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  • Writer's pictureDina Skaff

Eating Disorders Don’t Take the Summer Off…

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

As I write this post, summer is in full swing, and many are excited about the warm weather and time off of school or work. While it may seem that this time of year is a happy, carefree and relaxing time for all, for those who struggle with eating disorders, it can be a difficult time. From summer clothing to an increase in social events, eating disorders can make this time of year anything but a vacation.


The summer months may be difficult for those who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating and body image concerns.



Less structure

The end of school and the beginning of summer break may mean a break from structured schedules. For those living with an eating disorder, that structure may have been a foundational piece for recovery-focused practices. School schedules may have helped with structured meal and snack times, predictable meal supports, post meal distractions like attending classes, working on projects and homework, predictable schedules, social time while school, etc. All of that can fall away with the final ring of the school-year bell… leading to lack of schedule and structure, and even social isolation.


Diet culture talk around bodies hits a high point around this time of year. This can be extremely harmful to anyone, and especially for those living with an eating disorder.

Focus on Bodies and Clothing

Summertime brings about a much bigger focus on bodies. We see more revealing clothing with t-shirts, shorts, tank tops, crop tops, summer dresses and swim wear. This can be incredibly scary for those who struggle with eating disorders and body image concerns. Some may seek shelter in baggier clothing options that hide the body, so this change in clothing for the season can bring about a lot of anxiety. Diet culture talk around bodies hits a high point around this time of year. This can be extremely harmful to anyone, and especially for those living with an eating disorder. There may also be a lot of anxiety around shopping for new clothing for the season, or determining sizing when bodies may have changed.


For many people living with an eating disorder, activity is unhelpful and can actually be dangerous.

Activity

There is often a lot of focus on being active during the summer months. While physical activity is deemed as something that is important for health, this messaging can be triggering. For many people living with an eating disorder, activity is unhelpful and can actually be dangerous. Some are required to have strict limits around activity. Many are required to stop activity altogether. Others have very specific boundaries around the type, amount and frequency of activity they can do for their recovery. So, the focus on being “more active” this time of the year presents challenges for many.


Family Time and Social Events

Summer is a time where many family or social events may be planned. This can increase anxiety for those with eating disorders for many reasons. There may be worries around seeing people they haven’t seen in some time, concerns about receiving comments about their body, or hearing body comments in general, at these events. Many events can take place around food, which presents even more challenges. There may be less control around meal timing, available food options, and eating with others. Each of these components can be difficult for someone struggling with an eating disorder.


Too much time spent alone, without distractions, structure or support, can present challenges for those who are struggling.

Isolation

On the flip side, a lack of structure in schedules, or friends and family taking time off and travelling, may lead to more time without support. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation. While down-time from social interactions may be necessary for self-care and recovery, too much time spent alone, without distractions, structure or support, can present challenges for those who are struggling.



Times of Transition

It is very common for times of transition to result in an increase in struggles and risk of relapse in eating disorder recovery. Change presents so much uncertainty and so many unknowns. Whether it is a transition to a new school, a new city, a new job, or even a new classroom, any change can be anxiety-provoking. These unknowns present a “loss of control” or even grief around change, which may lead to increased urges for eating disorder symptoms.



Tips for the summer

If you or your loved one struggles with an eating disorder, here are some tips to help navigate some the of challenges the summer may bring:


  • Create a schedule that keeps your non-negotiables steady for recovery – this includes meal times, meal planning, meeting with support people, appointments, etc.

  • Set or maintain limits around physical activity. As with many things in recovery, this is individual and should be determined according to your own needs. Discuss helpful limits around physical activity with your care team.

  • Set boundaries around social interactions. Limit time at social events that you feel may be challenging. If possible, bring a support person with you to these events so that you have support throughout.

  • Reach out to a trusted person during times of transition. This could be a parent, a counsellor, a teacher, or another person of support in your life.

  • Wear clothing that fits and feels comfortable. Flexible and breathable clothing items are especially helpful. If you need to do clothing shopping, go shopping with a trusted support person. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on clothing shopping with body image concerns.

  • Write a list of your coping tools and keep it handy. Remind yourself of any skills or strategies that you may find helpful for coping with strong emotions or overwhelm. When things are difficult and urges for eating disorder symptoms are high, try reaching for the list to review some options.

  • Practice delaying. When urges come on, try to delay engaging in eating disorder symptoms. Reach for your list of coping options (above point) during this time.


It makes sense that summertime may be a difficult time for those struggling with an eating disorder. If you are struggling at any point this summer, it can be easy to get down and feel that you are moving backwards… If this happens, I ask you to try to take a moment for some self-compassion. Remember that it makes sense that there is a struggle. This does not mean you are going backwards. This is simply another point in your recovery journey.

 

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This post is for information purposes only. It is not meant to replace medical care, therapy, or individual or group nutrition counselling and support.

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