Eating Disorder Recovery: 3 Tips to Navigate the Summer Months
Written by: Laura Lahay, MA
I absolutely love the summer months. I love the great amounts of sunshine, the blooming of plants and trees, getting to do fun activities like swimming, boating, fishing, roller-blading, etc., and having extra time to spend with friends and family. A favorite memory I have of the summer months as a child was getting to swim pretty much every day (sometimes multiple times a day) in our backyard pool. I anticipate and look forward to these months as they approach, but I know for others, especially those who are recovering from eating disorders, the summer months can create discomfort, bring up immense insecurities, and feel overwhelming to navigate.
It is common for a majority of people to become more aware of their bodies during the summer months. With summer clothing covering less of the body, having a less structured schedule with more time to think about one’s body, more social events or obligations to compare one’s self to others, and more time to be on social media platforms, it can be hard not to give more attention to one’s body and physical appearance during the summer. It is particularly difficult for those who are in the recovery process from an eating disorder, as each of the above factors and more can be triggering and difficult to avoid.
It is brave to engage in the recovery process at any time of the year, but especially during the summer months, as they can be the most challenging to navigate. So if you are currently on a recovery journey from an eating disorder, know that you are brave and seen during this time.
I wanted to share three tips that might help give support to anyone who is choosing recovery during the summer months or knows of someone who is struggling and could benefit from this information.
Tip #1: Identify Trigger Places, Events, and Habits and Talk About How to Navigate Them
Triggers are sensory reminders that can cause certain symptoms to resurface. Triggers can be anything from the smell of a certain kind of perfume to a loud, abrupt voice to seeing pictures on billboards of people in bathing suits. I would encourage someone who is recovering from an eating disorder during the summer months to be mindful of their specific triggers during this season. These triggers might look similar or different to other people who are in recovery, and that is ok. The key is to determine what one’s specific triggers are and then talk about how to navigate them throughout the summer months. If a person’s trigger is seeing lots of pictures of people in bathing suits, a way to navigate that trigger could be to limit their social media time during the summer months. If a person’s trigger is excessive amounts of free time during the summer, a way to navigate that trigger could be to make a daily schedule for themselves to follow to create a routine. These ways of coping do not have to become the norm for a person; they can be used as a helpful tool temporarily to further protect one’s mental and emotional health during the summer as the person is continuing to recover.
Tip #2: Focus on Doing Activities That Have Nothing to Do With Changing The Body
The summer months are a time when a majority of people talk about “getting into shape.” This can mean spending more time at the gym, doing excessive outdoor exercise, or attempting to eat a healthier diet. These goals are by no means a bad thing for certain people. For those who are in recovery from an eating disorder though, they can be triggers and make the person feel pressure to engage in further unhealthy patterns or behaviors for them in the midst of recovery. In order to continue to protect one’s mental health, I encourage my clients who are in recovery from an eating disorder during the summer to intentionally find activities they can do that have nothing to do with changing their body. This can be things like gardening, reading a favorite book, going mini-golfing with friends, backyard stargazing, creating DIY projects, visiting the local library, volunteering, doing puzzles, or having a water balloon fight with friends. There are so many fun activities one can do to create memories this summer that have nothing to do with changing the body. I would encourage a person in recovery from an eating disorder to make a list of these activities and begin checking them off.
Tip #3: Create a Summer Affirmations List
Self-talk is the dialogue a person has with themselves about themselves. The way a person talks to themselves affects one's self-esteem and self-perception. If a person is consistently engaging in negative self-talk, this can create a negative self-image and affect one’s mood and functioning. It is common for those who are in recovery from eating disorders to be working on challenging and reframing their negative self-talk to create further acceptance of themselves. Fostering healthy self-talk during the summer months can be difficult for lots of people, but can be especially difficult for those in recovery from an eating disorder. A helpful way that I encourage my clients to engage in healthy self-talk is to create a “Summer Affirmations List.” This is a list of affirming statements about themselves and their body image that they can look at when needing to challenge some of their negative self-talk. Some affirmations clients will write include: “I am more than my body”; “I love and accept my body just as it is today”; “I take care of my body and my body takes care of me”; “It is ok to love myself now as I continue to grow and change.” I encourage my clients to place this affirmation list in a place where they will easily see it such as their bathroom mirror or their bedroom wall, or I encourage them to make it their screen saver on their phone during the summer. It is important to find ways to remind oneself of healthy self-talk during the summer months when in recovery.
The summer months can be challenging, especially in recovery from an eating disorder, but they are possible to navigate. For those who are in recovery during these summer months, know that you are doing hard work that does not go unnoticed. Keep prioritizing your healing journey and remember to have some fun in the sun.
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