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Recovering from an Eating Disorder and Avoiding Relapses

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Recovering from an Eating Disorder and Avoiding Relapses

Apr 16, 2014

You’re recovering from an eating disorder. Life is good and you’re getting healthier. The question now is, can a relapse happen and what might trigger it? Nick Galli from the University of Utah’s Department of Health Promotion and Education talks about the things to do, or not do, on the road to recovery from an eating disorder. He also discusses treatments for relapses and whether or not a full recovery is even possible.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You've just recovered from an eating disorder. Life is good and you're getting healthier. The question is can relapse happen? And what might trigger it? We're talking about the steps to take after you've recovered from an eating disorder today on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier, healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We're talking to Dr. Nick Galli, assistant professor of the Department of Health Promotion and Education about the steps you take after recovering from an eating disorder. Dr Galli what are the steps? Can relapse happen?

Dr. Nick Galli: Relapse can certainly happen and I think if you talk to most people who have fully recovered from an eating disorder they would probably say that they had lapses certainly. You know I think a couple of things to keep in mind almost always there's a lapse. And I think the first rule is be ready for that to happen. And know that it's going to happen. And don't judge yourself based on that happening. Have a support system in place, going back to the support systems. Someone that you can call when it happens. And know that just because you have a lapse that doesn't mean that you have to fully relapse back into an eating disorder.
We call that the abstinence violation effect. When somebody is on a course of behavior and then has a slip up. Maybe if it's someone with an eating disorder they binge one time. And using that as an excuse to, "Well I can't do this. I give up." The best thing you can do for yourself is have a plan going in. Okay I know what are the situations that trigger me. Is it being around my mom when she makes comments about dieting and weight and size? Is it watching a certain program on TV? Is it looking at a certain magazine? Is it a certain website?

Host: Avoid those triggers.

Dr. Nick Galli: Plan one is avoid it. But maybe it's the holidays; you've got to be around Mom. What's my coping plan? When I feel a certain way, what am I going to do?

Interviewer: When you are aware of the problem and you want to treat it because you treated it already, you've been through this already, do you think it's harder the second time to go through the treatments?

Dr. Nick Galli: I have not had an eating disorder myself so I can't specifically speak to that. I know that there are people that are in and out of treatment their whole lives. I don't think it's ever easy. Whether it's the first time or the second time. And then there are people who went through treatment once and they never had to go back.

Interviewer: Are there different maybe levels of seriousness that are involved in these treatments to maybe help the patient not relapse again? Or is it just kind of each patient is different?

Dr. Nick Galli: I would say each person is different. There are different levels of severity. What you also have to think about is most of the time eating disorders co-occur with other psychological disorders, depression, anxiety. So making sure that the persons getting the treatment they need for those as well. And often times that will involved a combination of medication and therapy. I've known several people with an eating disorder and I mean an eating disorder is an eating disorder to an extent. But it's so personal so that makes treatment somewhat personally. We have guidelines and things we know work well but in the end it has to be personalized. But sure, there are people who are for whatever reason the level of severity is much higher. And it's going to be much more difficult.

Interviewer: So on the road to recovering from an eating disorder are there certain things to look out for? Maybe certain things to do more of that will help you in successfully recovering 100%? Or can you recover 100% from an eating disorder?

Dr. Nick Galli: Yes. I believe that you can recover 100% because I know people who believe that they are. So I take it right from the source. Have a plan. Recognize your triggers, so that you can hopefully avoid those. But if you can't what is your functional response to those triggers going to be? Stick with your course of treatment. Your therapy. If there are medications involved. Adhere to what's prescribed. I would say that if there's anything to begin doing more of it's more being physically active. Playing sports. Expanding yourself. Learning to appreciate the beauty of your body not just for how it looks but for its' functionality. I mean we use exercise and physical activity in treatment as a way of, yeah it's great for health and fitness. But also as a way to get in better touch with your body and gain a greater sense of appreciation for your body. Or for other people it could be music therapy. Or it could be art. Or different ways of expressing yourself. And that's all going to be part, hopefully, of the therapeutic process.
Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are there people that really do tend to trigger you who are just so aesthetic focused? Maybe you need to not be around those people. Are there certain health clubs that have posters up that just really trigger you? Maybe you need to not go to that health club. Certainly paying attention to what bothers you. And doing more of what makes you feel good.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.