We’re meant to enjoy these supposedly lazy days of summer. Yet, for parents of children with eating disorders, summer is often a time of worry. This is true for me. I have two children, ages 14 and 19, who have been diagnosed with and treated for anorexia. Even though both are in recovery, I’m more vigilant in summer, when the lack of structure and disruption to routines because of vacations and other activities can be triggering.
Since my youngest child is still early in her recovery, and she relapsed last summer after stepping down from a partial hospitalization program, I am especially watchful with her. Now that we’re here in the thick of summer again, I’m actively working to prevent summer triggers by:
- Setting a sleeping and eating schedule.
- Making sure we’re sticking to meal plans on vacations.
- Continuing to have regular visits with doctors, therapists, and nutritionists.
- Watching for signs of body dysmorphia, body checking, and other triggers.
For my kids, I’ve found that having a routine is super important. Even on days when we don’t have something going on, I expect my girls to be up by 11 a.m. and have breakfast within the first half hour. With my oldest, she’s been in recovery for much longer and is following a more relaxed eating schedule, but with my youngest, I am making sure she’s still following her meal plan. This applies to vacations, too.
We’ve taken one trip so far, and I made sure to stock our vacation rental with “easy foods” that I know they both like and that need little preparation. While we shifted time zones, I made sure to remind everyone to eat and nourish themselves. . Anxiety tends to rear up with changes in routines, so I’ve learned to plug in “downtime” on trips and schedule activities in the afternoons when my children are generally at their best.
As much as I can, I’m minimizing disruption to scheduled appointments with doctors, nutritionists, and therapists. The benefit to virtual appointments is we’ve been able to do them even when we’re on vacation. Fortunately, my youngest is at the point where she no longer needs to see an eating disorder specialist, but she is continuing to see her nutritionist every other week and her therapist regularly.
Summer is often a time when body dysmorphia issues come up because we’re wearing bathing suits, showing more skin, and unfortunately comparing our own bodies to others. Last summer, my youngest child didn’t want to wear a bathing suit at all. This summer, she proactively asked me to take her swimsuit shopping since none of hers fit. I considered that a huge milestone! Because it’s so hot in Texas, our whole family is spending a lot of time in the water, and in a way, it’s been a pleasant form of exposure therapy.
While prevention is important, I can’t fix every issue. Even with my best efforts, summer brings challenges for children with eating disorders. My kids are probably dealing with some that they aren’t telling me about. So, I’m just working to stay open, listening, and checking in more.
Kristi Koeter is a marketing and communications leader with 20 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. She is the mother of two children who have been diagnosed with and treated for eating disorders. She is co-author of the book Show Your Work and writes the newsletter Almost Sated (https://www.almostsated.com/) about detoxing from diet culture. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her mountain biking, hiking, or spending time with her family in Austin, Texas.