Anorexia & Relapse Prevention

African-American Woman

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most dangerous mental illnesses [1]. This is because of the medical issues that can happen as a result of anorexic behaviors.

Anorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by weight loss and an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. People with anorexia may become underweight by restricting how many calories they have, compulsive exercise, or purging through vomiting or laxatives.

Anorexia also tends to have a distorted view of their body. They may see themselves as being bigger than they actually are. The size and shape of their body likely have a big impact on their self-esteem and mood [1].

Not only is this eating disorder extremely dangerous, but people also tend to struggle with it for a significant amount of time, and the likelihood of relapse is high [2]. Some researchers say relapse is when someone has lost a certain amount of weight or if certain emotional symptoms come back [2].

Research shows that as many as 52% of people relapse after receiving treatment for anorexia [2]. This is really significant and should be something that eating disorder treatment professionals are aware of.

While each person’s situation is different, there are certain things that can be implemented after treatment to maintain recovery. Here are three relapse prevention ideas:

Build & Use Your Support System

Eating disorder recovery is hard. Some days may be harder than others. Having safe, trustworthy people that you can turn to can help on the difficult days. Letting other people support you can help prevent you from coping with eating disorder behaviors instead.

A support system can also provide accountability. It can be helpful to share with some people in your life what are signs that you may be struggling and are more likely to do disordered behaviors. A support system can be friends, family, treatment professionals, or other people in recovery.

Know The Warning Signs of Anorexia Relapse

Hispanic Woman in Anorexia treatmentDisordered eating behaviors and thoughts have a way of creeping up. Usually, relapse doesn’t happen overnight. It is often a gradual process. Knowing what the warning signs are for you can help you catch yourself before things become more severe.

Some examples of common warning signs are if you start worrying more about your weight or find yourself skipping meals. Other warning signs may be more subtle, such as looking in the mirror more often or feeling more anxious.

It can be difficult to know what your warning signs are. If that’s true for you, ask someone who knows you well, like a friend or therapist, and they may be able to point out what they’ve noticed.

Plan to Cope Ahead

Disordered eating behaviors can be a way to cope with upsetting feelings. Spend some time thinking about what tends to trigger you. Is it certain situations or emotions? If you are able to figure this out, you can also pick out some coping skills that could be helpful in the future.

It’s normal to have slip-ups. This is often part of the recovery process because each slip is an opportunity to learn how to cope and prevent future setbacks. It’s important to catch these slips because they can have a snowball effect. Lasting recovery takes work, but it’s possible.


[1] National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Anorexia nervosa.

[2] Khalsa, S.S., Portnoff, L.C., McCurdy-McKinnon, D., & Feusner, J.D. (2017). What happens after treatment? A systemic review of relapse, remission, and recovery in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders, 5(20). DOI 10.1186/s40337-017-0145-3

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published March 30, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 30, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.