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Eating Disorders and Relapsing, The Setting Sun, Roll Credits

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There is so much a parent needs to learn when a loved one is diagnosed with an eating disorder. The beginning is SO HARD and there is so much information and fear and hope and readjustment. But here's a detail for parents that needs to be stated up front and repeated even if you don't want to hear it and it scares you: this isn't a movie. In a movie, the protagonists struggle and evil is vanquished and the credits roll. In real life relapse is always a risk and there is nothing ED wants more than to outlast your energy. Pace yourself. Don't let relapse be an inconceivable thing.

Relapse isn't about doing it wrong, or life never being good again, or never being able to exhale. The risk of relapse is about the nature of the underlying brain disposition. Relapse isn't a slap in the face or a betrayal or hopelessness. Relapse is waiting, and here's my advice:

Plan for relapse. Don't cower and tiptoe or turn your back. ED's favorite phrase "I couldn't bear to go 'back there'"

Trust but verify: keep monitoring in place not because "you don't trust me" but because this brain predisposition comes with a cloaking mechanism. Patients usually can't see the road they are going down until it is too late and that's neither their fault nor should it - in my opinion - be their responsibility without backup. An eating disorder diagnosis means add monitoring to one's lifetime plan: your doctor, your family, your friends, your spouse need to know the symptoms of a returning eating disorder just as an epileptic needs to wear a bracelet. Keep a relationship with an experienced (and progressive) eating disorder specialist wherever you live. Check in every few months, or once a year. Keep him or her on your holiday card list.

Being able to talk about it isn't a luxury, it is a necessary step of recovery. Parents may want to avoid provoking irritation but I don't think we have finished our job until the whole family is fluent in the mechanics of the illness. Patients, I have observed, mostly hate this. Tough.

Keep learning. Eating disorder science is changing daily - there may be new tools and approaches and therapies on the horizon next year, or down the line.

Add a Comment1 Comments

This is another gem, Laura. I agree with everything you say here. Keep on supplying us with articles like this, please!

February 24, 2010 - 11:00am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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