On your journey to moving past using food to cope with life’s difficulties, you will experience good days and bad days. It takes a lot of work to develop self-compassion and much practice utilizing new ways of thinking and acting. It is my belief that what is commonly referred to as “relapses” or “set-backs” are not a step back in time, but an important experience needed to gain new understandings and to strengthen new choices.
When a “relapse” does occur it does not happen spontaneously, but occurs with a process of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, emotions and behaviors. Meaning that a series of circumstances occur which progressively lead to choosing food as a coping mechanism. A person doesn’t suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by the need for food. There are warning signs along the way. These warning signs show up in mental thoughts and attitudes, physically felt emotions, and expressed behaviors and actions. Relapse warning signs often build up slowly until they become overpowering. Once they are overpowering, you may experience a loss of control of thinking, emotions, memory, judgement and behavior. Often, we have not taught ourselves to be aware of our warning signs. And if you are not aware that you are headed down a slippery slope, it may be too late when you find yourself at the bottom.
Therefore, it is important to find a way to recognize and monitor your relapse warning signs. If you are prepared and recognize the pattern that is happening, you can be more empowered the next time. Relapse is usually caused by a combination of factors. Some possible factors and warning signs are included in the list below:
APPETITE Increase in obsessive thinking about food and weight Sudden increase or decrease in appetite Weight gain or loss Skipping meals Eating only ‘diet’ foods Food ‘rules’ become more pronounced
SOCIAL INTERACTION Isolating Withdrawn behavior Not relying on people for support Change in sleep patterns Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much Loss of daily structure
MEDICATION Use of alcohol Use of mood altering chemicals Increase in smoking, cigarettes, caffeine Numbing out with excessive shopping, sex, busyness, internet, etc. Excessive exercise
HOSTILITY Verbal or physical threats Desire to hurt self or others Angry outbursts Destruction of property
APPEARANCE Decreased personal hygiene or self-care Increased use of make-up Bizarre dreams Daily weighing Excessive exercising
THOUGHT PROCESS Perfectionistic attitudes Setting unrealistic goals Believing you will be happy and successful if thin Feeling of being "too fat", even though people say otherwise Obsessive thinking Dwelling on past hurts, resentments, anger, or failures Being too hard on yourself Forgetting gratitude Feeling disgusted after eating Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly Difficulty remembering things Confused or distracted Wanting to escape from stressful situations instead of dealing with them
MOOD Exhaustion Tearfulness Irritability Unusual or unprovoked anxiety Feeling hopeless about work, relationships or life Depression Feeling powerless or helpless Self-pity Complacency Conscious lying / dishonesty Loss of self-confidence Loneliness Frustration Anger Tension Disappointment, shame, guilt Constant boredom - irritability - lack of routine Feeling overwhelmed - confused - useless -stressed out
SUICIDE Thoughts of suicide Preoccupation with death Devising a suicide or self-harm plan Self-destructive behavior Cutting Feeling that nothing can be solved Wishing something would magically happen to rescue you
A relapse rarely happens suddenly. We can teach ourselves to notice the progressive warning signs that lead to a relapse in our behavior. Most people have never been taught to identify and manage the warning signs, so they don’t notice them until the pain becomes to severe to ignore. If you can learn to identify your warning signs, you may be able to intervene early and keep symptoms from escalating. Use this form to circle your relapse signs, or write a list of personal warning signs that lead you back into your food patterns. By identifying things that put us at risk for relapse, developing a practical plan of action, and utilizing various new skills, tools and coping behaviors, we can empower ourselves and reduce the frequency of lapse back into our addictive behaviors. If and when a relapse does occur, do not judge or blame, you are not a bad person. Seek progress, understanding and compassion, not perfection.
COMMON TOOLS TO HELP IN A TIME OF CRISIS:
Regular journaling to monitor progress Regular journaling for gratitude Attending support meetings or OA Reaching out by telephone (print a list of people to call ahead of time) Prayer or meditation seeking guidance Reading inspiration books or poems A written plan of action A written list of things to do when symptoms increase or cravings begin Relaxation techniques Deep breathing exercise Helping others Talking to friends or counselors
(For more ideas on tools to utilize during a crisis, see articles posted at www.LovingMiracles.com under the “Healing Articles” section of the website).