Summer is almost here. For some people, the long sunny days conjure up happy times spent at barbecues, the pool or trips to the beach. For people in recovery from eating disorders, the carefree days of summer can feel like anything but.
“Bathing suit and shorts weather” can cause body image issues to resurface, while pressure to fill a plate with food at social gatherings can cause stress and anxiety. If left unchecked, summer activities can be a trigger for a relapse of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, with their cycles of starvation, binging and purging.
If thoughts of summer are causing you to worry about how you’ll get through it, here are some way to cope.
Wear shorts and a bikini if you want to. Or don’t.
People with eating disorders tend to be hypercritical of their body, honing in on perceived flaws and measuring their appearance in comparison to others. When people shed layers of clothes, engaging in this relentless self-assessment becomes that much easier.
Warning signs for an eating disorder relapse can include constantly looking in the mirror, feeling disgusted with oneself after eating, thinking obsessively about food and weight, or withdrawing from social activities. If you start to experience any of these symptoms, recognize you’re at risk of an eating disorder relapse. Practice the relaxation techniques and coping skills you learned in eating disorder treatment. Focus on sticking to your meal plan, and reach out for support immediately if you feel that negative internal monologue is getting too loud to ignore.
Keep in mind that what you wear or don’t wear in the summer is totally up to you. If you’re ready to put a bathing suit on or challenge yourself to wear one, go for it. If you’re not ready, or you feel it will do more harm than good, then don’t.
Stick to your schedule.
Maintaining a structure around eating, exercise and sleep, and following a meal plan established by your eating disorder treatment team, is very important when in recovery from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
But time off from school, vacations, parties and other summer activities can easily disrupt those schedules. The changes in schedule provide ample opportunity to slip back into disordered eating habits, from restricting food to binging and purging.
If you’ll be traveling, attending a music festival or spending the day at the river, think about how you’ll handle it ahead of time. Pack food if you’re not sure what food will be available, or you’re worried you won’t find anything at the event that’s appealing.
Toss the magazines and lay off social media.
It happens twice a year like clockwork. After Christmas and New Year’s, glossy magazines promise to help you lose the holiday pounds. Leading up to summer, those same magazines promise to get you “beach body ready.”
No. Just no. Looking at pictures of airbrushed models, or trying to follow whatever diet or exercise regime celebrities purport to be on, is not going to help anyone feel good about themselves, practice self-acceptance or enjoy the unique and wonderful body they were born with.
Same goes for all those Instagram bikini selfies. (You’ve seen the ones of the long legs and painted toes in the chaise lounge looking out to a tropical paradise while you’re staring at dirty dishes in the kitchen sink?) There are just too many tricks that people can use with angles and filters to make themselves look far more “perfect” than they really are. As much as you can, just look away.
Have a plan for handling BBQs & picnics.
Heaping plates of ribs and coleslaw can fill people in recovery from eating disorders with dread. Eating in public and social gatherings centered around food can also provoke anxiety. The anxiety can be compounded if you’re worried about family or friends making comments about what you’re eating or not eating.
At these events, try to take the focus off the food and enjoy the conversations, the outdoors or a game of Frisbee. Just be sure that you’re nourishing your body and eating a sufficient amount of calories to maintain your weight and avoid restricting.