Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

By Quinn Nystrom, MS

Frankly, I’m always ready for January to be over. Not because I don’t love January (my birthday month), but I’m not too fond of the hyper-focus on New Year’s resolutions on being smaller every year. When I was deep into my eating disorder, this time of year would be what I thought was extra motivation and public affirmation of ED behaviors (because everyone was hopping on the bandwagon). It was like I didn’t have to hide my eating disorder behaviors because it was the time of year when people started obsessively exercising, measuring, weighing themselves and food, openly talking about weight-loss goals, social media ads targeting us, etc.

I lived in the dark abyss of anorexia and bulimia for 12 years before seeking professional help. It took a handful of years after that of going in and out of treatment centers at varying levels to finally figure out what recovery looked like for me and I could sustain it. We need to recognize that the risk of ED relapse is thought to reach up to 36% and is most common during the first six months after intensive treatment.

Here are seven things that have worked for me in preventing relapse:

  1. Throw out the scale at your house – I learned in recovery that no matter what number was on that scale, it never brought me happiness or fulfillment. So why did I put so much worth into it? Probably because I bought into society’s expectations of being hyper-focused on that number, and if I could reach whatever “goal weight” I set, then my issues would go away (that never happened).
  2. Do a social media detox – I unfollowed unhealthy accounts for myself, and anytime an ad was targeted to me that focused on physical appearance, I clicked on the button to “hide ad” and that I didn’t want to see similar ones. I followed body positivity accounts (email me and I’ll send you my list).
  3. I do not view exercise as a punishment – When I was deep into my eating disorder, I had rules about going to the gym and had a strict purpose (to get smaller). After I left treatment, I was still in my all-or-nothing thinking. I swung to the other end of the pendulum and didn’t do any physical activity because I almost didn’t trust myself. When my husband and I started trying for a baby, my medical team helped me incorporate physical activity that I genuinely enjoyed doing to set myself up for pregnancy.
  4. Know when to ask for help (usually sooner than you think) – I would pride myself on not being the one who would ask for help or tell others I was struggling. What I realized was that I was doing a disservice to myself. Now I have a small handful of people I will go to when maybe a conversation or social media post has triggered me and that person will listen, not judge, and help me refocus.
  5. Recognize triggers and learn how to work through them – Living with type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder, I realized pretty quickly that there was no way that I could avoid ED triggers. The reality is that I will always have to look at food labels to give myself the right amount of insulin. Now, in recovery, I know how to view the food label in a different way than before. I look at it as information that I need to take my medication to stay alive. If I start becoming obsessed with the other numbers on the label, that’s when I know I need to speak up and tell a support person or my therapist (who I still see every two weeks).
  6. Learn what works best with self-care – Meditation was never my thing. I couldn’t get my mind to quiet down enough to focus. What does work for me is grabbing a good book or magazine and taking a luxurious bubble bath. It calms me, and I leave feeling refreshed. Just because a sure thing may be suggested for self-care, take what works and throw the rest out.
  7. Kept letters that I received while in treatment – I completed three inpatient stays and two residential stays to help me find recovery. While there, I had people close to me write me letters. I kept every single one. I keep them in a shoebox, and when I seem to be struggling or feeling low, I pull that box out and start rereading those letters. The people who took the time to write a letter and mail it to me have stood by me through everything. It’s a positive reminder that I have people in my corner who recognize traits in myself that go way beyond what I look like.