Eating Disorders

What is a relapse?

What is a relapse? | Libero Magazine

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I have been thinking and thinking for most of the month about what I wanted to write about for my post on relapse, and finally decided that I want to talk about what a relapse actually is as well as how we can prevent it from happening.

I think the most important thing in preventing a slip-up from turning into a full-blown relapse is recognizing the behaviours that go along with a relapse.

This is much easier said than done because in my experience denial is a huge part of a relapse.  When you think about it, this makes sense. Nobody wants to fall back to their eating disorder, self-harm, or other harmful coping mechanisms. Because of this, recognizing that we are relapsing is a huge step in the right direction in preventing that relapse from occurring.

Taking this a step further, recognizing to what extent your behaviours have come back is extremely beneficial.

I have read examples using a banana peel as a metaphor.  It is primarily a model for substance abuse, but I think it applies equally well to eating disorders, self harm, or any similar condition.

Preventing a slip: Seeing a banana peel on the ground, so walking around it and avoiding slipping.

Slip: tripping on the banana peel you didn’t see, and trip as a result. By regaining your balance, you prevent yourself from falling (Lapse) i.e. wanting to exercise for compulsive reasons, but recognizing that and not doing so. 

Lapse: you trip on the banana peel, and cannot keep your balance, fall, but then get back up.

Relapse: you trip, fall, and cannot get back up. i.e. falling back into the cycle of compulsive exercise time and time again.

Why is this distinction so important?

I think it is because it allows us to recognize the inevitable slips, and hiccups that come with recovery, without negating the progress we have made at the same time.  It also gives us direction as to how to move forward.

A relapse has the connotation that we have fallen completely back to where we started.  It is seen as a complete negative.  I don’t think that is ever the case.  Does a thought about not eating x or y because they have too much z mean you are relapsing completely into your eating disorder?  Does it mean you are no better off than when you were openly acting on these behaviours? I don’t think so. It is only a slip, and by recognizing that thought pattern as disordered, and not acting on that thought, is being proactive in preventing a lapse, or relapse.

Even in the case of a relapse, falling back into our old behaviours and being unable to leave them behind for a time, we are better off than when we started. We are always walking forward, and have learned something while we were stuck in that relapse, that will help us prevent it next time the same conditions arrive. This is extremely important to recognize and reminds me a lot of Lauren Bersaglio’s video on a slip, lapse, or relapse as a part of the journey forward, not a step backwards

Once you have recognized your behaviors – and perhaps decided if they constitute a full relapse, or simply a slip or lapse – then what?

Now is when your support systems come into play.  Whether your support system is a friend you can call up, a treatment team, a support group, or something else, you are better prepared to come to them and tell them what you’ve been struggling with. Of course, it is hard to work up the courage to reach out for help, but that is what we need to do.

So remember, you can slip, but that doesn’t mean you will fall. If you fall you can still get back up, and if you fall again, you can try it again. There is never a time where you can’t learn something from relapsing, and it is never too late, or too early, to get back on track towards recovery and the health and happiness that goes along with that.


Scott hopes to turn the negativity of his Anorexia into something positive by supporting other men and women who struggle with eating disorders in any way he can. He also hopes to raise awareness of eating disorders in men in order to get better treatment. His message is simple: recovery is possible, and you can achieve it. Some of his hobbies are coffee, cars, and bicycle racing. He is currently studying mechanical engineering and German.

SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.


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  • What a great post, Scott!

    You're so right about the importancy of distinguishing between slip and relapse, as well as finding the courage to tell your support team that you fear you're moving in the wrong direction. Often we get trap in a black/white thinking, viewing a slip as a sign of our presumed weakness or believing that relapse is a proof that we won't ever be able to recover, so why bother.

    Slips happen, so does relapse(s). Recovery is a long and hard process, we can not expect of ourselves to never stumble. In fact, stumbles and struggles are necessary. Only by facing challenges are we able to groiw and break free from demons. I've learned so much from my three relapses, as well as countless of slips. Wisdom I can use as a weapon against ED, as they've all reminded me of the cruelty of a existence controlled by ED.

  • LOVE this banana peel metaphor Scott. Definitely will be making use of it for future patients!!