Adolescents and Relapse: How to Help Teens with the Reoccurrence of Bulimia Nervosa

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Most people don’t realize that relapse is considered to be a normal part of the recovery process. In bulimia nervosa treatment, relapses are to be expected but that doesn’t mean that loved ones should give up hope. So, what is a relapse and what does it mean for an adolescent with bulimia nervosa symptoms? The best way to describe relapse as it pertains to a bulimia eating disorder is the reoccurrence of eating disorder behaviors after a period of absence. Typically, relapses occur during times that are particularly stressful or moments of distress—when new coping skills are more difficult to recall. While it is common for teens to feel guilt or frustration surrounding a relapse, at quality bulimia nervosa treatment centers, it’s known that relapse is no reason to give up on the idea of enjoying long-term recovery.

How Can Parents Talk to Teens Showing Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms?

1. Approach Teens with Compassion and Understanding

Bulimia treatment is often a long and often tumultuous process. This means that it is essential for parents and loved ones to approach teens with compassion and understanding surrounding their condition. Recognizing the challenges that come along with navigating bulimia nervosa symptoms and the recovery process can help teens to know that they are not alone and have a solid support system behind them.

2. Acknowledge That Relapse Is Part of Recovery

Once parents have taken the time to validate their teen’s feelings by expressing compassion and understanding for their situation, it is always helpful to remind them that relapse is an expected part of recovery. In fact, a great way to look at relapse is to see it as an indication that teens are learning how to make vital changes to the way they handle stress and difficulties in life. Taking the time to normalize relapse can help those with bulimia eating disorder to avoid using harsh judgment against themselves and focus on getting their recovery back on a positive track.

3. Discuss Continued Bulimia Treatment Options

Next, parents should work at guiding teens back towards a specialized adolescent eating disorder treatment program. If they have been experiencing relapse for 2 weeks or more, there’s a good chance that teens will benefit from increased support —including day treatment or a residential program. However, treatment following a relapse is often much shorter than their original recovery program.

4. Remember That Long-Term Recovery Is Possible

Parents should also take the time to remind themselves and their teen that long-term recovery from a bulimia nervosa eating disorder is 100 percent possible. While the road to recovery can be very challenging, nothing worth having in life comes easy. With the help of early intervention and a reliable support system surrounding them, adolescents with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa have the best chance of changing their behaviors and living a full life once again.

5. Don’t Assign Blame or Feelings of Guilt

Since it’s been established that relapses are a normal part of a full recovery from eating disorders, it stands to reason that the individual who is relapsing should not be made to feel guilty or otherwise negative about instances of relapse. Often the individual is willing to come forward and ask for help when a relapse occurs; they want to avoid disordered eating behaviors as much as their family or doctors do. Usually, the relapse occurs when stress or anxiety levels are high, and further raising that stress is counterproductive. Make sure your loved one understands it’s a setback, not an end to the journey.

Learn More About Adolescent Bulimia Nervosa Treatment

While the idea of relapse can be very disheartening for teens and their families, it’s important to keep in mind that relapse is natural and something that is often unavoidable. For teens who are experiencing a relapse from bulimia nervosa, it’s very common to go through several stages of recovery—which sometimes includes steps forward and a few steps backward as well.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and are interested in learning more about adolescent recovery programs, please reach out to your doctor or a quality eating disorder treatment center.

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