Why the Fourth of July Can Be Triggering

People on lake shore during summer

Contributor: Staff at Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center

The Fourth of July is bursting with celebrations — cookouts, pool parties, parades, and, of course, fireworks. And while it’s usually a time filled with summer fun for most people, it can be a minefield of summer eating disorder triggers such as food and body image concerns for people who are in recovery from an eating disorder.

“While some of our minds may turn to happy thoughts …, individuals with an eating disorder or disordered eating may be struggling to stick to their recovery plans,” Dawn Delgado, a certified eating disorder specialist, said in a Psychology Today article. “Fearful summer situations, such as wearing a bikini at the beach, or social events combining food and family, can cause anxiety [3].”


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Summer Eating Disorder Triggers

Some people who are in recovery from an eating disorder might not be enthusiastic about joining Fourth of July festivities, because these events can be filled with summer eating disorder triggers such as images, foods, and language that can trigger a relapse. Some of the most common summer eating disorder triggers a person might encounter include:

  • “Beach body” talk – Summer is the season when talking about the perfect “beach body” or “swimsuit body” amps up. When your social feed and lunch conversation are constantly filled with messages about how important it is to look great in a bikini, it can be difficult to not develop concerns about your own body — even if you aren’t in recovery from an eating disorder.
  • African-American lady kissing her daughter after overcoming summer eating disorder triggersParty foods – Every Fourth of July party is different, but you’re bound to encounter burgers, hot dogs, and other less-than-healthy summer cookout choices. A person who is in recovery from an eating disorder may still be struggling with what they feel comfortable eating and how often they should be eating.
  • Shorter-sleeved shirts and bottoms – The heat of summer necessitates T-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and skirts, but when you are struggling with body image concerns, these clothing items can be challenging to wear. However, covering up in longer sleeves and bottoms can draw attention and increase feelings of anxiety.
  • Swimsuits – Pool parties are a staple of many Fourth of July gatherings. However, the revealing nature of swim trunks, bikinis, tankinis, and one-piece bathing suits can trigger the compulsion to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and exercise regimens to cope with body image concerns.
  • Alcohol – Most Fourth of July parties include a refrigerator or cooler full of beer or cocktails. But there are many people who struggle with both an eating disorder and a coexisting substance use disorder, so this can create a unique challenge for them.

With all these potential summer eating disorder triggers looming, attending a Fourth of July party or cookout might spell relapse for someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder. Fortunately, identifying potential triggers is one of the first steps in avoiding relapse if you plan to celebrate the nation’s independence with friends or family.

Avoiding Relapse During the Fourth of July

A literature review in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that the risk of relapse for people who have anorexia nervosa is highest within the first year of recovery [2]. But, according to a research study in BMC Psychiatry, people in recovery from anorexia can relapse even if they aren’t actively experiencing any symptoms [1].

heart hands in sunlightIn the same study published in BMC Psychiatry, researchers examined the relapse rates of women in recovery from anorexia. The researchers found that women who participated in a relapse prevention program within four months of the end of treatment experienced more decreased rates of relapse than those who participated in relapse prevention programs four to 16 months after treatment.

The researchers concluded that having a personalized relapse prevention plan developed before a person leaves treatment is essential for continued success when in recovery from an eating disorder. If you don’t have a relapse prevention plan, you may want to consider seeking professional care from an eating disorder treatment center that can help you plan for your recovery.

If you are concerned about summer eating disorder triggers and relapse, seeking professional support can help you create a plan that includes healthy coping techniques to help you manage the compulsion to engage in disordered eating behaviors. It can also help you develop a strategy for attending Fourth of July events, including identifying people in your life who might be able to support you, providing scripts you can use during events you attend, and determining actions you can take to feel safe.

The most important part of relapse prevention is having a plan. Know your summer eating disorder triggers and what you will do to manage them in a healthy way. And remember, you can always reach out for help if you need it.


[1] Berends, T.; Van Meijel, B.; Nugteren, W.; Deen, M.; Danner, U. N.; Hoek, H. W.; and Van Elburg, A. A. (2016). Rate, timing, and predictors of relapse in patients with anorexia nervosa following a relapse prevention program: A cohort study. BMC Psychiatry. 16(1), 316. doi:10.1186/s12888-016-1019-y.

[2] Delgado, D. (2018). 5 reasons eating disorders may flare up in the summer months. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/eating-disorders/201806/5-reasons-eating-disorders-may-flare-in-summer-months.

[3] Khalsa, S. S.; Portnoff, L. C.; McCurdy-McKinnon, D.; and Feusner, J. (2017). What happens after treatment? A systematic review of relapse, remission, and recovery in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders 5(20). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-017-0145-3.

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Montecatini BannerAt Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Carlsbad, California, we provide comprehensive care for adolescent girls and adult women who are struggling with eating disorders. Our state-of-the-art facility offers the individualized treatment that women need to recover from an array of eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Our dedicated team of mental health professionals collaborates with each patient to develop a unique and detailed treatment plan to assist in the recovery process. We provide a full range of eating disorder treatment in response to each woman’s individual needs.

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 15, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Published June 15, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com

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