Navigating Summer in Eating Disorder Recovery

A family picnic

Many travel and event plans have changed, but the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped summer from coming. It’s officially here—and with it, so are socially distant picnics, cookouts, and barbecues. For those struggling with eating disorders, summertime eating and dressing can be stressful and anxiety-provoking. Warm-weather celebrations often exacerbate worries about food and our bodies, making recovery challenging and complex. But it’s not impossible.

With a commitment to yourself and continued healing, you can maintain eating disorder recovery and participate in this season’s celebrations. Here are some tips for surviving summer with an eating disorder.

Reject the idea of a “summer body.”

Your eating disorder would love for you to believe diet culture’s tired lies about a “summer body” or “beach body.” In these body-shaming messages it may find “proof” that diets and exercise are the key to getting “bikini-ready,” an unfortunate attitude often normalized in our culture.

Here is where we repeat: Every body is a beach body. Every body is appropriate for the beach. This includes any bodies that have changed during quarantine and those that have not. This includes yours, here in “beach season” and otherwise.

Wear comfortable clothes.

Is the anxiety of wearing a swimsuit or other warm-weather clothing too much? Then don’t! There’s no need to impose a dress code on yourself every time you step out the door. If you’re uncomfortable in shorts or a tank top at this point in your recovery, opt for a favorite t-shirt or lightweight pants instead.

Prioritize your physical comfort. Do your clothes let you breathe without feeling constricted? Can you move freely without engaging in body checking? How do the fabrics feel against your skin? Focus on these markers of comfort rather than the number on the tag or your reflection in the mirror.

Plan ahead.

Don’t allow summer plans to interrupt your meal plan. Maintain your meal- and snack time structure wherever you are—at home or at a campsite or lake, when lounging around or out exploring nature.

If you’re worried about forgetting to eat outside of home—whether you are truly apt to forget or your eating disorder uses that as a convenient excuse—pack the necessary food ahead of time. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bag of trail mix, for example, are easy options to stash in your bag on summer days out.

Lean on support.

Rely on a trusted family member or friend to help support you before, during, and after eating or other stressful activities. Whether virtually or in person, they can be your allies in distracting and redirecting your attention away from distorted thoughts. They can breathe with you. They can engage in conversation unrelated to food and body. What have they learned about themselves in quarantine? Where will they travel when it’s again safe to? What’s new on Netflix?

Schedule activities that don’t involve food.

Though often marked by food-centric events, summer is about more than burgers on the grill. It is an opportunity to relax, enjoy, and embrace the season for what it offers you. What besides food can you focus on? What ways can you practice self-care and enjoy non-food related activities? Make time for these.

While we’re still navigating an uncertain time, you can make the most of the summer ahead by taking care of yourself and your recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder this summer or beyond, please reach out for help. Get started with The Emily Program by completing our online form or calling 1-888-364-5977.

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