Coping with Summer Eating Disorder Triggers

By: Alsana

Many eating disorder triggers tend to intensify around spring break and the summer months that follow. This poses significant challenges for individuals with a history of eating disorders and/or body image dissatisfaction. Maintaining recovery from an eating disorder requires consistent effort, vigilance, and support. Experiencing setbacks in recovery is not uncommon, and summertime tends to be particularly fraught with triggers. Awareness of summertime triggers can help individuals with eating disorders and their loved ones prepare for and navigate recovery challenges together.

Relapse prevention planning and support are crucial no matter how long it’s been since leaving treatment. Alsana’s Two-Week Intensive programs provide whole-person, compassion-focused eating recovery support to help struggling individuals nurture their hard-earned recovery and regain their balance so they can prevent lapses from becoming full relapses.

Summer Eating Disorder Triggers and Recovery Challenges

  • For many, warmer weather comes with the pressure to show more skin or to be “beach ready”.
  • Diet culture body comparison may intensify in the summer.
  • An increase in seasonal, physical activities may be triggering to individuals with a history of compulsive exercise/exercise dependence.
  • Disrupted routines/lack of structure (home from school, working irregular hours, etc.)
  • More time spent with family; even well-meaning comments from loved ones can be triggering.
  • Food-centric social gatherings (July 4th, cookouts).
  • Summer can lead to an increase in body image-related anxiety, depression, body dissatisfaction and negative self-talk; it can also be triggering for people with eating disorders to overhear others’ negative comments about their own bodies.

Summer Body Image Challenges

Diet culture’s emphasis on having a “beach-ready body” and society’s glorification of thinness pose significant challenges for individuals with eating disorders. Increased exposure to media images of idealized body types, such as in swimwear advertisements or social media, may exacerbate body dissatisfaction and contribute to relapse. Weight loss has become normalized as an almost obligatory part of a healthy lifestyle, perhaps even more so during warm-weather months.

Summertime often involves wearing lighter clothing, such as swimwear or shorts, which can increase body exposure and self-consciousness. Being in environments where others are engaged in body-focused activities like swimming or sunbathing may intensify body image concerns and self-comparison.

Social Gatherings

Summertime often involves more social gatherings, outdoor activities, and occasions centered around food, such as barbecues, picnics, and parties. The pressure to participate in these events and engage in food-related activities can be stressful and triggering for individuals with eating disorders. They may feel overwhelmed by the fear of judgment or comparison or deviate from their established eating patterns.

Changes In Routine

During summer, people tend to have more flexible schedules, including vacations, holidays and breaks from school or work. These disruptions to daily routines can affect meal planning, regular eating patterns, and access to support systems. Lack of structure and increased downtime may result in more time for negative thoughts or behaviors associated with an eating disorder.

Summer vacations or travel can disrupt established routines and access to familiar support systems and increase feelings of anxiety or isolation. Being in new environments or unfamiliar situations may exacerbate stress levels, making it more challenging to maintain recovery-focused behaviors.

Heat And Hydration Concerns

Individuals with eating disorders may restrict fluid intake to manipulate weight or body appearance. During summer, the higher temperatures and increased physical activity can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if hydration is not prioritized. These physiological challenges can impact physical and mental well-being and potentially increase vulnerability to relapse.

Strategies for Coping With Summer Eating Disorder Triggers

Develop A Solid Support System

Spend time with people who support your recovery and avoid those who don’t (including on social media). Reaching out to friends, family, therapists, support groups, or online communities can be a great source of encouragement. Having people who can offer support during – or even anticipate – challenging times can be invaluable.

Inform your close friends and loved ones about your recovery challenges and any triggers you may encounter during the summer. Share your concerns and ask for their support in avoiding situations or conversations that could be problematic.

It’s important to keep appointments with your care team during the summer months so they can help keep you accountable. Continue to engage with your treatment team or therapist regularly. Schedule additional sessions if needed. They can help you navigate triggers, provide coping strategies, and offer tailored guidance.

Nourish Well

Create a structured and balanced meal plan with the help of your registered dietitian or healthcare professional. Stick to your regular eating routine as much as possible, even if your schedule is disrupted. Having a plan in place can provide a sense of control and stability. Staying nourished will also support your mental health and mood regulation, making you better equipped to handle eating disorder recovery challenges and triggers.

Pay attention to your body’s hydration needs, especially in hot weather. Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly and maintaining a balanced diet. Seek shade and cool environments when needed, and ensure you are taking care of your overall health.

Self-Care and Self-Compassion

Engage in behaviors and thoughts that improve your relationship with yourself, such as practices that promote self-care and self-compassion. This could include journaling, practicing mindfulness or meditation, relaxing baths, volunteering, engaging in creative outlets, writing affirmations, or participating in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Be aware of negative or distorted thoughts about body image, food, or weight. Challenge these thoughts with evidence-based, positive affirmations and remind yourself of your progress in your recovery journey.

Engage In Alternative Summer Activities

You don’t have to have a cookie-cutter summer! You can opt out of activities that neither bring you joy nor serve your recovery. Prioritize your needs and set boundaries around situations that may be triggering. It’s okay to decline invitations or remove yourself from environments that might compromise your recovery. Putting your well-being first is essential.

Know the Signs of Eating Disorder Relapse

Even with relapse-prevention strategies and a support network in place, recovery is a long, challenging journey. People with eating disorders and their loved ones need to know that recovery setbacks and relapse are not signs of failure and do not warrant judgment or criticism. If you notice any signs of an eating disorder relapse, seek help as soon as possible to get back on track.

  • A pattern of missing or rescheduling appointments with treatment team.
  • Eliminating a new food or progressive elimination of foods from a specific food group.
  • Avoiding social meal outings.
  • Signs of withdrawal or depression in both independent and social situations.
  • An increase in conversations comparing body or food behaviors with others.
  • Increase in activities that may indicate a transfer of addictive or obsessive behavior.
  • More frequent participation in group exercise classes or individual exercise in general.
  • An increase in “mirror checking” or trying on clothing worn during the active eating disorder days.
  • A pattern of missing small but cumulative “daily life skills,” like buying groceries, paying bills, walking a pet, self-care appointments, doing laundry, etc.
  • A pattern of missing prescribed medications.
  • A change in personal hygiene.
  • A significant change in body weight.
  • Difficulty focusing on work and or an increase in workdays missed.

Consistency is Important for Recovery

Maintaining recovery from an eating disorder requires some consistency. Whether regular sessions with a therapist and dietitian or having a meal plan, recovery-oriented routines can be helpful. These routines can get disrupted by warm-weather activities like vacations or social events.

Taking breaks and enjoying quality time with loved ones is not only ‘ok’ for people in recovery but also necessary. Still, the fact remains that having too much free time can make it all too easy to slip back into disordered behaviors, particularly if the warm-weather months stir up old eating disorder thoughts. To fully enjoy the sunshine, people in recovery will likely benefit from having a modified warm-weather routine shared with members of their support network for added accountability.

Eating disorders thrive in isolation. Recovery and recovery maintenance require community. If the thought of summer causes recovery-related anxiety, remember that you have the right to replace triggering situations with activities that support your recovery and happiness. And, if you find yourself struggling to cope with summer triggers, you are not alone. It’s normal to experience setbacks, and in navigating these challenges, you may end up strengthening your recovery in the long run.

Recovering from an eating disorder is not a linear journey; almost everyone struggles in their recovery from time to time. Having a relapse prevention plan is an integral part of maintaining recovery and ensuring that temporary setbacks and lapses don’t escalate.

Alsana’s Two-Week Intensive program is designed to help clients nourish their hard-earned recoveries and get back on track. Alsana offers virtual and in-person Two-Week Intensives for PHP/IOP. Learn more at alsana.com/2weeks.