If you are attempting to end emotional or stress eating, lose weight, or move beyond an eating disorder, you will most likely experience good days and bad days. It takes a lot of work and much practice to strengthen new ways of thinking and acting. Along your journey, there will likely be moments when you will be tempted to revert to your old strategies of coping with stress, disappointment, emotions, or depression by using food to feel better.

Those moments can feel overwhelming and overpowering. It is my belief that what is commonly referred to as "relapses" or "set-backs" are not a step back in time, but important experiences needed to gain new understandings and to strengthen new choices.

For instance, when a "relapse" does happen, it does not happen spontaneously. A series of circumstances occur which progressively lead to choosing food as a coping mechanism. You will not suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by the need for food. There are warning signs along the way. These warning signs show up in mental thoughts and attitudes, physically felt emotions, and expressed behaviors and actions.

Relapse warning signs often build up slowly until they become overpowering. Once they are overpowering, you may experience a loss of control of thinking, emotions, memory, judgement and behavior. Often, we have not taught ourselves to be aware of our warning signs, so we do not notice or manage them until our pain becomes too severe to ignore. If you are unaware that you are heading down a slippery slope, you may be unable to stop yourself before you hit bottom.

What you need is a relapse management system! This is a systematic approach to understand what triggers your setbacks and relapses, so that you can develop a plan to help prevent them in the future. First, it is important to find a way to recognize and monitor your relapse warning signs. If you are prepared and recognize the pattern that is happening, you can be more empowered the next time. Realize that a relapse occurs because of a combination of factors. Use the list below to identify your warning signs to relapse:

APPETITE
Increase in obsessive thinking about food and weight
Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
Weight gain or loss
Skipping meals
Eating only 'diet' foods
Food 'rules' become more pronounced

SOCIAL INTERACTION
Isolating
Withdrawn behavior
Not relying on people for support
Change in sleep patterns
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Loss of daily structure

MEDICATION
Use of alcohol
Use of mood altering chemicals
Increase in smoking, cigarettes, caffeine
Numbing out with excessive shopping, sex, busyness, internet, etc.
Excessive exercise

HOSTILITY
Verbal or physical threats
Desire to hurt self or others
Angry outbursts
Destruction of property

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Decreased personal hygiene or self-care
Increased use of make-up
Bizarre dreams
Daily weighing
Excessive exercising

THOUGHT PROCESSES
Perfectionistic attitudes
Setting unrealistic goals
Believing you will be happy and successful if thin
Feeling of being "too fat", even though people say otherwise
Obsessive thinking
Dwelling on past hurts, resentments, anger, or failures
Being too hard on yourself
Forgetting gratitude
Feeling disgusted after eating
Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
Difficulty remembering things
Confused or distracted
Wanting to escape from stressful situations instead of dealing with them

MOOD
Exhaustion
Tearfulness
Irritability
Unusual or unprovoked anxiety
Feeling hopeless about work, relationships or life
Depression
Feeling powerless or helpless
Self-pity
Complacency
Conscious lying / dishonesty
Loss of self-confidence
Loneliness
Frustration
Anger
Tension
Disappointment, shame, guilt
Constant boredom - irritability - lack of routine
Feeling overwhelmed - confused - useless -stressed out

SUICIDE
Thoughts of suicide
Preoccupation with death
Devising a suicide or self-harm plan
Self-destructive behavior
Cutting
Feeling that nothing can be solved
Wishing something would magically happen to rescue you

Relapse management involves being on the lookout for warning signs and then planning how to deal with them. Use this form to circle your relapse signs, or write a list of personal warning signs that lead you back into your food patterns. A relapse rarely happens suddenly. If you can learn to identify your warning signs, you may be able to intervene early and keep symptoms from escalating.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Annette Colby, RD can help you take the pain out of life, turn difficult emotions into joy, release stress, end emotional eating, and move beyond depression into an extraordinary life! Annette is the author of Your Highest Potential and has the unique ability to show you how to spark an amazing relationship with your life! Visit www.LovingMiracles.com
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