How to Prevent a Relapse of Binge Eating Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on August 28, 2022
3 min read

You've done it. You started your recovery from binge eating disorder. Congrats! But it's not time yet to let your guard down. Stay on the lookout for warning signs so you can prevent relapses and get on track for long-term success.

If your binge eating returns, it doesn't mean you've failed. Relapse is often part of recovery. Some studies show that 20% to 50% of people with an eating disorder have a relapse.

Keep in mind that several things can raise the chances that you'll have a relapse. For instance, the longer you've had BED, the more likely you'll have a setback during recovery. Also, the older you were when your binge eating began, the greater the odds you'll have a relapse.

Even if you think you're on the road to recovery, don't cut off contact with your health care team. They helped bring you to this point, and you want to keep them in your corner when challenges come up.

Watch out for things that suggest a relapse could be near. For instance, do you often find you've got food on your mind? Are you starting to obsess about dieting and weight? They could be a hint of a return to bingeing.

Some other signals that could spell trouble:

  • Your sense of self-worth takes a dip
  • You feel stressed out
  • You change your recovery plan (skip meals, for example, or start a restrictive diet)
  • You're not honest or open with your doctor

You may notice your goal of dieting and exercise becomes more about looking good than being healthy. You might also avoid events or activities that include food, or find that you're becoming secretive and less social.

The warning signs will differ from person to person. Your health care team can help you make sense of the alarm bells that are specifically relevant to you.

If you feel as if you're going to backslide into bingeing, there are a number of measures you can take. You can start by being kind to yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, develop a positive inner voice.

If you have mental health issues along with BED, like anxiety or depression, get help from a professional.

And don't forget to pay attention: to your feelings, to your body's hunger, and to signs of being full.

Your binge eating disorder didn't just happen overnight. And it won't go away with the snap of a finger. But you could help hasten its departure with a relapse prevention plan.

Make a list of tactics that have worked so far. This could involve meal planning, regular food shopping, and keeping a food log. Write down the risks and warning signs that are most relevant to you.

Also, make a list of 10 things you can do instead of bingeing. Keep it someplace handy, like on the refrigerator, because it can be hard to remember what you need to do when a crisis hits.

In those moments, it can help to talk about your feelings. Write down the names and numbers of people you are comfortable reaching out to, like your friends or your health care team. Then pick up the phone and call. The person on the other line will be glad to help.