Why summer is the best time to get help for your child’s eating disorder.
Every year, summer brings an opportunity for children to take a step back from the pressures of school and take a well-deserved break.
The restrictions are off, and finally, your child can relax and unwind, but what does this sudden freedom and shift in lifestyle mean for those who are struggling with eating disorders?
Does summer break make eating disorder symptoms worse, or is it an opportunity for improvement?
The answer is: it can be both.
Your child is out of school, academic pressures have decreased, pressures seem to be cooling down, and for some kids it may seem as if their eating disorder is getting better by itself.
Parents often assume that spending time with their family and having plans for summer will make it easier for the eating disorder to just go away.
Unfortunately, putting off treatment during summer could be a huge mistake.
Eating disorders are much more complex and deep-rooted than that. Even if the symptoms subside for some time, they can quickly get back up and worsen if the person is not getting proper support and treatment.
Eating disorders have a high relapse rate, and out of all mental health issues, illnesses like anorexia nervosa can have the most damaging impact on a person.
A young person’s eating disorder must not be taken lightly, and it is crucial that they get timely and adequate support.
Summer is the time where parents of children with eating disorders should double their efforts instead of toning down.
Even if this break does not cause a flare up your child’s symptoms, it can be an excellent opportunity to focus entirely on improving and reinforcing positive behaviors. These three months can be an immensely powerful block of time to help children learn to manage their symptoms effectively, before the pressures of school start up again.
Let us examine why summer should not be taken lightly for kids with eating disorders and why delaying treatment is not a good idea.
Summer is associated with having fun outside, going to beaches, and “The swimsuit season.”
This means naturally less clothing and more body exposure. Fitting into a swimsuit or wearing more revealing attire can be exceptionally hard for someone who suffers from body image problems.
For children and teens struggling with body dysmorphia, this change of clothing can trigger shame and an increase in dissatisfaction with their bodies.
And to cope with it, several symptoms of eating disorders can resurface and therefore increase the chances of your child resorting to unhealthy eating patterns to get their weight under control or even relapsing to previous eating disorder symptoms that had been in remission, such as abuse of laxatives or purging.
They might become victims of anorexia, where they refuse to eat food, even to dangerously unhealthy levels, so that they can lose fat and maintain their ideal body shape, even if it is seriously harming their health.
They might also develop bulimia nervosa, where they first engage in binge eating, regret their decisions to overeat, and then purge to get rid of extra food.
Moreover, summer break reduces structured routines during the day, which could mean skipping meals, unhealthy sleep patterns, and more accessible access to emotionally comforting snacks. This loss of routine can cause kids to move away from the positive coping strategies that were helping them stay healthy and cope with their eating disorder.
Kids often have more free time, which leads to more alone time during the summer.
Isolation, boredom, and secrecy provide excellent conditions for your child’s insecurities and eating disorder to thrive. Initiating new habits or leaving previous ones can also be a stressful transition.
They might start binge eating to cope with boredom, stress, or sadness.
Food is comforting and readily available - it can help fight stress temporarily. Abuse of food as a coping mechanism can exacerbate body image issues.
Not to mention the fuel social media can add to the fire. A bombardment of seemingly perfect and beautiful photos of men and women can increase the desire for an unrealistic body figure, thus increasing the dissatisfaction with our body.
This frustration can result in forming obsessions with healthy eating and exercising.
While it is good to focus on an improved diet and physical activity, individuals with eating disorders often take it to the extreme.
This overindulgence in clean food and exercise can also lead to the development of orthorexia which is an eating disorder where a person puts too much emphasis on making sure that they are exercising and eating right, so much so that it could damage social interactions and a person’s ability to function in society properly.
All these factors can make eating disorders particularly challenging during summer.
When the social pressure resumes during fall, it can make it difficult for children to maintain mental resilience and get back on track.
And if the symptoms of eating disorders worsen and get out of hand, it can result in a crisis that leads to needing to drop out of school to get treatment.
But things do not have to be this way.
Summer also presents us with an opportunity where we can not only reverse but improve a child’s ability to cope with these troublesome symptoms.
In fact, summer can be one of the most advantageous times of the year for getting therapy for your child.
Let us look at how you can turn these three months of summer into some of the most helpful months for your child with an eating disorder.
Opting for summer as the time of treatment for your child might turn out to be the most logical solution because there is no academic burden, so it can be more convenient for both parents and children to completely focus on counseling.
Eating disorders often have co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, self-esteem problems, anxiety disorder, or a combination of these issues.
Even if your child’s symptoms have improved, getting therapy during these three months could help them reinforce their gains, treat other coexisting mental health concerns, and provide them with the proper guidance to develop better body image and self-esteem.
Summer also means children have more free time to engage in activities that improve their mental health and further reinforce healthy coping mechanisms.
This could include starting a meditation practice, enrolling in a yoga class, or doing whatever makes them feel at peace with themselves.
You also can join support groups where people are dealing with the same problems. These people are here to provide you with help, hope, and advice. This could help you learn from other peoples’ experiences and make your child feel less alone about their eating disorder.
It is also better to get help when you are not in a crisis. You have at least three months to turn symptoms around without competing with school stress. You may also not need as intense a form of treatment as an inpatient.
These three months can play a significant role in making or breaking your child’s eating disorder.
So, use this time to your and your child’s advantage and help them develop lifelong skills by enrolling them in therapy and getting them lasting help to overcome their body image issues.