Relapse Prevention: Yellow Light Signs

Technically when you're driving and you see the light turn from green to yellow, you're supposed to slow down and then stop. Yeah right. I don't know about you, but many times when I see a yellow light, I hit the gas and try to cruise through before the light turns red.

For most of my eating disorder, this was how I operated. I saw the warning signs of relapse and I just hit the gas on the eating disorder. Some of this was rooted in the basic neuropsychology of an eating disorder--that whole viscious cycle thing. But some of it was the fact that I really did think I could squeak by the need for more intensive treatment and recovery work if I just timed everything right (and drank enough water before weigh-ins).

Clearly, that hasn't worked out very well.

When I wrote my previous relapse prevention plan and identified my yellow light signs, I was still rather ambivalent about recovery. So my yellow light signs should have been my red light signs and my red light signs should have been flashing lights and sirens. Besides the ambivalence about recovery, I was also a little unprepared for how easily, quickly, and strongly the eating disorder can take over. I (not very wisely) thought I knew enough about eating disorders that I didn't need to be all that worried, right?

A false sense of security is one of the EDs greatest weapons.

Yellow light signs are different than prelapse signs because they have more to do specifically with the ED. Not that they deal solely with ED behaviors, but for me, most of the upticks in ED behaviors come after a time of increased anxiety/depression (although it took me years to figure out that the uptick was in response to this increased anxiety/depression). Not always, which makes the increased anxiety more of a "prelapse" than an actual sign of relapse.

The yellow light signs are, for me, a sign I need to slow down and take a good, hard look at what is going on. They're signs that the ED is returning. If you'll forgive another car analogy, they're like the "check engine light." Your car might be running just fine, but the light is usually an indicator that something is about to go rather wrong.

My Yellow Light Signs are:

  • increased paranoia about food (not trusting what others give me, etc)
  • looking up nutritional information on the internet
  • feeling like everyone is watching every bite I take
  • exaggerating what I ate
  • rigidity around exercise
  • need for precision with measuring food
  • extreme irritability
  • gnawing doubts about my ability to recover (this is a precursor to the "F*ck recovery!" stage)
  • procrastinating on returning messages
  • desire to run away and/or hide from life
  • urges to purge or hide food
What I found hard with identifying these signs is that my relapses tend to simply leap straight from 0 to 100 with nary a stop in between. I can go from green light signs to red light signs in less than a week. So identifying the yellow light signs is both tricky and crucial. The other issue I struggle with is identifying and acting on the warning signs. Often, I tend to downplay the seriousness of the problem even in my own mind, and so I delude myself into thinking that it will go away or that I can handle it on my own. It's hard. It's damn hard, and I'm not always super-confident in my abilities and judgement on the subject. Which means I am having to accept a big dose of humility in learning how to manage my ongoing recovery.

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Abby said...

I think what hit home most on this post was the last paragraph: "I tend to downplay the seriousness of the problem even in my own mind, and so I delude myself into thinking that it will go away or that I can handle it on my own."

The hardest thing for me is that even though I don't trust the judgment of others, I also doubt my own judgment and that what I'm doing is what I'm supposed to do for recovery. I downplay any warning signs and convince myself that I know enough, have been through this enough times to handle it on my own.

I think "humility" is such an appropriate term, as I've come to realize that there are some things I can't do alone and times I can't trust myself. I have to swallow my pride and admit that I do need support and can't do it on my own. I hate feeling "weak" and humbled, but I suppose it means I'm human, not superhuman. Great post.

lifeafteranorexia said...

This post is really inspiring. I'm glad you are able to identify your own "yellow light signs". I agree that it is very easy to go from "green to red" almost instantly, so being able to recognize these patterns in your thoughts and behavior is very crucial to staying strong. Best of luck to you.

Kim said...

This is really helpful. I tend to go from 0 to IN TROUBLE very fast too, but I think there are in-between phases; I just don't want to recognize them (because that would involve doing something about them). I have a sense now when I'm in trouble. I don't really have problematic phases as much as I have problematic days, but the cues are all the same -- resistance to going out to eat, thinking my pants are tighter, counting a lot, rigidity around meals and meal times, very ritualistic and intense exercise routines, lots of time spent pondering food and grocery trip lists. The thing is that I don't stop at these signs. Like you said, I downplay the seriousness...then, bam, I'm in trouble again. Thanks for reminding me to take a look at these things with a careful eye.

Sarah said...

The isolation is key for me. When I start isolating, not returning messages, etc. there is something wrong--ED wise or otherwise. I used a template similar to the one you've been typing here for my relapse prevention planning and we have a lot of the same "signs," but I didn't include isolation or not returning messages, and it's really a great point.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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