Health

How Summer Can Be Dangerous for Women with Eating Disorders

The aspects some eagerly anticipate with the arrival of the summer season—warm weather, beach trips, swimming pools, and barbecues—are the same reasons why others dread it.

woman on tropical beach

As the weather warms, we shed layers of clothing; we traipse off to swimming pools and beaches in bathing suits; we hold backyard barbecues centered around food bringing us together.

And these summer activities can be detrimental to people suffering from or recovering from eating disorders.

We spoke with Robyn Cruze, Eating Recovery Center’s National Recovery Advocate via email about what summer is like for someone who is struggling with—or recovering from—an eating disorder, how it affects their body image, and what you can do if you're struggling or know someone who is. Cruze herself struggled with an eating disorder for over a decade.

There has been a rise in body positivity online and in the media—but it's still a work in progress.

It seems like there has been a pushback against the notion of having a "beach body." One popular meme is a variation of the phrase "How to have a beach body. Step 1. Have a body. Step 2. Go to the beach."

 

"I love this message," Cruze says, but, "Sadly, I think even though this message is an uplifting and empowering sentiment, it doesn’t ring true for many. Because, let’s face it, whether you have an eating disorder or not, wearing a swimsuit in front of others can be pretty intimidating. Trying on swimsuits in a changing room is daunting too!"

About those swim suits—can bikinis and bathing suits (and the idea of wearing them or being seen in them) act as a trigger?

"Totally," Cruze says, explaining, "Those with an eating disorder become hyper aware and critical of their body and tend to believe everyone else is judging them on the way they look."

Which brings Cruze to another point: "It is also a time where everyone is socializing more and food is a way that we celebrate and bond. For people with an eating disorder, these can trigger a sense of not being in control, and perpetuate eating disorder behavior to try not to feel so overwhelmed."

(As Cruze explains, to be "triggered" means "that overwhelming emotions rise when faced with situations or discussion usually around eating disorder behaviors, e.g., food and body.")

A lot of people get restrictive about their eating and exercise habits as summer approaches. That doesn't mean they all have eating disorders.

"[It's] not so much about the behavior but the mindset," Cruze explains. "We need to remember that eating disorders are mental illnesses. They stem from the brain. For someone one with an eating disorder, the change of diet and exercise has so much more attached to it than their body."

"It is about having control, medicating and numbing difficult emotions with behaviors," she continues. "It’s about trying to make everything feel perfect so that they can feel better, and in turn attempt to relieve or manage an emotional burden."

Cruze offers advice to those who are struggling and aren't sure how to handle summer.

"If you are working towards your recovery journey, go easy on yourself," Cruze says. "If you don’t feel comfortable in a swimsuit, don’t wear one. Know your triggers and challenge them safely with the guidance of your treatment team."

A tip for getting you through the summer: Don’t try to do it all on your own.

"The best way to lessen emotional triggers is to share them with a close friend," Cruze suggests. "If you are a loved one of someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, be sure to ask your loved one how you can best support them through the summertime triggers. Lend them your listening ear, and although it can be hard, try to refrain from giving advice, it’s the best support you can give someone you love who is struggling with an eating disorder."

For additional information about Eating Recovery Center, call 877-789-5758, email [email protected], or visiteatingrecoverycenter.com to speak with a Masters-level clinician.