The Role of Self-Blame in Eating Disorder Relapse

Self blaming

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Self-blame and eating disorders often go hand in hand, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break. When it comes to eating disorders, it’s important to remember that recovery is often a lifelong process, and relapse doesn’t mean failure. Minimizing feelings of self-blame and other negative emotions can help someone get back on their path to recovery and reduce their risk for future relapse.

Self-Blame and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders come with a lot of stigmas, and, unfortunately, many people believe that eating disorder behaviors are a choice or that those who are suffering are looking for attention. Although untrue, misconceptions like these can contribute to self-blame for those who have eating disorders.

Self-blame is a common reaction to negative events and often comes with other feelings like guilt, shame, and self-disgust. These feelings may drive self-destructive behaviors related to eating disorders, which only leads to more self-blame. This can result in a cycle of negative feelings and eating disorder behaviors.

Preventing Self-Blame and Eating Disorder Relapse 

Predicting if and when an eating disorder relapse might occur can be challenging. Some research suggests that self-blame might be one important indicator.

A study of individuals who had eating disorders found that 68% of participants were in recovery at the time of the nine-year follow-up [1]. The only indication that was found that someone may have a greater risk for relapse was a higher initial rating of self-blame [1].

This research suggests that addressing self-blame early in treatment might be an important factor in preventing relapse and helping someone get back on track more quickly if a relapse does happen.

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Here are some self-help strategies someone can use to address self-blame:

  • Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves being kind to yourself and avoiding judgment. Treat yourself like you would a close friend or family member if they were in your situation.
  • Fight your self-critical voice. It may be tempting to believe the self-critical voice, but you can fight back by reminding yourself that these negative things aren’t true. You might try journaling or making a list of the things you love about yourself to turn self-blame and self-criticism into more positive thinking.
  • Look at your whole self. It’s important to see yourself as a whole and not to reduce yourself to your eating disorder symptoms. Consider the positive ways a friend, coworker, or family member may see you and recognize your talents, positive traits, and values.
  • Remember that eating disorders are complex. Eating disorders are complicated illnesses. Although it can be easy to give in to self-blame, it’s important to remember that eating disorders are mental health disorders that require lifelong management.

Combating self-blame takes a lot of practice, and sometimes a relapse still occurs. It’s important to remember that mistakes happen, and a relapse is not a sign of failure but an opportunity for growth.

Signs of Eating Disorder Relapse

A relapse is when someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder returns to harmful behaviors such as bingeing, purging, restricting calories, overexercising, or misusing laxatives or dieting pills. Knowing the first signs of an eating disorder relapse is important in ensuring that the person receives help right away.

Warning signs of an eating disorder relapse include:

  • Obsessive thoughts about weight, food, or body image
  • Using a scale regularly
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating in secret
  • Avoiding food
  • Exercising in excess
  • Feeling guilt or shame about eating
  • Isolation from others
  • Difficulty managing stress and other negative emotions

What to Do If Relapse Happens

Thinking about a relapse might be uncomfortable, but it’s important to have a plan in place in case one happens. If a relapse does occur, here are some tips that may help:

  • Remember that relapse is a normal part of eating disorder recovery.
  • Try to identify what triggered a relapse and how you can address or prevent these triggers next time.
  • Try not to dwell on the fact that a relapse occurred and instead focus on the steps to getting back on your recovery path.
  • Reach out to friends and family for extra support.
  • Spend some time doing things you enjoy and practicing self-care strategies.
  • Be honest with your doctor or mental healthcare provider about the relapse.

If you are struggling with feelings of self-blame or potential warning signs of a relapse, help is available. The sooner you reach out for additional treatment, the sooner you can get back on the path to recovery.


[1] Petersson, S., Birgegård, A., Brudin, L., Forsén Mantilla, E., Monell, E., Clinton, D., & Björck, C. (2021). Initial self-blame predicts eating disorder remission after 9 years. Journal of Eating Disorders, 9(81).

About Timberline Knolls

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Timberline Knolls is a residential treatment center located on 43 beautiful acres just outside Chicago, offering a nurturing recovery environment for women and girls age 12 and older who are struggling with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is available for step-down and for women to directly admit. By serving with uncompromising care, relentless compassion, and an unconditional joyful spirit, we help our residents and clients help themselves in their recovery. For more information, please visit

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of 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 on December 6, 2021. Published on
Reviewed & Approved on December 6, 2021 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC