Anatomy of an Anorexia Relapse

June 28, 2012 Angela E. Gambrel

It started with the heat.

I couldn't eat because I was too hot. That's a good reason. right?

Of course, I could have done a number of things to combat that. Made smoothies. Have salads with added protein of chicken or fish. Splurge on ice cream once in a while.

And I did do that, grudgingly, at first. I got a orange banana smoothie at Barnes & Noble, and felt oh-so-virtuous. See, I am trying! I'm not slipping...I'm eating intuitively.

Then I had a chicken caesar salad at McDonald's. Drizzled a minute amount of salad dressing on it. I don't want soggy lettuce, do I? Ate some of the chicken, a few bites of the lettuce. Ugh, iceberg lettuce! Don't they realize that has absolutely no nutrients?!?

Yesterday, I ate virtually nothing.

And that is the anatomy of a relapse? Or a lapse?Recovery is not a linear path. There are dips and turns, taking you places that you might not want to go to. It is tedious and scary and difficult.

Each time I have embarked on recovery — this isn't my first rodeo, as they say — I've struggled and relapsed, and then gotten back on track. I've learned many things, and recovery is at its best a journey of discovery.

I started seeing a dietitian soon after my last hospitalization. This time, I wanted recovery to stick. Of course, I said that 234332234339 times before. But by God, this time I really mean it!!!

I started blowing off my appointments in March. I thought I had this all wrapped up. I was eating three meals and two snacks, I had reached a healthy weight, and I could see the end in sight.

I slowly, insidiously, unconsciously started restricting. Two snacks became one. Three meals became two and a half. Instead of yogurt and two cups of granola for breakfast, I would have one. Instead of a sandwich at lunch, I would have crackers. Of course, this was so I didn't waste bread, right? Right?

Then one snack became zero snacks. I mean, only kindergarteners had milk and cookies — or whatever — in the afternoon.

Then I started getting up too late in the morning, so breakfast and lunch became one meal.

Then I started forgetting about eating dinner until 9 or 10 p.m., and that's just too late for dinner, right? Right? So I would have a granola bar and call it good.

Sometimes I snapped. It happens when you are restricting, whether by choice or not. One night, I found myself eating a half pint of ice cream. Another night, I ended up eating peanut butter and crackers at midnight because my stomach ached so much from hunger.

Of course, then I would beat myself up for such a perceived lack of control.

Yesterday, I got it into my head that I didn't need to eat. I ate a little at breakfast, and then nothing — no water, no coffee, zilch — until I finally broke down and drank an Ensure because my stomach again hurt so much.

It was a miserable day. I tried to read, but the words didn't make any sense. I tried to do things around the house, but I was too tired. I could barely move, and I simply couldn't think.

Didn't any of this ring any bells???

Oh yes. Yes, it did. But each time I reached out to call someone, I stopped. I didn't want to admit I failed yet again. I was angry at myself. Angry at being so weak. Angry that I couldn't just starve myself and shut up.


How does someone who is fully invested in recovery fall over and over again into this trap? It is different for each person, of course. For me, this is my classic response to internal stress. I allowed money worries and job worries to snowball in my head, and it chipped away at my resolve.

Finally, eating less means that the eating disorder voice can take full control. It simply doesn't shut up when I am restricting, and this makes the whole thing snowball.

Almost until it is too late.

But it isn't too late. Awareness is key. At least now, I know this is a problem. And part of me knows that I am not a failure, but instead I am human and lapse and relapse are part of the recovery process.

Don't worry. I am still fully committed to recovery, and it is good that I now recognize my weak spots and triggers, for that will make my recovery that much stronger.

Find Angela E. Gambrel on Facebook and Google+, and @angelaegambrel on Twitter.

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2012, June 28). Anatomy of an Anorexia Relapse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

May, 28 2021 at 8:07 am

Denial is a seductive friend to ED. I’m 50 years old, and I could have written this post. I purged but didn’t binge; I restricted and lost weight but did so in a “healthy” way (according to my disordered mind) because my BMI stayed just barely north of anorexic. I’ve been in recovery for 8 years; purge-free for 6.
The insidious nature of eating disorders is seductive. I’m not really hungry. I’m too tired to cook. I’m busy - I’ll eat later. I’ll do better tomorrow; today was just too hectic. It’s no big deal, I’m still a normal weight. But then ED slips from my friend to my dictator. Why are you eating? You ate last night. Didn’t you SEE the scale at the doctor’s office? Those pants aren’t loose enough. Your husband is ashamed of you and your body (he isn’t, but Ed lies). You’ve failed at everything, even recovery (I’m still here, I survived everything even recovery).
Don’t underestimate that voice. Get help. It gets easier. It gets harder. But I can guarantee though I have really bad days, I have good ones too. I know what it’s like to grow up without a mom; I don’t want that for my kids. I hope that someday I will live my life & my recovery for me, but in the depths of my ED and depression, it’s enough sometimes for me to live (and eat) for my family. I
After all, tomorrow I may be able to do it for me.

May, 18 2018 at 9:01 pm

Hi. I have a friend who claims she is in recovery and on the 'gain train'. After a year she is still skeleton thin. She has been coaching other people who have unhealthy relationships with food for the last several months and wants to make a living from it eventually. She also has been posting a lot of intense exercise videos in which you can plainly see her skeletal figure. Is this dangerous? I want to be supportive but I am worried.

January, 25 2018 at 1:45 pm

I too have been on and off with an ED. Ever since High school, I'm now 32. I was never diagnosed but had all classic signs from over exercising. Hiding food. Or just "forgetting" to eat. Took up smoking (quit multiple times) and then activated colitis. I thought this was greatest diet ever--- I was healthy weight but never will see it in the mirror no matter what. Colitis... like I mentioned best diet ever. It flared when dad left mom. They had a divorce. It was only control I had. Notice the "c" word! Recent months, I had issues with a crappy abusive boyfriend who I left. Another flare and stress at work with taking on new posistion (yay but oy!) Again... slipping into the mind set. If its not control over what I eat, its control over minute things. And ocd kicks in. The colitis I lost 15 lbs in 2 weeks. And little by little more and more with stress included. The colitis is under wraps now its all mental. Its a real pain in the you know what having people questions continually.

January, 19 2018 at 3:56 am

I am having a hard time with exactly what you are describing. I have not been anorexic for many years and then I lost four pounds unintentionally and now I am doing all that you are describing and I think part of it happened because I was spending way too much time with a friend who is actively anorexic and my subconscious mind is very impressionable and so I have to watch out. I have stopped spending as much time with my friend who is now in her 50's and in such denial. I hope this helps me. I really feel scared after thinking I was OK for so many years. Reading your essay was a big help. Awareness of the snowballing and insidious patterns (like finding ways to make breakfast and lunch one meal.) Thank you. I learned that hanging out with others in active eating disorders who have never gotten treatment for it nor been hospitalized is not for me.

August, 25 2017 at 6:16 am

Yeah I'm relapsing this will be my third one. I've had a few minor lapses but this one is bad I lost a lot of weight. I know what triggered it to. My lil sister was diagnosed with AML and the treatments are expensive. My husband was having an affair and then lost his job. We we're almost homeless and my family is in chaos right now. I needed to feel safe. I just don't know if I have the energy to fight this one. It was so hard to fight it the last time and I almost died then I looked like a skeleton but still needed to restrict. I don't know what to do I don't want to call a therapist because I feel like I'm not worth saving.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Z Zoccolante
August, 30 2017 at 8:32 am

YOU ARE WORTH SAVING. I'm sorry your life is in chaos right now. The need to feel safe is a basic need. So what would help you feel safe? If a therapist is one that list get one. Your future self will thank you for taking care of yourself now.

May, 16 2015 at 1:51 pm

Oh god, tell me about it.
In the last few months, my engagement was broken off, I got assaulted, My beloved uncle died, and my entire family fell apart (nice couple of months eh?). It's just destroyed me. I'm no longer relapsing out of choice, I just don't have the will to eat, let alone do anything else. I know i'm losing weight rapidly, and getting weak, but I don't know what to do. I have no support system and I've forgotten how to eat. I'm no longer hungry, which is always a very bad sign. I just don't have the energy anymore, to try to fight life. I've slipped into pretty major depression and my body seems to just shut down when I'm stressed. I just sort of feel too numb to do anything let alone cook a meal. Money's an issue too, I'm poor. And yet at the same time, when i've confided in people about relapsing, they just say that i'm stupid. It's not exactly constructive advice is it? I need someone to help me bulk order complan at least...Bloody life. Thanks for giving me something to read that shows others are going through it too...anyone got any advice as to how to deal with grief and possible relapse?

Elizabeth M
August, 11 2013 at 12:21 pm

I am in recovery for the first time. After 7 weeks of Partial Hospitalization, and a week and a half of Resi, I thought I got it. Started in denial that it was as bad as it was, then Resi knocked sense into me, then Partial again - just stepped down to IOP. So why is it my motivation and resolve quickly faded within days and I find myself restricting again. Your very honest post reminds me that this is a long road, and there are likely to be bumps. But there is hope. Thank you for sharing. I'm going to eat my dessert now, use healthy coping skills to stress (what triggers me), and keep on keeping on. Yes, I stumbled, but I know I still want recovery - however long it may take and no matter some stumbles along the way.
Thank you ,
Fellow woman in Recovery

May, 30 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hello there,
I was born with the gift of eating and not eating weight, I could eat whatever I wanted whenever i wanted, never thought about food really.
4 months ago, i found myself to be unstable, graduated, no job, no boyfriend so i started eating because i could and i abused my blessing.
Bulimia was just around the corner, feeling like you are going to explode isn't fun, so i'd throw up the last bite for relief, then i starting throwing up for the "fun of it", and ultimately for the fear of gaining weight, a fear i am not even supposed to have.
The point is, you create your own demons, you do.
I eventually gave myself two slaps in the face, and got back to my normal being, i restrict at times, purge at times, binge at times, but why make a big deal out of it. As long as you manage to have a better day the next day it shows will, and where there is a will there is a way!
stability comes from within, it is all about you, if you choose to be good to yourself, yourself will respond.
there isn't underlying issues, and psych stuff to your restriction, there is a brain who got used to it, and you can choose to let it get used to something new.
let it talk, let it say you are too fat, omg what did u eat and continue with your day.
As we speak my brain is telling me go get a lebanese fiesta breakfast, and i am still typing, let it talk, it will shut up eventually.
I am going to go to the bakery and get a turkey sandwish, and my brain can scream and blabber as much as it wants, soon enough it will shut up for good, ignoring your thoughts will kill them..
I hope you get better, I mean, really? FOOD? Food is fuel nothing more nothing less, let us start giving it its real normal value!
Power and love to you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Katie White
December, 10 2017 at 5:29 am

Sarah you need to understand that anorexia IS a mental illness and is a big deal.....

I Am Me...Not My Eating Disorder | Surviving ED
July, 12 2012 at 5:42 am

[...] am me. I am not my eating disorder.Sometimes it is hard to remember that.Last week, I wrote about my ongoing struggles with anorexia. My eating has been slipping for months, threatening my recovery. I felt myself going back to the [...]

July, 2 2012 at 1:23 am

Your post sounds just like what I'm thinking/feeling, except the restricting IS intentional. I am in my goal weight range, but feel as though I can not stand it. I was in residential for 3 months, but obviously that wasn't a cure. I know it was to help give me the skills to do it on my own but it's so hard when you feel like you (or maybe ED) doesn't want to!

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