Verge of an Eating Disorder Relapse

Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way we hope them to. If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, this can make it tempting to turn back to old habits and listen to old voices. Here are five non-exhaustive reasons you might be on the verge of a relapse, and five reasons why the eating disorder is not the solution. If you identify with any of the points below, please open up to someone you trust — whoever that may be.

1. You feel out of control.

Something unexpected happened. Life feels uncertain and scary. You’re stressed and burnt out. You feel unsure where you’re headed in life and you just crave some predictability. Controlling your eating makes you feel in control of at least something and appears to give some groundedness in such an unpredictable world.

But we both know that disordered eating is not real control — it’s the illusion of control. In fact, it controls you. Every day becomes constrained by and centered around food, whether that’s avoiding it or seeking it out. It starts with small things, small behaviors, but you know it never stays there. It spirals out of control and lands you in an even more unpredictable place than you started.

2. You’re unhappy.

You’re dissatisfied, disappointed, disillusioned or all three. Maybe you’re struggling with depression. Controlling or manipulating your eating is one way of trying to do something about it — whether it’s the thrill of restriction, the endorphins a binge produces, or possibly the thought of losing weight and changing your appearance that you think will make you happier.

But we both know the eating disorder promises happiness but never delivers. Maybe you get a thrill in the moment when you’ve skipped a meal or lost a little weight, but its never enough. The eating disorder always demands more — more of your energy, more of your time, more of your mental space… more of you. Always more, but never enough. And you land even unhappier than before.

3. You feel desperate to numb your pain.

Maybe you’ve been through or are going through something which is causing you a lot of emotional pain or distress right now. A loss, a breakup, family problems, pressure at work, loneliness… these are but a few things that might cause you to feel this way. Eating can serve as a coping strategy which causes you to focus on something else, transferring
your attention away from the pain of the situation.

But it doesn’t numb your pain — it just transfers it somewhere else. We both know the eating disorder brings with it more pain, more emotion, more distress than it ever takes away.

4. You need to scream “I’m not OK!”

Not that I want to be cliché, but it’s OK not to be OK. Sometimes when you’re not OK, the only language you know how to communicate that in is self-destruction.

But we both know this really gets you stuck between a rock and a hard place — when people notice you’re not OK, it becomes even harder to admit. The eating disorder throws on layers of deceit in fear of being exposed and uprooted. Eating disorders aren’t effective communicators and end up making things less OK than they were before.

5. You feel you need to counter a “failure.”

Not doing as well as you’d like on a test, getting rejected from a job interview, feeling rejected by someone — whatever this “failure” looks like to you, the eating disorder offers a tempting opportunity to be good at something. Particularly if you have a history of restrictive eating or purging, or you’ve been congratulated on weight loss or changed eating habits in the past by well-meaning onlookers, a dose of that seems like an inviting antidote.

But we both know success is never achievable here. There will always be someone “better” (i.e., worse) than you, and even if there isn’t, dysmorphia won’t let you see that. The eating disorder makes you feel like a failure every second of every day, and not only that, it takes every opportunity to try and prove it. Whatever you perceive your failure to be, engaging in disordered eating not only won’t solve it, but it will make you feel even worse about yourself.

You don’t need to feel in control right now. One day at a time. You can and will be happy again and staying well will be part of that. To quote John Green, “pain demands to be felt.” It won’t always feel this way. Talk to someone you trust. It’s OK not to be OK. Use your words, because I know you have them. You’re not a failure, and nothing can change that. You are loved and you are here for a reason. No failure, no rejection, however big or small, can ever change that. We both know the eating disorder is not the answer.

A version of this article was previously posted on Beyond Fear.

Photo by Hessam Hojati on Unsplash