Why It's Important to Have a Relapse Prevention Plan and How To Make One


By: Kristina Zufall A relapse prevention plan is a document that is created by an individual with a mental illness, including eating disorders, to ensure that their recovery can be sustained as they step down from more intense treatment. The objective of the plan is to prepare for obstacles in recovery before they happen so that you are better prepared to face them. This is a comprehensive plan designed to help you stand firm in your recovery.

Things To Include on Your Relapse Prevention Plan:

A vision:

  1. Ask yourself if you are truly in recovery and define what your recovery looks like.
  2. Describe how your life will be better without your eating disorder and what you will lose if you ever return to disordered eating behaviors.
  3. Write about a time in your life you felt your best.
  4. List your supporters and how you will practice healthy communication with them.

Areas of wellness:

  1. Sleep- recovery takes energy and sleep helps us replenish our energy!
    1. List how you plan to get enough sleep.
    2. Describe any problems with sleep in the past and that could be problematic in recovery.
    3. Add ways your support system can assist you, or other things you can try should sleep problems persist (sleep medication, sleep hygiene, etc.).
  1. Mindfulness- mindfulness is a component of many different therapies styles used in treating eating disorders including dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness helps one stay living in the present, rather than in anxious thoughts of the past or future.
    1. List ways you have benefited from mindfulness in recovery.
    2. List how you plan to continue to implement mindfulness in your daily life and include your supporters if possible.
    3. Describe any ways you have previously had difficulty implementing mindfulness and ways you can address these should they arise.
  1. Emotions and moods- often eating disorders develop out of an attempt to manage mood. Instead of reverting to poor coping through disordered eating, recovery means learning to self-regulate in more helpful ways.
    1. List specific mood regulation tools you plan to implement. Perhaps you have learned these through therapy, groups or nutrition counseling.
    2. Do your best to describe why you may have had difficulty using these methods in the past, and how you plan to avoid these pitfalls in recovery.
    3. Describe your biggest stressors and how you intend to manage them.
    4. Describe your biggest struggles with body image and how you plan to work through these.
    5. Offer ways supporters may be able to help with mood regulation.
  1. Exercise- moving our bodies is an important part of staying healthy most physically and mentally, however, disordered exercise practices may exist within eating disorders.
    1. Describe the healthy exercise plan as discussed with your treatment providers. Be specific on number of days, duration, and intensity.
    2. List any problems that kept you from staying on track with you plan or reverting to disordered exercise patterns.
  1. Recreation- “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!” It is important to balance the hard work of recovery and daily life with activities that bring you pleasure.
    1. List what activities you want to incorporate in your life. Include when and where you may like to do them and if anyone else will be participating with you.
    2. Make note of any ways you may have had difficulty adding recreation or pleasurable activities in your life prior to this, and any ways your supporters can help prevent this.
    3. Consider adding time to give back to your community as this can be a powerful way to boost self-esteem.
    4. Don’t forget time for socialization. Having peer interactions provide healthy outlets for emotions. List where will you go and who you will go with for healthy social interactions.
  1. Nutrition- after a pattern of disordered eating exists, it can be difficult to break. Throughout treatment you will have had learned healthy nutrition for you and your body.
    1. List your meal plan as determined by you and your treatment team and ways you will ensure you are meeting all planned requirements.
    2. Describe any challenges with meal planning (shopping, cooking, cost, travel, etc.) and ways your supporters can help.
  1. Medication- often medication accompanies eating disorder treatment. It is important to take medication as prescribed.
    1. Detail how you will ensure you are getting to your appointments, filling prescriptions timely, and taking medication daily.
    2. List ways supports can assist you if you are having difficulty keeping up with your medication regimen.
  1. Ongoing care
    1. List the contact information for all your outpatient treatment team providers.
    2. List all upcoming appointments for your treatment team.
    3. Add any emergency crisis numbers such as the NEDA HelpLine (800) 931-2237.

Signs of Relapse

  1. Increased stress- List high stress areas if your life and ways that the stress may be visible to your supporters.
  2. Changes- ­List ways you can avoid major life changes which can often trigger increased stress or relapse.
  3. Denial- List ways your supporters can gently point out behaviors or concerns they have for your behaviors.
  4. Relapse- Should relapse happen, list your plan. (Increasing outpatient treatment, going into PHP/IOP, etc.)

Once you complete your plan, make a copy for yourself, each member of your treatment team, and each of your supporters. Continue to revise the plan as you move through recovery. And don’t forget to continue to ask for support throughout your recovery!

About the Author: Kristina resides in Houston, TX. She is a University of Houston alum where she earned her master’s in counseling. At Project HEAL, Kristina is dedicated to leading the Greater Houston Area team in awareness and fundraising efforts. She is passionate about the Houston Astros, Texans, and her black cat, Hallie.  Kristina’s favorite flavor of ice cream is birthday cake with sprinkles!