It’s Summertime! (…and um, now what?)

It’s time for sunscreen, warm nights and the sort of (cautious) socializing most of us have not enjoyed since March of 2020. As the bleak Covid curtain slowly recedes into history, we face the opening days of summer 2021 with a collective touch of PTSD.  For a lot of us, the previous pandemic period brought with it something of an erosion of the usual structures that had been governing our lives and habits. But despite the pandemic, things like zoom meetings and appointments, kids’ school schedules, and other resilient aspects of normal life kept most of us still operating on some sort of schedule. (Even if a lot of people discovered they weren’t maybe showering quite as often. No judgments.) As this summer begins to bloom into full flower, many people—eager for a change—will embrace the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”  We’re not talking about occasional days off, but long stretches of days of relaxation; little to do… and lots of time to do it.
Unfortunately, this lack of structure presents a challenging problem for most people with eating disorders.  

Downsides of Too-Little Structure

Earlier in my career,  I worked at treatment centers that provided nutrition and psychological counseling to people struggling with various eating-related disorders. For five days a week, daily schedule structure was a major part of treatment for clients with a wide range of eating issues. But on weekends these clients were largely on their own, and the disordered thoughts (that were held at bay while the clients worked with counselors) got much louder when treatment hours were over. Many struggled terribly over weekends, on their own and unsupported.

When Every Day is a Weekend

Well-defined structure to our days decreases anxiety and provides consistency.  When the days are not structured, the empty days of some people become vulnerable to unwelcome behavior. Their daily structural emptiness cries out to be filled with something; these empty days run the risk of becoming filled with thoughts of worry. It has been well-established that one way people with eating issues calm their worries is through eating-related acting-out: either by restricting their nutrition or by binge eating. Additionally, many people eat because of simple boredom.

Solutions Are Available

Luckily, there are a few useful, concrete solutions. The most obvious solution is to plan out your days. Put down times for meals and snacks in a summertime calendar. Schedule activities as well, such as a morning walk or bike ride at 10:00 – 11;00, before it gets too hot. 3:00 – 4:30 to read a book.
I haven’t forgotten that the theme of this blog for 2021 is Flexibility. So for those who push back against the harsh confines of structure, feel free to make your structure more flexible; it can give you the benefits of some consistency as well as wiggle room. There is always room for spontaneity, of course, but if you can’t think of something to do, you can always look to your schedule to keep you from being bored!

Most People Thrive On Structure

There are a few reasons why structure is so beneficial. Predictability helps decrease feelings of anxiety. It is (obviously) easier to not “boredom-eat” when you are busy. Make a schedule of activities so you have a clear sense of  how each day will flow.

Lots to do When You Feel Like Doing Nothing at All

Do things on your own terms so you don’t feel overbooked. Set aside time for meditation or yoga; starting a path of personal growth is a great goal when you have the time to melt into that quest. Since many people feel a bit lost when the days are not organized, launch organization projects, like organizing your photos, family mementos, or storage spaces. For those times you feel more ambitious, start art or crafting projects. If you plan on just relaxing, do it with mindful intention and work that into your schedule as well!

Enjoy Your Summer!

However you spend your summer, might I suggest you do all of it mindfully and with clear intention. The point is for us to make it through the “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” without getting a little hazy and crazy ourselves!