Eating Disorder Relapse: Why Does It Happen?

consulting with doctor

First of all, if you’ve gone through an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia, then you deserve all the applause. Your journey wasn’t easy, but you’ve made it!

However, you also need to pay attention to a common problem: relapse. The possibility is between 35% and 36%, and it could occur within two years after your recovery.

The good news is you can get help. More studies also try to explain why it could happen. By understanding the physical and mental changes caused by your condition, you can take more proactive steps toward complete healing.

Why Relapse Can Still Occur

People with anorexia or bulimia are less likely to have the urge to eat because of alterations in the brain structure, according to a 2016 Colorado study.

In the research, the team scanned the brains of 52 women, half of whom had anorexia or bulimia, after they tasted something sweet. The results then revealed an unusual way in which the different regions communicate:

  • For women with no eating disorders, the hypothalamus acts as the command center to regulate appetite, and the rest of the brain receives cues from it.
  • For those with either bulimia or anorexia, however, the information flowed in the opposite direction. The link to the hypothalamus was also weaker.

The researchers then believed that the brain of those with eating disorders might override the role of the hypothalamus, and that could explain why they lose their motivation to eat.

The changes in the brain can also explain the vicious cycle of binge eating and purging of those with bulimia. In another Colorado research, the regions that regulate rewards and motivation are weak for women with the condition.

In effect, dopamine, the neurotransmitter that manages motivation and learning, might not be at optimal levels.

Note, though, that while the first study didn’t establish a cause and effect, the second one believes that the behavior of purging and binge eating over a prolonged period could trigger these changes.

Stressed person being consoled

It’s Not the End

If you have an eating disorder for some time, does that mean you will never recovery entirely? The answer is no. A customized bulimia recovery plan will always include treatments that will help you overcome the mental challenges that come with the disorder.

Further, a study by the Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that at least two-thirds of women with anorexia or bulimia would recover. Those with bulimia might experience it faster than the ones with anorexia.

To help you reach your goal, consider these tips:

1. Work closely with your doctor or treatment facility even after your program is over. The best doctors or facilities will also keep track of your progress, especially when you’re already back at home.

2. Join a support group. This way, you won’t feel as if you’re alone in the journey. You can get tips on how others are trying to recover and get expert advice from the moderators or facilitators.

3. Involve your family and friends. Those who love you want to help you. Now is the best time to create your mini support group who can inspire and push you when the going gets tough.

Healing usually doesn’t happen in a straight line, so give yourself some room to make mistakes. The most important thing is you’re eager to bounce back. With the right support and help, you can do it.

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