If someone you know has an eating disorder, then it’s likely that you’ve already made huge steps towards learning as much as you can about the illness. It’s becoming more and more well-recognised that eating disorders are not about food.
But when an illness- such as anorexia, or bulimia – affects the physical body as well, there’s often twice as much knowledge and support needed to combat it. Like other physical illnesses, it can be affected by the seasons.
Here are 8 reasons why it’s especially hard to have an eating disorder during the summer.
1. The most obvious one – warmer weather = the need for fewer clothes or more revealing clothes. It’s a matter of practicality that people dress lightly when it’s warm outside, but for those with eating disorders, showing off more skin than usual creates enormous anxiety when they are used to hiding the effects of their eating disorder under baggy layers.
They don’t need telling that they look stupid wearing a onesie in mid-August. Teenagers and young adults may adhere to a particular image because the look requires lots of clothes – think the layered look of a 90s grunger, or the jodhpurs/shirt combo of a horse rider.
If it’s a toss-up between being nagged for wearing inappropriate clothes like jumpers, or being nagged to eat because their loved ones can see their bodies – your eating disordered loved one is going to be wearing a sweater every day.
2. On top of the above point, people with low body fat, or with physical symptoms – say the electrolyte imbalance that comes from bulimia -these people can have very unpredictable body temperatures and may actually be genuinely feeling cold when it’s 32 degrees C outside.
Heading to the beach
Nipping over a friends to watch sports on TV
…. all of these activities increase duing the summer months, and for someone with an eating disorder, they all come with a triple dose of anxiety. Why?
a) these activities all require some kind of social eating. I am not just talking about anorexia or bulimia here – if someone has binge eating disorder or an EDNOS type disorder, they will normally struggle emotionally with eating food in front of other people.
b) these activities all require people to eat food that’s been prepared by a host – and as people with eating disorders have serious control issues around food, not knowing exactly what is in each dish can be a major trigger for anxiety;
c) They’ll feel paranoid either way. If they are ‘out’ about having an eating disorder, they’ll feel like they’re being monitored for food intake. and if nobody knows about it, well, that paranoia around people judging them based on what they do or don’t eat is still there, just as strongly.
Additionally, many people with eating disorders associate so much shame with eating that even daring to relax enough to enjoy just one mouthful of food may lead them to feel as if they are a bad person or have somehow done something wrong.
4. When it’s hot, it’s a natural physiological response for our bodies to feel a bit sluggish and lazy. This actually helps us to maintain homeostasis, which is our body’s way of being in balance physically. But if you’re out of touch with your body, these normal physical reactions of feeling sleepy and slow can be interpreted as proof that your control over your body is slipping, and that perhaps the remedy to these feelings lies in even further food restriction, exercise, or other acting out behaviours.
5. Someone with an eating disorder will typically be obsessing over it and planning around it ALL the time, in their heads. This takes up an enormous amount of time and energy. When summer comes, and with it, the associated social events – weddings, family gatherings, days out – the person with the eating disorder simply doesn’t have as much time to themselves to get all their worrying and obsessing done. They may come across as preoccupied or distant during social times. Or they may be especially crabby, snappy or tearful after a busy week.
If this is so, please do’t take it to heart. I know that you often need a thick skin to love someone who has an eating disorder. But do step back, and consider that the primary goal of their illness is not to be selfish, nor is it to hurt you or anyone else but themselves. They are probably exhausted from the effort of attending all these events they are unable to control, whilst keeping up the act that everything is okay.
6. Bad hair days can sound trivial, but just as with points 1 and 2, hair is often a prop to hide behind, and a bad hair day or simply being too hot under all that hair can lead to excess tension just as it does with anyone. If someone’s eating disorder has affected their hair to the point of it being thin or having frizzy patches, then a bad hair day can ruin the carefully planned hairdo that was going to hide the bald spot. The person with the eating disorder may be trying to use their hair to maintain the pretence that they are physically okay, and bad hair days can mess with their denial systems. If this is the case, it’s likely some of that tension could slip out in conversation.
7. Longer nights and earlier mornings may affect the waking and sleeping routines of other family members. It’s harder to find time to binge, purge or exercise in secret if your partner or child is staying up until much later than usual. The person with the eating disorder may find that they prioritise staying awake to act out on their eating disorder before basic self-care like getting a good night’s sleep. This can lead to fatigue, and it’s associated clumsiness, foggy head, and forgetfulness.
8. People with eating disorders are likely to be trying to lead completely normal lives, just like anyone else. They may have their eating disorder alongside being a multitasking mum, or a hardworking student, or an active community member. They may be stressed out by their work, or having relationship difficulties, or too tired to use their old hobbies to manage stress effectively.
In short, despite eating disorders being complex, isolating illnesses, the people who have them are still also normal people trying to lead normal lives as best as they know how to. The eating disorder adds a massive amount of extra stress, fear, loneliness and other negative emotions to that person. So please, go gently on them – and on yourself, this summer.
I hope this article has helped you – please do comment below or send a message if you’d like to ask any questions or for individual support.