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Common Anorexia Relapse Triggers to Watch Out For

Common Anorexia Relapse Triggers to Watch Out For

Similar to recovering from substance abuse and drug dependence, those in eating disorder recovery can come across several triggers that may tempt them to revert to their old eating habits. These triggers can cause people to relapse and suffer from the effects of their eating disorder once again.

Anorexia nervosa is one of several eating disorders and is considered the most fatal mental health disorder out there. Due to the dangers of this disorder, our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic is sharing some common anorexia relapse triggers to look out for.

7 Common Anorexia Triggers

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of weight gain, and a distorted perception of one’s weight. People with anorexia nervosa place a high value on controlling their weight and body shape, turning to extreme measures to lose or maintain a certain weight that can negatively impact their livelihood.

To prevent weight gain or lose weight, people with anorexia may severely restrict the amount of food they eat or avoid certain food groups, such as carbohydrates or sugar. They may count their calories to control their intake or vomit after meals to prevent weight gain. Other warning signs of anorexia include the misuse of laxatives, diet aids, and diuretics to lose weight.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and the mortality rate of anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.1 Additionally, 20% of people with anorexia nervosa will die prematurely due to complications related to their eating disorders, including suicide and cardiovascular problems.1

For these reasons, individuals who receive eating disorder support and reach a healthy place in their recovery need constant support to stay on track. With this in mind, below are some common anorexia relapse triggers to look out for.

Social Pressure and Self-Comparison

Social pressure includes the glamorization of certain body shapes, sizes, and weights in the media. Television shows, movies, and magazines often glamorize people who look a certain way, especially when it comes to weight. This gives viewers a false sense of what’s real and what’s photoshopped, making many people believe they need to look a certain way or wear a certain dress size to be considered beautiful.

In addition to attempting to live up to these false and baseless standards, there may also be pressure from peers to look a certain way. However, it’s important to realize that everyone has a unique and different body, and each one is beautiful. So when you catch yourself comparing yourself to that Instagram model or woman on TV, delete the app and turn off the TV to reset your perspective.

Emotional Discontent

If you’re in anorexia nervosa recovery, other common triggers for anorexia relapse are breakups, fallouts with friends, loss of a loved one, and similar emotional rough patches. Going through an emotionally difficult situation can easily trigger an eating disorder, and you might attempt to “regain control” by restricting your food intake or purging.

Instead, remind yourself that you can’t control everything, and that’s okay. Focus on healthy outlets for your negative feelings instead, such as going for a walk, meditating, drawing, writing, or other habits.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem and body dysmorphic disorder are also common anorexia triggers for relapse. If you start to feel down about yourself and the way you look, your immediate response is to focus on your weight and how you can change it fast.

In truth, indulging in disordered eating behaviors will only make you feel worse and does not offer you an actual sense of control. Instead, you’ll start to feel sick, unhappy, and weak – all of which can worsen your self-esteem. Figure out the things that harm your self-esteem and tackle them with self-love.

People, Places, and Things

People, places, and things can all trigger eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. While it’s hard to distance yourself from close friends, it’s important to prioritize your health. So if you have a friend who’s too focused on how they look or how you look, or who even encourages disordered eating behaviors, kindly distance yourself. If they were truly a good friend, they wouldn’t interfere with your recovery and instead do everything in their power to support you.

The same goes for places and things that are connected with the eating disorder you once fought with. If it helps by getting rid of certain clothes that don’t fit or moving things around in a room that reminds you of times when you would binge, then do it! Removing your triggers and changing your lifestyle are conducive to your recovery.

The Scale

Many people with anorexia nervosa obsess with the number on the scale. Because their goal is to lose weight or avoid gaining weight, this number can have a serious hold on people with anorexia. If this was the case for you, throw out your scale.

The scale only gives us a number. It doesn’t reflect how we’re feeling about ourselves, which is far more important. Avoid becoming reliant on numbers and instead adjust your habits as you focus on how you’re feeling both physically and mentally.

Counting Calories

Considering that people with this type of eating disorder have a fear of gaining weight, counting calories is understandably one of the most common anorexia nervosa triggers to avoid. Especially if this was your go-to at the peak of your eating disorder, counting calories and weighing your food are two behaviors you should steer clear of.

Instead, reach out to a nutritionist to develop a diet that works for you. This is one of the many ways Banyan Philadelphia helps our clients recover from their eating disorders and establish positive routines for themselves.

Over Exercising

Exercising is a great tool for elevating your mood and maintaining both your physical and mental health. But don’t allow it to become the center of your life to the point where you rely on it to revert to old behaviors. Many people with anorexia over-exercise to lose and maintain weight, so if this was a common habit for you at the height of your disorder, monitor it or avoid it until you feel comfortable.

Our Philadelphia Eating Disorder Treatment Can Help

Learning how to deal with anorexia triggers is an ongoing process that may change as you grow in your recovery. The more you learn about yourself and the source of your disorder, the easier it’ll be to identify and manage your anorexia relapse triggers.


If you or a loved one has yet to receive eating disorder treatment, our Philly rehab offers anorexia nervosa treatment among a range of other disorder-specific programs. Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to get started.



  1. DMH: South Carolina Department of Mental Health - Eating Disorder Statistics


Related Reading:

What Is the Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia?

Common Misconceptions About Anorexia

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.