For many, summer represents a time of long, sunny days, beach vacations, and backyard barbecues. However, for the millions of American men and women who suffer from an eating disorder, these same events that may bring enjoyment and relaxation to some can feel more like a nightmare. Conditions such as anorexia and bulimia are rooted in mental health struggles with body image and self-worth, and those who suffer from the conditions can face significant challenges when faced with scenarios such as public eating or donning a bathing suit.
Even those who have worked hard and made significant improvements may still find it difficult to overcome their own self-criticisms, leaving them unable to fully enjoy this time of year. The fact is that the battle against an eating disorder is ongoing, and the patients who are most successful are those who account for their condition and develop methods to cope. For the looming summer months and all that comes with them, here are a few tips to manage an eating disorder while still living life to the fullest.
Plan Ahead for Meals and Gatherings
What scenarios do you imagine when you picture a large summer picnic or similar gathering? Do these scenarios cause you to feel nervous or anxious? Take some time to understand your fears before attending an event and plan for them accordingly. What will you do if you begin to feel overwhelmed? Where will you go? Don’t leave it to chance. Having answers to these questions beforehand with a plan of action will make you feel more confident, capable, and relaxed.
Don’t Put Yourself in an Uncomfortable Position
While an eating disorder should not dictate your choices, it is also important to recognize your limitations and to understand when pushing beyond those limits may do more harm than good. For instance, if the thought of wearing a bathing suit in front of others is simply too overwhelming, consider using a cover-up or t-shirt. While the attire will fit right in with the rest of the crowd, the added coverage may help you feel more secure.
Keep Realistic Expectations
Naturally, as the weather warms, we begin to see more skin. Retail displays and advertisements begin to focus on selling bathing suits or the miracle product meant to get your body “summer ready.” These messages and images can be difficult to drown out, but it is important to remember that they are an unrealistic representation. The models used rarely represent a typical body type, and in many cases, their photos are enhanced. Furthermore, there is no ideal standard for a summer body. In fact, studies have shown that women are consistently overestimating men’s preferences for slim body types.
Seek Out a Support System
For those with an eating disorder, a solid support system is a must all year long. If you don’t have one already, find a group near you or begin sharing with a trusted friend or family member. Having someone who is aware and understanding of your situation during difficult times can be an invaluable resource. Let them know when you are struggling, and even consider asking them along to events where you may feel uncomfortable or intimidated.
In addition to these tips, find a qualified psychiatrist who is well-versed in eating disorders and with whom you feel comfortable. They can help you better understand elements of your eating disorder, the reasons behind it, and the most effective ways to heal and move forward. If you are in the Greater Baton Rouge area, contact Psychiatry Associates of Baton Rouge, and request an appointment with any one of our three board-certified psychiatrists.