05 May Maintaining a Healthy Body Image During Summer
While the majority of us look forward to summer months filled with outdoor activities and barbecues, some view the season with trepidation. The prospect of being in public with less clothing can create anxiety, depression, body image disorders, and disordered eating.
Research shows that people are especially vulnerable to developing eating disorders when the weather becomes warmer. In fact many eating disorder treatment professionals observe an increase in patients and families needing eating disorder help as the temps rise and we shed our sweaters for swimsuits.
It typically begins with a routine diet and the goal to get into shape — to achieve our “beach body.” But many fall prey to the ideals perpetuated by the media and feel pressure to look like airbrushed swimsuit models and celebrities. Inevitably, they fall short of their goals and the emotional impact can lead to excessive caloric restriction, extreme exercising, or disordered eating. And without treatment these behaviors can ultimately become full-blown eating disorders.
Thankfully, there are steps which can be taken to prevent individuals from starting down this slippery slope. The key is adopting a healthier mindset:
- Vow to avoid unhealthy extremes. Be mindful of extreme dieting and unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in a month for an upcoming pool party. Instead create a positive, effective approach that can be maintained over time: Make it your top priority to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. And don’t go it alone — you may find it helpful to seek guidance in setting appropriate health, fitness and wellness goals.
- Make an effort to stop obsessing over your weight. This can be challenging, but it starts with practicing self-compassion and patience. Learn to recognize that obsessing about weight and size and attaching your self-esteem to your appearance is an indicator that your body image is off-kilter. This may require extra effort in the summer season so consider reaching out to a professional specializing in body image and eating issues.
- Try shifting your focus from how you look to who you are. The pathway to feeling good about yourself is through developing your self-worth, self-esteem and self-compassion. These are what truly matter, not your dress or pants size.
- Put some careful thought into what you wear. How you dress affects your comfort as well as how you feel about yourself. Avoid “super-skinny” clothing that makes you feel uncomfortable and concerned that you could pop out of your clothes at any moment. Also avoid wearing anything that makes you feel bad about yourself such as “hide everything” clothes in black and brown. The ability to look and feel great wearing bright, sunny colors is not size-dependent!
- Try to limit thoughts about perceived “flaws.” Focusing on perceived imperfections and comparing yourself to other people’s bodies is unhealthy. Work towards celebrating your body’s amazing strengths by picking up a warm-weather hobby such as walking, hiking, swimming, or gardening. Then marvel at your body’s ability to help you pursue your new interest.
- Emphasize “strong” instead of “skinny.” Thin will never be the key to everlasting happiness. Remind yourself that being fit and healthy provides the peace and happiness we all strive for.