Living with or recovering from an eating disorder is never easy, but there are certain times of year that can make it extra specially difficult. Over Christmas and New Year you may feel under pressure to over-indulge, while the summer holidays bring their own set of problems, with pressure from all sides to get 'in shape' for the holidays.
From media 'bikini diets' and 'beach body ready' advertising, to conversations with friends and family about slimming down for the summer, it can be incredibly difficult to resist negative body image and focus on maintaining a healthy diet and sense of yourself - particularly for women, but also for men struggling with eating disorders. We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on how to manage eating disorders during the summer period.
Firstly, Registered Psychotherapist Helen Davies says, be realistic and try to filter out the media coverage of supermodels in their bikinis: "Now is not the time to react to images of impossible and improbable figures by adopting an unhealthy approach to eating and exercise.
"Yo-yo dieting often results in overall weight gain, and certainly maintains a sense of low self-esteem. See these images for what they are: low-news days!"
Remember too, says Chartered Psychologist Marina Claessens, that "an excessive focus on body shape is one of the maintaining factors of eating disorders," so try not to obsess about how you do, or 'should' look. "Remember that very few people look like models or celebrities, and try to be realistic about how you want to look on the beach," she adds.
"Also remember that crash diets and, arguably, diets in general do not work. If you embark on a restrictive diet, you may indeed lose some weight straight away, only to put it all back again when you resume normal eating."
One of the key ways you can manage your eating disorder is by gaining a better understanding of what triggers it. "In understanding your relationship with food or your body (and eating disorders are often either one or the other), you begin to take responsibility for your own self-care," says Helen.
"Working with clients, I find that overeating and obesity are often emotional eating patterns that have built up to protect some belief within the client that needs understanding," she adds. "Clients often start to loose or gain weight when they understand their defences are no longer necessary. So those images of bikini clad women, or snug trunk wearing men, are no longer a source of discomfort or unhappiness, and certainly don't create the reactionary responses they have previously."
Whether you struggle with binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorder, Marina recommends trying to focus on getting a healthy balance throughout the summer, as well as at other times of the year. "Try and focus on healthy eating, which is underpinned by care for your body rather than the punishing stance of dieting," she says.
"When you eat healthily, you cut out many high caloric foods such as refined sugars and red meat, and high fat content foods like cheese, which, especially in high quantities, are not good for you. Eat mindfully, which involves eating slowly and really appreciating the food you are eating, enjoying its aroma, its texture and its taste."
Marina adds: "It is also important that, when you eat, you focus just on eating, as carrying out other activities such as watching TV or reading can lead to over-eating. Eat when you are hungry, and not in response to emotions such as boredom or anxiety."
Similarly, Registered Psychotherapist Natalia Zhigalina suggests: "If you can manage it, have a food plan. Eat balanced meals three times a day, abstain from refined carbohydrates, and be careful when drinking - it does impair your food choice judgement, if nothing else."
However, don't obsess about what constitutes 'healthy eating' or punishing yourself for perceived failures. "If you have a slip, like an unplanned ice cream, do not turn it into a binge or compensate it with under-eating, over-exercising or purging," Natalia says. "Let it go. Do not watch others and compare or judge. Release it. Connect."
Finally, Marina adds, "remind yourself that the way you look is only one aspect of who you are; you have other qualities that will make you attractive to others. The ability to have fun and be joyful on your holiday, regardless of how you look, is one of them; cultivate that and forget about the crash diet!"
If you know you are likely to struggle, Natalia also recommends thinking carefully about your choice of holiday. "Do not go on that holiday if all you will be doing is presenting a picture of yourself to others at the expense of your real self. There's nothing worse than feeling intrinsically different and lonely in a crowd," she says.
"Go instead to somewhere where you can see mountains, sky, sun and a blue, wide horizon; and feel it all - heat, coolness, salt, sadness, fear and joy. Be somewhere where you can afford to be conscious about your emotions, and with somebody with whom it is OK to feel whatever you feel."
She adds: "Do not use food to self-medicate. Do something that stimulates your mind, challenges your body, and nourishes your soul; learn and see something new - not just a reflection of yourself in the mirror. Watch the sunset and listen to the wind, walk on the beach and pick up the stones. They have been there for thousands of years and have seen all the shapes, sizes, and designer labels on people's swimming trunks. Really!"