For a person with an eating disorder, summertime may prove to be full of obstacles, triggers, and challenges instead of barbecues, bonfires, and pool parties. Eating disorder treatment in the summer makes sense because the time of fun, play, sunshine, and sand may actually depict fear and trepidation for individuals with disordered eating.
With the pressure of achieving the “perfect summer body” and a break from routine, summertime may prove to be particularly challenging.
Why eating disorders may worsen in summer
Below are discussed five probable reasons why summers may be particularly stressful for individuals with an eating disorder:
1. Body Image: Summers naturally mean less clothing, which can be extremely disorienting for individuals struggling with body dysmorphia. Such pressure can be a trigger for an array of eating disorder symptoms and shame regarding one’s body, can force individuals to resort to unhealthy methods of coping and food behaviors such as crash diets.
2. Changing schedules: Following from highly structured schedules at schools and/or work, summer vacations entail more time on hands. Such reduced structure and lack of supervision can easily unhinge a recovery based upon set meal plans and schedules. On the other hand, a summer packed with trips and activities may also prove detrimental with the added stress of keeping up and risk of relapse.
3. Co-occurring disorders: Eating disorders frequently co-occur with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Summer socialization can instigate peer pressure situations in regards to experimentation combined with added stress and anxiety to accommodate summer schedules and vacations.
4. The influence of social media: In this era of social media, the seemingly perfect summer photos of men and women in sparse clothing, looking happy and having the time of their lives evokes social comparisons, unrealistic body ideals, and feelings of isolation. The current trends of paid advertising and self-promotion further lead to depression and anxiety that can be triggers for relapse.
5. Increased physical activity: Outdoor activities and summer sports can make appropriate nutritional intake particularly challenging. Increased activity requires increased caloric intake. Intuitive eaters can manage this naturally, but someone with disordered eating may need further support.
Better timing for students
Opting for treatment of eating disorders in the summertime may actually prove to be a more logical course of action for students and young adults. Since most young patients of eating disorders are on break from school and/or go home or travel for summer, the timing of treatment may prove to be more convenient as well.
Since summertime typically does present more triggers than usual, you may benefit from being part of a support group or therapy session as well, if an intensive inpatient program may be unmanageable at the time.
What can be done?
In order to maintain recovery-oriented goals through the summertime, it is best to join a support group or an intensive outpatient program to be prepared for the added triggers and challenges.
Whereas summertime is meant for enjoyment and fun, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a part of it as well. Following are some guidelines you can follow:
1. Spend time with those who you trust and enjoy spending time with. Choose a family member or a friend who can be your go-to person and provide you with additional support.
2. Decide ahead of time whether you would like to take your own food or call the host ahead of time to determine if you can comfortably eat what will be available at the gathering/party.
3. Mingling again with a social group after a period of structured schedules and isolation can lead to anxiety. Be prepared for comments and questions that you may find triggering. Remove yourself from a conversation that you may find detrimental.
4. Above all, prioritize your recovery and health first, and make plans accordingly Make plans that are not overexerting, do not compromise your food intake standards and help you relax.
A little knowledge and a plan can proactively prevent the summer flare-up of an eating disorder and keep recovery goals on track. Above all, understand that each body is a summer body that can come in all shapes and sizes.
About the Author:
Sana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print, and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as a staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.
Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from the London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on June 6, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published June 6, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com