Recovery and relapse | Eating Disorders Victoria

The term “recovery” means different things to different people. Recovery is a journey that can give you new meaning and purpose in life as you move beyond the effects of the eating disorder.

It is a deeply personal, unique process of changing your attitudes, values, feelings, goals, behaviours and skills, so that you can live a satisfying, hopeful and fulfilling life.

There is no set time to recovery. For a few fortunate people, recovery is quick – a matter of months. For the majority, recovery from an eating disorder is a much longer process, perhaps taking years.

There is good evidence that generally, the quicker you start treatment for an eating disorder, the shorter the time will be until you are recovered. However, try to remember that anyone can recover, even if you have been experiencing your eating disorder for a long time.

For many people, self-help is a key part of the road to long-term recovery. Self-help can take many forms including learning to identify triggers for your eating disorder and to take actions to avoid or counteract them, reading and learning about your disorder, learning and applying coping skills, learning about ways to improve your self-esteem, attending support groups and developing a support system to rely on when necessary.


Having a sense of hope is the foundation for ongoing recovery from an eating disorder. Even the smallest belief that you can get better, as others have, can fuel the recovery process.


This is the belief that you have power and control over your own life, including control over your mental health. Being ready and willing to take on responsibility for your own journey towards health and well-being is a fundamental part of recovery.


Support from peers, family, friends and health professionals is highly beneficial to recovery. People who are challenged by an eating disorder frequently report that being able to interact with others who understand their feelings and experiences is the most important factor in their recovery. Many people with eating disorders feel isolated, cut off from former sources of support by their own actions or by the actions of others. Some have never had much support. If this is you, then there is great value in gradually forming even one new support – recovery isn’t dependent on having a lot of supports, rather on having good quality support. You may like to begin by reaching out to just one family member, friend or health professional - someone you feel you can open up to. Over time you may find it possible to build up your own network of support, ready for when you need it.


In order to maximise your recovery, it is important to learn as much as you can about your disorder, your symptoms, best treatment practices and available resources. It’s also important to learn about yourself, including the triggers for your eating disorder, so that you can gain better control over your mental health. There are lots of ways you can educate yourself - by speaking with health professionals, attending workshops and support groups, as well as reading books, articles and newsletters. While the web can be a valuable source of information, you should be aware that some websites contain content which is unhelpful and which may even fuel your disorder, rather than aiding your recovery. Please exercise caution and self-care when visiting websites.

Meaningful activity

Meaningful activity is a vital part of life; for many it is what gives them a sense of purpose and value. What a person does with their life will influence their confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and feelings of connectedness with the world around them. People recover more quickly and more fully when they are able to resume school, work, higher education, family duties and/or other meaningful activity.


The definition of relapse is: To fall or slide back into a former state especially after apparent improvement, to regress after partial recovery from illness, or to slip back into unhelpful behaviours; backslide.

Relapse is a very useful tool in the discovery of what works for you as an individual and what your triggers for relapsing are. A relapse can enable you to explore what triggered the change in your recovery journey, and how you might adapt your new skills to get back on track with your recovery with your new skills.

Imagine relapse as “2 steps forward, 1 step back”.

Each time you slip back a step, it is usually still a step forward from where you started. Looking back on your journey so far, is equally as important as taking baby steps forward and setting future goals. A good way to do this, especially when you are fresh from a relapse and may feel like you are getting nowhere fast, is to remember what your thoughts and behaviours were like last Christmas, or your last birthday. Any memorable day will do, as long as you can recall how you felt around food, what your anxieties were leading up to the event, how you managed socially etc. Once you have done this, compare it to now. Are you in the same place or have you in fact, moved forward?

At first, your past thoughts around fear of failure may get in the way. You may feel like recovery is a lost cause because you regressed. This is a vital time in the recovery process, and we urge you to look for the things that moved you forward (they obviously worked) and see what changed to make them less effective.

Use your support networks to brainstorm alternative outcomes to manage similar triggers in the future. Each time you make the choice to breakdown the unhelpful beliefs around “failure”, and instead assess the situation in terms of “what is working for me or what has worked for me”, you take one more step forward to making this way of thinking the new “normal” for you.

Embrace relapse. After all, how do you know what your triggers are if you don’t experience them, and how do you find the skills to manage these triggers without discovering them first?

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