Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by binging, followed by methods or behaviors to prevent weight gain. People with bulimia will experience periods of binge eating in which they consume large quantities of food within a couple of hours. To avoid weight gain, the person may then self-induce vomiting or turn to compensatory behaviors like laxatives or drug use. Bulimia relapse – the recurrence of these symptoms and behaviors – can occur in someone who’s been in a period of recovery if they come across a particular trigger. Below are some common causes and signs of bulimia nervosa relapse to look out for if you or someone you know has this disorder.
Triggers and Causes of Bulimia Relapse
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by periods of binge eating, followed by self-induced vomiting, the use of drugs or laxatives, excessive exercise, or other methods intended to purge the body of the consumed calories. A person in bulimia nervosa recovery has abstained from these behaviors for a length of time.
A bulimia relapse occurs when someone in recovery reverts to frequent binge eating and purging. Relapse rates for bulimia nervosa are fairly high, with approximately 31 to 44% of all people with bulimia experiencing a relapse during the first two years of recovery.1
But what triggers bulimia relapse? While these may vary from person to person, common bulimia relapse triggers include:
- Excessive calorie counting
- Excessive exercising
- Body image issues
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
- Stressful events
- Loss of a loved one
- Relationship problems
According to research, negative, stressful life events, particularly work-related stress and social stress, increase the likelihood of bulimia relapse. Stressful life events may include the death of a spouse or a close family member, pregnancy, change in financial status, and a child leaving home. Socially-related stressors may include a breakup or divorce or the loss of a friendship.
There’s no telling when these stressors may occur in a person’s life, which is why it’s important to receive ongoing support when recovering from an eating disorder. Our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic offers ongoing support as part of our eating disorder treatment to ensure clients receive guidance for coping with stressors like bulimia nervosa triggers.
Bulimia Relapse Signs
An eating disorder relapse can occur at any time, and it’s usually the culmination of various events and behaviors. Some early signs of bulimia relapse to look out for include:
- Disinterest in activities that were once enjoyable
- Poor hygiene
- Going to the bathroom right after every meal
- Sudden weight loss
- Evidence of binging, such as empty containers and wrappers in their room or home
- Obsessive thoughts about their weight or food
- Oral health problems (from vomiting)
- Evidence of drug or laxative abuse
- Excessive exercise
- Mood swings
- Secretive behavior surrounding their eating
If something seems off to you at any point regarding another person’s recovery or your own, don’t wait to get help. One can never have too much support when coping with something as serious as an eating disorder.
Bulimia Relapse Prevention and Treatment
Part of eating disorder relapse prevention is ensuring that the individual has received adequate treatment. Wherever you may be in your recovery, it’s never too late to get help.
Banyan Treatment Centers Philadelphia offers bulimia nervosa treatment that incorporates therapy and individual counseling to help clients understand their disorders and build healthy coping mechanisms to help them regain control. Our facility also provides aftercare services to ensure that clients avoid relapse and stay on track.
- NIH - Relapse predictors of patients with bulimia nervosa who achieved abstinence through cognitive behavioral therapy