Summer is known to be a season of relaxation, free time, and adventure. But, for those of us in recovery from an eating disorder
, summer can often be one of the most stressful times of the year.
For me, summer means that my entire routine changes for four short (or long) months. You may have time off from school, be staying in your college town to take summer classes or, if you’re like me and your work schedule doesn’t change during summer, probably spending more weekends away and attending more social gatherings than usual.
In early recovery, just the thought
of these changes and activities would send my mind into a total panic. I struggled with wanting to engage in life and enjoy the season while also wanting to hide in my room and escape from everything outside of those four walls.
After much trial and error (a LOT of trial and error — this stuff doesn’t always come easy) I finally came up with some helpful techniques that helped me maintain my recovery momentum throughout the summer. Even better, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone a bit and actually enjoy myself!
Here are a few things that I found helpful:
- Plan for vacations
Vacations can be hard for those of us in recovery, as they literally displace you from your normal environment. I found it helpful to express my concerns about being “out of my comfort zone” with my treatment team. We came up with a plan regarding food and exercise that felt both manageable and supportive of my recovery process. Sometimes that meant packing snacks for a long car ride, or a long travel day, so that I was never in a situation where I was unable to meet my meal plan needs. I learned that if I shared my plan with those that I was traveling with, I felt a lot less scared and overwhelmed about having to figure everything out on my own. This process also reminded me that recovery cannot be done alone!
- Give yourself some “me” time (if that’s what you want)
In recovery we learn that isolating ourselves from others is not the ideal way to walk through life – humans are wired for connection! However, that doesn’t mean that it is wrong to want some quiet time every once in a while. I am somebody who truly loves to be around others and spend time with loved ones — however I also need time alone (or with my dog!) to recharge. I used to feel selfish for wanting to spend some time by myself on vacations –– even if it is just an hour at a local coffee shop, or a relaxing walk on the beach — but I learned that I am much more present in my conversations and relationships with others when I do allow myself that quiet space.
- Allow some days to be unstructured
Plan ahead within reason (to prevent missed meal plan exchanges), but also try to be spontaneous! The reality is that life is sometimes unpredictable — and therefore our days cannot and should not be planned down to every second. As I learned to allow myself to have some unplanned days, and I proved that I could indeed make it through them, they became less and less anxiety provoking.
- Focus on being in the moment, not on body image
I always struggled with body image
more as the summer months came around. Summer means warmer weather, and warmer weather means clothing that reveals more of my body. I try to remind myself to focus on my relationships and connections with other people, rather than focus only on how I look. This helps counteract the intrusive body image thoughts, and allows me to focus on what I value — connection, adventure, learning and nature. Now, I don’t get caught up with what my body looks like.
- Stay in touch with your treatment team
It can feel frustrating and even burdensome to make time to meet with your treatment team
(therapist, dietitian, physician, etc.) when it feels like everyone else is living a carefree summer. I have found that making time in my schedule to meet with my team helps to hold me accountable and prevent relapse. Recovery from an eating disorder has to be our top priority — even in summer and even though it takes a lot of hard work. Recovery will be easier when we allow ourselves to be helped by professionals.
My eating disorder robbed many summer memories from me, but recovery has allowed me to create many more. Recovery is not perfect, and, honestly, every single day is not going to be good, but my days in recovery are definitely brighter and more fulfilling than any day in the eating disorder.
Anna Z. is a member of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center. Throughout her recovery, she has learned that her voice and speaking her truth is an incredibly powerful tool. She hopes her story will provide a message of hope to those struggling, and help to continue education and awareness of eating disorders and recovery.