5 Reasons Eating Disorders May Flare Up in Summer Months

Treatment tune ups and keeping eating recovery on track in the summer.

Posted Jun 04, 2018

"Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind." ~ DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince circa 1991

At the risk of dating myself, "Summertime" is the summer anthem that comes to my mind when I smell a freshly mowed lawn or the aroma of BBQ burgers on the grill.  While some of our minds may turn to happy thoughts like the last day of school, vacations, and our favorite summertime songs, individuals with an eating disorder or disordered eating may be struggling to stick to their recovery plans.  Fearful summer situations, such as wearing a bikini at the beach, or social events combining food and family can cause anxiety.  

Here are 5 common reasons that eating disorders may flare up in the summer months:

1) BODY IMAGE - The hot summer months naturally lead to less clothing, which can be terrifying to someone with body image issues or body dysmorphia.  Tank tops, swimming trunks, and bikinis, can trigger a host of eating disorder symptoms for males and females with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Shame about one's body, regardless of size, can push individuals to unhealthy methods of coping and harmful food behaviors. 

2) DISRUPTION OF SCHEDULES - The transition from the high stress of finals for college and high school students, followed by the sudden drop off of structured during summer vacation often provokes a surge in difficulty maintaining a recovery oriented meal plan. Sometimes there is less structure and meal supervision at home during the summer months.  Alternately, an overly packed summer schedule with trips and activities can add to stress and risk of relapse for someone with an eating disorder. 

3) CO-OCCURRING DISORDERS - Eating disorders and disordered eating often go hand in hand with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.  Summer months can add to peer pressure situations related to substance experimentation, disruption in consistent socialization can add to isolation and depression, as well as added stress and anxiety related to summer schedules and vacations. 

4) SOCIAL MEDIA - In the age of social media, mindless scrolling through the stories of peers will reveal images of scantily clothed men and women, everyone laughing, being social, and having the time of their lives can exacerbate social life comparison, unrealistic body ideals, and feeling isolated and left out. Social media platforms have become hubs for paid advertising and self promotion, which means we want to teach ourselves and our clients to be conscious consumers of social media.  

5) HIGH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY - Outdoor activities and summer sports can add to difficulty maintaining adequate nutritional intake for clients in recovery.  As the weather permits more outdoor activities like bike riding, canoeing, dancing, and playing at the beach, caloric intake will need to be increased.  Intuitive eaters will do this naturally and someone with disordered eating or diet mentality may require additional support. 

A good way to keep recovery oriented goals on track is to consider a support group or an intensive outpatient program to "tune up" recovery in the summer months.  Intensive Outpatient Programs, IOPs provide three hours of treatment starting at three days per week, which greatly benefits providing structure during the less structured months.  A little knowledge and a plan can proactively prevent the summer flare up of an eating disorder and keep recovery goals on track

DisobeyArt/iStock by Getty Images
Source: DisobeyArt/iStock by Getty Images