11 Ways to Avoid a Binge Eating Relapse

Medically Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 20, 2014
4 min read

You can recover from binge eating disorder. It takes time to learn how to manage your eating, though.

You might start to get better and then have another binge. That’s called a relapse. Up to half of people with an eating disorder have one after starting treatment, especially when they're stressed.

If you have a relapse, you can get well again. You can use it as a chance to learn and become better prepared for the next time you face the things that make you want to binge.

Here are 11 ways to help you avoid a relapse.

Step 1: Be Willing to Take Time and Put in Effort

It probably took you a few months to stop binge eating. It can take even longer to stick with your new, healthy habits.

"Recovery requires work. Changing behavior is difficult and takes sustained effort, but it becomes easier with practice," says Angela Guarda, MD. She's the director of the eating disorders program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Step 2: Know the Warning Signs

It’s important to look for clues that you're bingeing again. You might be slipping back into your old pattern if you:

  • Feel overwhelmed with work, family, or life in general
  • Think about your weight all the time, and often check the mirror and scale
  • Feel ashamed or guilty about the way you eat
  • Try to eat in secret
  • Hide your eating from your treatment team

Step 3: Have a Plan

While you're still in treatment, ask your doctor what to do if you start to relapse. Together, you can come up with a healthy plan to face the things that trigger you to binge eat. This might include keeping a food journal, so you can track your eating.

Step 4: Don’t Let a Single Setback Get You Down

You might slip up and overeat once in a while. Many people do.

If you do, "the key is to get back to a normal eating pattern with the next meal instead of going into a full relapse," Guarda says. "Tell yourself, 'I had a slip. ... Now I need to make sure I get back on track and eat three regular meals.'"

Step 5: Keep Triggers Out of Sight

"Set yourself up for success by not exposing yourself to foods that you know set you up for a binge episode," suggests Kelly Allison, PhD. She's an associate professor of psychology at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania.

Keep foods you crave out of your pantry and fridge, and avoid places that sell them. If you walk by a donut shop every morning on your way to work, and you feel like you can't resist the temptation, take another route.

Step 6: Don’t Skip Meals

You're more likely to relapse if you let yourself get too hungry. Eat at regular times during the day and don't skip meals.

When you're away from home for a long time, bring healthy, filling snacks with you, like wheat crackers with cheese or carrot sticks.

Step 7: Have an Occasional Treat

There's no need to avoid every cookie or piece of chocolate for the rest of your life. With treatment, you can learn to eat a regular diet again.

Your goal should be to include a wide variety of foods, but to eat them in moderation.

"Patients with eating disorders usually divide the world into 'safe' or 'risk' foods based on calorie content, and try not to eat the risk foods," says Guarda. In the long run, this usually doesn't work, and it can lead to a binge, she says.

Step 8: Change the Setting

If you crave ice cream, you can still eat it. Just don’t eat it at home. If you have a gallon of rocky road in your freezer, you may be tempted to eat it all in one sitting.

At an ice cream parlor, you can order a small scoop. The limited portion size makes it much harder to overeat.

Step 9: Distract Yourself

If stress in your life is driving you to eat, find other ways to relieve it.

"Call a friend, get out of the house, take a walk -- do any of those self-soothing things you have used before," Allison says.

Step 10: Know When to Get Help

If a few slips have turned into full-blown bingeing, it's time to get help.

"I think the key is to get back on track within a matter of days, or weeks at the most," Guarda says. "If things are getting worse rather than better, that should be an indication to seek treatment."

Step 11: Stay Positive

Don't get down. You've treated binge eating before, and you can do it again. Think positively about yourself, your body shape, and your odds of success.