Summer can be a uniquely challenging time for people struggling with an eating disorder, regardless of what phase of recovery you are in. Social media influencers, the diet (or as I say, die with a “T”) industry, and even friends and family start to talk about the all-important “beach-ready” body. It’s a time of year when the temperatures rise, so less clothing can be physically more comfortable but emotionally and mentally exhausting-even terrifying. Even if there is no particular pressure on myself, the conversations others have around me can be triggering.
When I was working as a registered dietitian, every summer I had to brace myself to hear patients talk about their plans to lose a certain amount of weight or be ready for a wedding or vacation. When I was deep in my struggle with my eating disorder, I internalized every conversation, whether or not I was having it or other people were. It felt like the season for “keeping up with the Joneses”.
I knew I’d turned a corner in my recovery when I finally thought to myself, “what is stopping you from enjoying your summer now? Why do you have to wait to have the “beach ready” bod-and is that even achievable?” I had to really stop and think about it. What made my body “ready” for the beach? If I planned to swim, I’d need a swimsuit and a towel. As someone with very fair skin prone to burning, sunscreen and an umbrella were a must.
Most importantly, I think it’s important to remember to bring yourself. I don’t just mean your physical self (though, that’s certainly a must) I mean you. The real you-the you that you hide and tame and try to change for others and for what? To fit in? Isn’t it better to stand out? To make others happy? My own happiness is priceless. To look a certain way? Trends and fashion change every year, every decade, and every era. And we only have this one life to be exactly who we are.
Here are the three things that help me most when my ED challenges my thoughts in the Summer time:
1. Be comfortable. Whatever that looks like. The heat can mean some people would rather wear shorts or skirts, or maybe just a lighter fabric that is loose-fitting. This takes attention off of how your body looks and brings more focus to how it feels.
2. Be honest. Even though I know friends and family might not intentionally try to trigger my ED thoughts with their conversations, it still happens sometimes. There have been times I have had to walk away from a conversation or change the topic. And there are other times I’ve been able to muster the courage to say “Hey, this conversation about bodies is uncomfortable to me. Can we talk about something else?”
3. Be thankful. One healing practice I discovered on my road to recovery was yoga. And one thing I learned in my practice was to be thankful for my body. To be thankful that it could move and do things I love to do like roller skate, swim, and walk my dog. The more that I focused on seeing my body as a gift-my vessel to get through life-the less I thought about what it looked like, and the more I focused on the amazing things it could do.
So this summer when I hear people talk about getting their bodies prepared to go to the beach or on vacation, I remind myself that I already have everything I need to enjoy my Summer: Myself.
Maureen Seel is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author living in Brooklyn, NY. She hopes to use her voice and writing to bring awareness to issues she is passionate about such as Health at Every Size, Trauma Recovery, and living with/recovering from disordered eating. You can read more about Maureen on her website at http://www.maureenseelwrites.com.