Coping with Summer Body Anxiety

By Alexa Rivera

Eating Disorders & Body Anxiety

For most people, the warm weather of summer is cause for celebration, but for individuals with an eating disorder the summer can come with a lot of anxiety. The anticipation of having to wear summer clothing, like bathing suits, shorts or tank tops can make it difficult to enjoy the summer months. Here are a few ways you can cope with summer body anxiety.

Remind Yourself That Other People Aren’t Staring

We are our worst critics, so it’s easy to convince ourselves that what we think about ourselves in the moment is also how other people must feel about us too. This can manifest in thinking that other people are staring, other people are judging you or that you don’t deserve to be here. The truth is that most people in public aren’t as concerned about your appearance as you are.

Prevent yourself from spiraling about your appearance by using a grounding exercise to center yourself:

  • Touch four things around you
  • Take 10 slow, intentional breaths
  • Focus on a sensation: the sand on your feet, the drink in your hand or the wind in your face
  • Stop and listen to what’s going on around you
  • Notice five things you can see, five you can hear and five you can feel, taste or smell

Change Your Perspective on Summer

While a lot of the narrative about summer centers around the “summer body,” there is way more to summer as a season than what we look like. Aim to change your perspective around summer. Instead of thinking about what you’ll look like in a swimsuit, think about all the sensations and experiences of summer.

How will the sun feel on your skin; how will the sand feel on your feet? Will the water be cold or warm this season? Will you walk on the boardwalk? Will you go to an outdoor concert; will there be a county fair? When will you take your bike out for the first time? Maybe this will be the first time in a while you’ll go on vacation or maybe you’ll be able to enjoy more naps outside this summer. Will you try something new? How about a camping trip? Maybe this will be the first time you garden.

There are so many beautiful things about the summer to enjoy and look forward to that have nothing to do with how you look. You deserve to enjoy the summer, the summer is not just for people who look a certain way.

Reduce Your Media Consumption

A lot of body anxiety is driven by expectations set by the media we consume and the community we live in. As summer rolls in, we see billboards and TV ads about signing up for the gym to “work on your summer body.” The influencers we follow start posting pictures of themselves in bikinis on Instagram and we start seeing Snapchat stories of our friends making salads so they can “get rid of the winter weight.”

If you can feel your body anxiety rising as the summer approaches, it may be best for you to dial back your media consumption. Unfollow influencers who post things that could be problematic for your recovery and follow accounts that don’t focus on appearance instead.

The great part about social media today is that there are some options to temporarily prevent a person from appearing on your feed, so you might not even have to unfriend someone. And with the variety of people and accounts nowadays, you can still remain connected. Following a gardening page or a nature photographer will allow you to appreciate summer without seeing posts centered around appearance.

Wear Full-Coverage, Breathable Clothing

There’s an assumption that you need to wear shorts or tank tops to keep cool in the summer, but this isn’t true! People around the world stay cool while still being covered up. If you’re not in the stage of your recovery where you feel comfortable wearing typical summer clothing, opt to wear breathable, full-coverage garments.

Picking Out Clothes

Look for clothing that is lighter in color, like whites, creams, pastels or brights. Opt for flowy garments that allow for better airflow, like loose shirts, long skirts and wide-leg pants.

It’s also important to look for garments with natural fibers instead of synthetic ones. Many synthetic fabrics, like polyester, are made with plastic, which don't breathe as well as other fabrics, like cotton. A lot polyester blends trap heat and moisture against your skin, preventing the cooling effect you get by your sweat evaporating from your skin.

However, synthetic blends designed specifically for activewear are made to be more breathable and sweat wicking, while also having more stretch for movement. 

Choosing a Swimsuit

Fuller coverage bathing suits are a great way to stay more covered up without avoiding the water:

  • One-pieces
  • Tankinis
  • Sleeved swim tops
  • High-neck swim tops
  • Wetsuits
  • Rash guards
  • Swim dresses
  • Skirt or short swim bottoms
  • Board shorts

Build a Relationship with Your Body

The summer can be a time where you reassess your relationship with your body. Where are you and where do you want to be? There are many ways to develop a relationship with your body, and none of them around wrong. The body neutral approach has been gaining steam in recent years, with people switching their focus from loving how their body looks to appreciating what their body can do for them.

Practicing Gratitude

The summer is the perfect time to acknowledge all the things your body can do. Gratitude toward your body can go a long way:

  • My body is what allows me to swim, hike, garden and play sports
  • My body gets me to all the places I want to go
  • My body allows me to enjoy all the sensations the summer offers
  • My skin can feel the sun on my face, the water in my hands and the grass on my feet
  • My eyes let me to see fireworks and stars
  • My body allows me to play with my pets
  • My arms let me hold and hug my family

Maybe you want to take a body neutral approach or maybe you want to get to the point where you accept or even love your body, whichever you choose, building a healthy body image is crucial to addressing body anxiety.

Prioritize a Routine & Maintain Your Recovery

While it’s great that summer can give students a break, the lack of routine can also be stressful for those with an eating disorder. The change in routine coupled with body anxiety can make it easy to revert to disordered eating behaviors. Make sure to keep recovery a priority over the summer months. Keep your routine consistent, prepare for summer events and don’t be afraid to re-enter treatment or increase the number of sessions you have with your therapist if you need to.

Be the Change You Want to See

We are a part of society, and as individuals in our culture, we play a role in defining what a “summer body” looks like or if there is a “summer body” at all. Be a part of the solution by dismantling diet talk and summer body culture when you hear it.

Here are some things you can say when someone brings up a summer body:

  • Your beach body is whatever body you take to the beach.
  • There are so many things to appreciate about summer that have nothing to do with how we look.
  • Bodies aren’t seasonal.
  • Summer is for appreciating nature, not just appreciating how we look.
  • We should spend summer focusing on what we enjoy, not concerned with how we look.
  • Summer is for every body, not just certain bodies.

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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