Preventing Setbacks: Compulsive Eating, Binge Eating, And Eating Addictions

Annette Colby

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On your journey to moving past using food to cope with life’s difficulties, you will experience good days and bad days. It takes a lot of work to develop self-compassion and much practice utilizing new ways of thinking and acting. It is my belief that what is commonly referred to as “relapses" or “set-backs" are not a step back in time, but an important experience needed to gain new understandings and to strengthen new choices.

When a “relapse" does occur it does not happen spontaneously, but occurs with a process of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, emotions and behaviors. Meaning that a series of circumstances occur which progressively lead to choosing food as a coping mechanism. A person doesn’t suddenly find themselves 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. And if you are not aware that you are headed down a slippery slope, it may be too late when you find yourself at the bottom.

Therefore, 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. Relapse is usually caused by a combination of factors. Some possible factors and warning signs are included in the list below:

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

Withdrawn behavior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

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

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

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

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

Unusual or unprovoked anxiety
Feeling hopeless about work, relationships or life
Feeling powerless or helpless
Conscious lying / dishonesty
Loss of self-confidence
Disappointment, shame, guilt
Constant boredom - irritability - lack of routine
Feeling overwhelmed - confused - useless -stressed out

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

A relapse rarely happens suddenly. We can teach ourselves to notice the progressive warning signs that lead to a relapse in our behavior. Most people have never been taught to identify and manage the warning signs, so they don’t notice them until the pain becomes to severe to ignore. If you can learn to identify your warning signs, you may be able to intervene early and keep symptoms from escalating. Use this form to circle your relapse signs, or write a list of personal warning signs that lead you back into your food patterns. By identifying things that put us at risk for relapse, developing a practical plan of action, and utilizing various new skills, tools and coping behaviors, we can empower ourselves and reduce the frequency of lapse back into our addictive behaviors. If and when a relapse does occur, do not judge or blame, you are not a bad person. Seek progress, understanding and compassion, not perfection.


Regular journaling to monitor progress
Regular journaling for gratitude
Attending support meetings or OA
Reaching out by telephone (print a list of people to call ahead of time)
Prayer or meditation seeking guidance
Reading inspiration books or poems
A written plan of action
A written list of things to do when symptoms increase or cravings begin
Relaxation techniques
Deep breathing exercise
Helping others
Talking to friends or counselors

(For more ideas on tools to utilize during a crisis, see articles posted at under the “Healing Articles" section of the website).


Helping people let go of self-destructive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors has been the life work of Dr. Annette Colby. Her fascination with the power of the mind, emotions, spirituality, and physicality has led her to become a leader in the field of personal growth and consciousness. She is a valued counselor, and an inspiring teacher, as well as an independent writer, mentor, and guide. She is a highly sought-after trainer with a unique ability to inform and inspire individuals to open their hearts, love more openly, and pursue their dreams.

Dr. Annette Colby, RD
Nutrition Therapist & Master Energy Therapist

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