Major Life Changes & Eating Disorder Relapse

lady doing Movement therapy in Movement Group for binge eating disorder

Planned or unplanned, when life throws major life changes our way, adjusting can be incredibly difficult. Regardless of whether these changes are welcomed or not, it is still difficult to take the transition in stride.

Unexpected Major Life Changes

These are the life challenges that can send us reeling. Those moments when things are running smoothly, maybe not perfect but, at least, stable and then BOOM, something comes out of left field that changes our world.

Losing a job, an unexpected financial burden, ending a relationship, your parents getting divorced, loss of a loved one, etc. can, understandably, cause a lot of hardship. At these times, we are especially susceptible to mental health challenges including eating disorder relapse.

Research indicates that stressful life events are associated with eating disorder relapse [1]. One study particularly highlighted that women who experience higher work and social stress have an increased likelihood for relapse [1].

One of the hardest parts of these unexpected changes lies in them being unexpected. We can’t plan for them or prepare ourselves for potential fallout. If you find yourself faced with one such challenge, you may feel out-of-control and anxious, which can absolutely be triggering, but, these feelings do not need to be permanent.

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Exert control over your life again by talking with someone. Whether it be a friend, therapist, significant other, family member, or mentor, talking it all out can help you to get a better perspective on the situation, vent about how it is impacting you, express any triggering feelings you may be having, and make a game-plan moving forward.

It also never fails, when you feel like the world is spinning around you, to do what you know grounds you. Take a walk, paint something, read a book, meditate, do yoga. Whatever it is that heals you and helps you feel grounded – don’t leave it behind just because things feel out of your control.

Expected Changes

Even when a life change is anticipated, they still come with a transition phase that can leave you vulnerable. Maybe you just got married, bought a house, started college, moved to a new city, ended a relationship on your own terms, etc.

All of these can be welcome changes and the feelings described above, of loss of control, might not feel so strong. This doesn’t make it any less overwhelming to try to adjust.

Two Children on path at sunset. An example of Major life changes

If you are anticipating a major life change, it can help to make a plan before It becomes stressful. Know who you can talk to, where you can go, and what coping skills work best for you to combat ED thoughts and process anxiety.

This is especially important if your life change means that some of these will be new. Moving to a new city or starting a new job can be hard, you don’t know where support centers are, you may not have a friend-group there yet, and you’re possibly in the dark about the policy your new job’s health insurance has on covering therapy.

Plan ahead for this, letting friends know that you may need to FaceTime or Skype more often than usual, staying in contact with your old treatment team and recovery support, and using online resources to find out what will be available to you in your new reality.

Change is scary, and research shows that, whether good or bad, it can trigger eating disorder relapse. Taking care of yourself before, during, and after major life changes is crucial to maintaining eating disorder recovery.


[1] Grilo, C. M. et al. (2012). Stressful life events predict eating disorder relapse following remission: six-year prospective outcomes. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45, 185-192.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: 

Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

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 July 1, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on July 1, 2019, 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.