By Maja Kostanski
A few weeks ago I read a thoughtful blog post by one of our community members, Braelyn, addressing how loved ones can support those with eating disorders. She wrote something that resonated with me:
Don’t threaten or rush our process; instead, celebrate our victories – and I don’t mean our weight gain. I mean, our ability to be spontaneous. Celebrate our last-minute decisions to join you out for dinner or to order take-out. Celebrate our ability to be present. Celebrate our stillness – our newfound ability to rest and listen to our body.
The phrase that caught my eye was “our ability to be spontaneous”. This immediately took my mind to the summer season. Summer is often thought of as being synonymous with spontaneity – taking advantage of the longer days, warm weather, beach hangouts and countless BBQs. However, for those suffering with an eating disorder, allowing oneself to be spontaneous or to genuinely enjoy the summer may be contingent on an endless list of “should” and “if only” variables: If only I had more X in my life; if only I looked more like Y; I really should be more Z by now, et cetera.
These personal “should’s” and “if only’s” are always exacerbated by the flashy and bright articles, Instagram feeds and commercials advertising “the perfect summer body”. Not only is this an unrealistic standard, it can also make eating disorder recovery difficult by bombarding people with messages of what a body “should” look like. It’s important to remember that health and beauty comes in all sizes, and that no two bodies are the same.
During the years of my eating disorder, and even in the recovery years that followed, the summer season was a confusing time of “hope” laced with dread and anxiety. On one hand, the thought of seeing friends and crushes at the beach motivated me to lose weight, over-exercise and overly focus on my image. On the other hand, I could never live up to these unrealistic – not to mention unhealthy – expectations I put on myself. The disordered behaviours I put myself through would always backfire on me because they were unsustainable. So with each passing summer, it would be a mental and physical struggle where I could never truly and genuinely enjoy the season – and as Braelyn mentioned – I could never be spontaneous.
Fast-forward a few years to when my eating disorder has made its way into my past: my outlook on summer has completely changed and I have a sense of freedom that feels amazing. I am here to tell you that you are allowed to enjoy the summer with the body you have now! The magazines and commercials will encourage you do 100 things before you are “ready” to get out there, but I am here to tell you do not need to do anything. You are ready just the way you are.
[dt_quote type="pullquote" layout="right" font_size="big" animation="none" size="1"]The magazines and commercials will encourage you do 100 things before you are “ready” to get out there, but I am here to tell you do not need to do anything. You are ready just the way you are.[/dt_quote]
Changing your perspective on summer is easier said than done, of course, so here are some things that have helped me embrace the summer for all the beauty, warmth and fun it has to offer:
Focus on your friendships: The summer season presents a lot of opportunities for social outings and engagements, and I realize it can be difficult to get yourself out of the house and go see your friends. I find that by shifting my focus away from my body and instead onto deepening and building relationships, I am able to not only enjoy the outing but it also feels very satisfying to put energy into my friendships. I make a point to engage with others, ask questions and get into fun conversations.
Temporarily disconnect from social media: Social media has a twisted way of influencing our thoughts and behaviours without us realizing it. Although this can be beneficial (reading blog posts like this one!), it can also have a negative influence. We need to teach ourselves to be conscious consumers of social media and that means taking back our agency and asking ourselves “What do I want to do today?” Not, “What did my friend do yesterday that I should do today.” I find that by disconnecting from social media it frees my time, creativity and energy to connect again with the activities that make my heart happy. The other day I chose to borrow a few library books and headed to the beach for a solo, relaxing day. It was wonderful.
Schedule around your energy, not your hours: When we think about scheduling activities, projects, and regular responsibilities into our calendars, we tend to focus on how many hours we have free on certain days, and then fill in those hours with tasks from our to-do lists. But what if we focused instead on how we feel throughout the week, and paid attention to our energy levels on certain days and times? When we do this, we can be much more intentional with how we spend our time. For example, if you usually feel refreshed and motivated on Mondays, then that’s a great day to put in some extra time on chores or socializing. If on Thursday afternoons you have some free time but you’re always exhausted by then, avoid the impulse to fill those hours with tasks or obligations simply because you “have the time;” spend them on self-care instead. Your sleep and energy levels will thank you – and you’ll have more capacity to be spontaneous!
Create your own definition of spontaneity: When people think about being spontaneous, they might think about going skydiving or break dancing in the middle of a wedding.
The way I like to think about spontaneity is that it could mean doing more or doing less – it is really up to you and what feels best! You can be spontaneous and say no to something.
The way I like to think about spontaneity is that it could mean doing more or doing less – it is really up to you and what feels best! You can be spontaneous and say no to something. Summer often brings expectations to go to many outings and events, which can amount to a lot of pressure and before you know it, trying to be spontaneous results in a spiral of expectations. Sometimes, clearing your schedule and doing less actually makes space for the best summer days to unfold.
If you take away one thing from this post, the message is that summer is just not that special. Make an effort to not put pressure on yourself to look or act differently. Take it back to the basics. Find yourself a good book or a fun art project and get lost in it. Reconnect with the friends and activities you love, and focus on genuine engagement. Plan less and do less, or do plan more and do more – you get to define spontaneity.
The other night I was walking my dog along one of my favorite trails and two beautiful butterflies fluttered by me. I watched them for a few minutes – dancing in between the trees and coming in and out of my sight. For a moment, I forgot everything else that was going on in my life – my laundry list of to do items, my work, my responsibilities – and I felt connected and grounded. If we can bring a bit more of that presence and freedom into our summer season, I guarantee summer will be a bit brighter than before.
Maja is the Communications Coordinator at the Looking Glass Foundation, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health from the University of British Columbia and a Digital Marketing Certificate from Simon Fraser University. When she isn't working, you can find her mountain biking, hiking or running in the trails with her energetic dog.