What Triggers an Eating Disorder Relapse?

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When someone enters recovery from an eating disorder, it can cause great excitement and pride for the individual and their loved ones. However, relapse can happen to someone anywhere from shortly after leaving treatment to several months or years later. When this happens, it’s important to seek treatment that involves well-rounded therapy options from a center that understands the value of using a multi-disciplinary approach. Trellis Recovery Centers helps young people understand what triggers an eating disorder relapse. We treat a diverse population of adolescents who need help getting back on the path to recovery. 

What is an Eating Disorder Relapse?

An eating disorder relapse is defined as a return to previously used eating disorder behaviors and thoughts after a person has entered recovery. This can include restricting food intake, binge eating, purging, compulsively exercising, and using things like diuretics and laxatives to attempt to rid the body of calories consumed. The relapse may have just started or be an ongoing event of several weeks or months. Regardless of when relapse begins, the faster the person seeks professional help, the quicker they can return to being in recovery. 

It’s important not to lose hope when a relapse happens. It does not mean the person has become permanently ill again or must begin treatment again at square one. Discussions with eating disorder therapists about what triggers eating disorder relapse, particularly in the individual’s life, help them learn from the relapse. It often takes less time to get back into recovery mode after relapse than it does to enter recovery after the first time a person seeks treatment. 

What Triggers an Eating Disorder Relapse?

What triggers eating disorder relapse varies per person, and can stem from one specific event or a combination of stressors. Certain factors can influence a higher likelihood that a relapse may happen. These factors include how long the individual had an eating disorder. Those who have a long history of being sick often succumb to relapse more quickly than others. The age of onset and how quickly the person received professional treatment can also factor in. For example, an adolescent who receives care within a short time of becoming sick proves less likely to relapse than someone who remains ill for years or even decades. 

Other contributors that can cause young people to relapse include:

  • Ending treatment too quickly.
  • Not receiving aftercare after completing initial treatment.
  • If a person loses control over an exercise routine and begins to over-exercise.
  • Attempts to diet and lose “just a little weight”
  • Stressful events that occur, including family difficulties, parents divorcing, doing poorly in school, peer pressure, and entering the dating world. 

How to Prevent a Relapse

The first key to preventing relapse is to keep in mind that recovery is a long journey and not a quick event. When a difficult situation or painful emotions arise, it’s important to discuss these with a therapist. This helps prevent challenging feelings or events from tipping a person over into relapsing. 

Another way to prevent relapse is for the individual to keep an open dialogue with their loved ones. For adolescents, this means keeping their parents and other family members looped into how they are progressing in therapy. It also helps to have friends who do not struggle with their own eating disorders and can provide positive peer support.

Even when a teenager doesn’t feel like talking to their parents or other caregivers, they can find great value in writing in a journal. Other activities, including creative pastimes like drawing, dancing, or creating fashion items, can also help them express themselves and release their emotions in a positive way. 

Finally, someone in recovery often benefits from allowing their doctor or therapist to monitor their weight for them. This means throwing out the scale at home and not allowing a number to tell them how they feel about themselves. 

Mom helping daughter after learning what triggers an eating disorder relapse


What To Do If You or a Loved One Relapses From an Eating Disorder

Because many people go through at least one relapse while in recovery, the experience can present a way to better understand these complex disorders. Therapists will work with the person to revisit previously learned coping skills and incorporate new techniques that help them avoid another relapse. 

Many types of therapy modalities help people overcome relapse. These include the following:


Each type of therapy offers its own methods that help people relearn how they view their bodies, their self-image, and food. Eating disorder therapies help people reassess long-held negative beliefs and convert them into positive ones. They not only help the individual but can help create loving, sustainable relationships with family members that became fractured during the young person’s illness. 

Contact Our Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Los Angeles, California

Regardless of what triggers eating disorder relapses, it’s imperative that a person receives immediate treatment when they happen. Trellis Recovery Centers employs a transdiagnostic approach to helping adolescents understand and overcome their eating disorders. Our family-focused approach keeps parents involved in order to help the entire family unit heal. Our eating disorder-trained professionals use their extensive experience to help teenagers reshape how they view food and their bodies. This ensures the teens move towards recovery with an understanding of how to gain real control while supervised by experts who care for them.

For more information about beginning treatment, contact us today. Our admissions staff is happy to answer any questions you have.