Maintaining Eating Disorder Recovery in the Summer
Between impromptu barbecues and parties, vacations and swimsuits, there are a lot of things that can be particularly triggering about the summer months. Left unchecked, it can be easy to spiral back into disordered eating behaviors. If you’re already anxious about how you’re going to maintain your recovery during the summer, here are some things that might help:
1. Create a Schedule
For many people in eating disorder recovery, structure around eating, sleeping and exercise are important in sustaining recovery. This routine can be easily disrupted in the summer months as students are off from school, offices implement summer Fridays and people leave for vacation. Instead of embracing the lax nature of the summer, stick to your routine. Continue going to bed and waking up at the same time you were, eating at the same time you were and stick to your meal plan if you have one. There may be those that tell you to “live a little” during the summer, but if you still need your routine to maintain in your recovery, continue using it. You can branch out and “live a little” next summer or whenever you’re ready.
2. Dress Comfortably
Leading up to the summer, there is always a big focus on making sure you have a bikini or summer body, which can tempt you to dress a certain way. What’s most important is that you dress in a way that isn’t triggering and makes you comfortable. What that looks like will be different for everybody.
Maybe you’re ready to show parts of your body that you weren’t ready to before. Or maybe it’s too triggering to wear shorts or sleeveless tops this summer. In that case, it might be best for you to look for full-length styles that are made of light, airy fabrics that will keep you cool while still not showing too much. In terms of swimsuits, there are many options you can mix and match depending on what makes you comfortable, like rash guards, high-waist bottoms, one-pieces, swim trunks and tanks.
And remember you can always change your mind. If you start off confident with more revealing clothing, but after a few weeks you notice that some of your old eating disorder behaviors are creeping in, it’s okay to take a step back and wear something different. If you thought you weren’t ready to wear shorts or a tank top, but halfway through the summer want to try wearing them for a day, go ahead. There is no wrong way to dress during recovery.
Whatever you’re wearing, just make sure it keeps you cool and comfortable.
3. Prepare for Events
The summer is filled with barbecues, picnics and backyard graduation parties. Food-focused occasions can evoke a lot of anxiety both about the food as well as the attendees. Will people make comments about what you’re eating or not eating, encourage you to eat more or less or comment on what you look like? It’s important that before you go to any event this summer, you have a plan in place to keep yourself calm.
Mentally prepare yourself for comments on what you’re eating or your appearance. Maybe go through what you might say if someone brings it up, and reinforce your boundaries with statements like “Right now I’m trying to focus more on what my body helps me do” or “This is the perfect amount of food for me.”
Make sure to also participate in activities that aren’t related to food by going for a swim, playing lawn games or sitting down for a chat.
And finally, know your limits and leave if you need to. There is no shame in leaving early, your recovery and peace is more important than a single barbecue or picnic. If you’re afraid of seeming rude, let those who invited you know that you might need to leave early or that you can only stay for a few hours.
4. Re-Enter Treatment
There is never any shame in entering or re-entering treatment. Making the decision to re-enter eating disorder treatment is not a failing, but rather a commitment to your ongoing wellbeing and recovery. Treatment, especially when your eating disorder is accompanied by severe medical complications, should never be delayed for a more convenient time.
For those in high school, college or graduate programs, summer treatment programs between the spring and fall semesters are great options without the risk or added stress of falling behind in school. Receiving treatment in the summer allows you to enter the new school year on a better foot, with more energy and a better sense of wellbeing that helps set you up to focus on your studies and cope with academic pressure.
Parents may benefit from summer treatment options too, with the summer months typically having fewer activities and responsibilities (like driving children to school, helping with homework, chaperoning or coaching) that make it easier to make arrangements for your children during treatment.