Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Manhattan Lead Therapist Colleen Baker, LMSW offers tips for navigating challenges during the summer months. In her series, Colleen discusses 5 potential summertime triggers, and offers advice on how to manage them.
Year after year, the inevitable happens: Spring becomes summer and with that comes a new set of challenges and opportunities for anyone struggling with an eating disorder, especially those who really get to experience all four seasons as we do here in Manhattan. For many, summer means the end of the school year, an opportunity for fun and relaxation, and a chance to rejuvenate and decompress, soaking in the sun with friends and family. However, for those recovering from an eating disorder, it could be a challenge day after day as clients navigate a season full of exposures without their eating disorder in tow. With this change in season comes pressure to fit in, expectations to participate and socialize, and the ever-present reality of…the bathing suit. Let’s dive into some of the most commonly cited concerns about that tricky time between June and August and explore some ways to cope:
1. The obvious one: bathing suits and the summertime wardrobe. To a client navigating any stage of eating disorder recovery, they are in the intimate, delicate process of getting to know their bodies as they naturally rest, challenging themselves to find their equilibrium and to find peace within themselves. I like to remind my clients that once the eating disorder has been dethroned as their go-to coping skill and method for managing distress, experiencing something they are used to navigating with the safety net of symptoms can feel scary, awkward, unsettling or just plain weird. This goes for all behaviors: micro or macro, active or passive. So, when we translate this to the summer months, for example, if you may have been covering up your body with extra clothes at the beach in order to avoid discomfort and the feeling of exposure, now’s the time to sit with said discomfort, practicing emotional management through the use of skills instead of a cotton t-shirt covering your suit. If you’re used to wearing long sleeve shirts and baggy pants, you may find that 85 degree heat with humidity in New York City proves to be difficult for a number of reasons, and ultimately I’d encourage you to place physical comfort and safety in the heat over your fear of your body being seen. An integral part of recovery stems from ownership and exploration of the body and what arises when it is seen exactly as it is. So, encouraging clients to embrace their human needs over the needs of their eating disorder and associated body image is key within summer months.
2. The less obvious body one: No one likes to feel sticky, tired and dehydrated on a stifling summer day. Throw in the discomfort of an eating disorder and judgement clients place on natural body reactions to warmer temperatures and we have a recipe for assumption, discomfort and a desire to turn to behaviors in order to cope. Clients recovering from an eating disorder are in the active process of regulating natural body temperature, body functioning and feeling comfortable within their skin. Harder to do when nowhere but next to an air conditioner feels comfortable in the middle of July! It’s important to normalize this experience, as any one of us can relate to hating humidity and the effect it has on our bodies, but not all of us will utilize maladaptive behaviors in order to feel more in control.