Body Image & Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder

 
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Spring is upon us, and for many people the longer days and milder temperatures bring a sense of relief and renewed hope. This is especially true for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often described as “the winter blues,” (which does not accurately reflect the seriousness of this condition). Winter SAD is often accompanied by low energy, changes in sleep, irritability, sadness, and isolation, and is considered a form of major depression.

For those with an eating disorder, negative body image or orthorexia (the obsession with “clean eating” and “wellness”), the warmer months can often be just as challenging, if not more so. In extreme cases, this might manifest as reverse seasonal affective disorder, or summer SAD.

For many it is a jarring transition to lighter layers of clothing while the $70 billion diet industry is coming out in full force to convince us that rapid weight loss is the key to our happiness. It may seem like everyone else is frolicking around in short shorts and taking spontaneous trips to the beach (or down the shore as we say in the Philadelphia area), while someone with an eating disorder finds themself inside agonizing over their body, vowing that next year they’ll “fix it” in time to participate.

Diet culture teaches us that only if we shrink ourselves and fix every perceived flaw are we worthy of a full, joyful life.

What if I told you it’s possible to enjoy your life in the body you’re in right now? That you deserve all the pleasures of spring and summer as much as anyone else—sitting outside enjoying margaritas and chips, feeling the sun on your skin in a bathing suit, showing up to picnics in whatever clothes feel good and not stressing over the food? That you’re allowed to wear a tank top right now, without changing your body one bit?

SAD is a serious condition and if you’re experiencing any depressive or anxious symptoms related to the change in seasons, you should know that you are not alone and consider seeking treatment as soon as possible. The same goes for eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder), as well as body image concerns, chronic dieting, and compulsive exercising—for these and related issues, seek out a professional who embraces Health at Every Size (HAES) and can help you work through feelings of body shame and weight preoccupation.

In the meantime, if you’re hoping to invite some body positivity in to your transition to spring and summer, here are 10 of my top tips:

  1. Get clothes that fit comfortably. It’s worth investing in a few pieces that are breathable and comfortable. Don’t get hung up on sizes; they don’t mean anything. It’s just important that your clothes fit so you can stop thinking about them once they’re on and be present throughout your day. While you’re at it…

  2. Forget fashion rules about what certain body types “should” or “shouldn’t” wear. Rompers, tube tops, shorts, sundresses–wear whatever feels comfortable and makes you feel like you is fair game. Go for the bold colors or patterns if that’s what you’re into. You deserve to express yourself and be seen!

  3. Opt out of diet talk at work. It’s so easy to get sucked in when your coworkers start talking about getting “ready for summer” with some new fad diet. But you know better than to engage with it. Try changing the subject by asking your coworker, “So what else do you like to do outside of work besides diet?” Hopefully they’ll get the message.

  4. Unfollow “fitspo” accounts or anyone who talks about getting their body “beach ready.” If you are in a body now and want to go to the beach, you are beach ready. Full stop. While you’re cleaning up your feed…

  5. Make sure to follow body positive accounts that reflect body diversity. Flood your feed with images of people you respect and admire in a range of body sizes and types living their lives unapologetically.

  6. Buy a bathing suit that fits your right-now body. You don’t need to change your body in any way to wear a bathing suit. Why torture yourself and wait, only to get to the store towards the end of the season when there’s nothing left anyway. You deserve the sun on your skin, the waves lapping at your feet, the memories you’ll create with your loved ones—all in the body you’re in at this very moment.

  7. Get outside without your fitness tracker. It’s natural to feel the urge to get out more after the dark, cold winter (when there’s an evolutionarily advantageous instinct to hibernate and conserve energy). If the outdoors are calling, go for it—but try leaving your fitness tracker behind. You don’t need a step count to know what movement your body needs and when it feels complete.

  8. Visualize what you want to remember about this summer after it’s over. Do you want to look back and remember staying home because you were too self-conscious about your body? Or having spent hours inside at the gym and avoiding barbecues because the food wasn’t “clean” enough? What if instead you looked back and remembered laughing until you cried with friends, the feeling of your bare feet in the grass at the park, the simple joy of lying on the beach all day?

  9. Ramp up the self-care. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, practice boundary setting, stay hydrated, schedule down time–whatever helps you to recharge and feel balanced, both physically and emotionally.

  10. Ask for help when you need it. Reach out to a friend you can trust to listen without judgment, ideally someone on their own path to embracing body positivity. If your negative feelings around body image still feel too overwhelming, consider working with a body positive therapist to explore these issues more fully and work towards healing your relationship with eating and body image.

However you’re feeling about the transition to spring and summer, I wish you a kind and peaceful relationship with yourself. Please feel free to reach out any time of the year at jenny@homebodytherapy.com if you’re interested in working together to heal your relationship with food and body image.

 
Melissa Alam