First published by The Independent, 5th August 2014
Recovering from an eating disorder is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult in the summer. I usually start to feel a mixture of excitement and terror around the end of May, because I love the sun and all the fun stuff you can do while the weather’s nice, but I also know that my recovery could easily be jeopardized over the summer months. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on anorexia, bulimia and a combination of the two (known as EDNOS).
If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, you’ll probably be hyper-aware of how your body looks. I was incredibly anxious about my appearance while in the throes of my eating disorder, but this anxiety kicked into overdrive when I started recovering. I put this down to the fact that my goal had changed from lose-as-much-weight-as-possible to gain-some-weight-and-become-a-healthy-human, and therefore my body was moving away from the anorexic ideal. The idea of wearing more revealing, summery clothes may fill you with terror, and if this is the case, don’t force yourself into that two-piece or pair of tiny denim cut-offs until you’re ready. If you’re the only person on the beach swaddled in an over-sized t-shirt and a sarong, so be it. Uncover yourself at your own pace, when you feel ready to do so, and don’t be shamed into hiding your body again if you encounter point B).B) People make unhelpful comments
If you DO manage to conquer negative thoughts about your recovering body and step out in shorts and a crop top or a bikini, you then often have to field the comments from other people. I’ve been approached by both complete strangers and friends of friends (if socialising in a group) and advised to “get a few burgers down me” because “looking like a 10-year-old boy isn’t attractive”. Even comments from close friends or family members can be very hurtful. “You don’t even look that thin anymore” is a great way to make the ED beast rear its ugly head. There is no earthly reason why anyone should make remarks about your body, and comments like the ones mentioned above should either be completely ignored or met with a calm “that isn’t helpful to my recovery”.C) Women’s magazines talk nonsense
As soon as the sun comes out, magazines like to start talking about “how to get your best ever beach body” and “[insert celeb] shows off new bikini body”. This kind of journalism feeds into existing body insecurities for all women, but can be particularly triggering for those recovering from eating disorders. However tempting reading about juice cleanses or ketogenic diet aids seems, leave the magazine on the shelf. Your body, whatever it looks like, will ALWAYS be a bikini body. You just put a bikini on it.
Most anorexics and bulimics receiving outpatient treatment will be saddled with a fixed meal plan that they have to stick to in order to gain the right amount of weight every week or to reduce the likelihood of a binge occurring. Summer activities like holidays, barbecues, parties, and festivals present numerous opportunities to deviate from your meal plan by starving and/or binging. Think about how you can plan round this, by taking your own food if necessary and avoiding alcohol if you know that it makes you more likely to overeat (and then panic). Thanks to my eating disorder, I haven’t been to a festival in nearly five years. If you don’t have the physical energy to get involved with some these activities, remember that this is one of the reasons why recovery is so important.