Spring semester is over. For most this means internships and summer jobs and vacation plans. For many this means growing concerns about body image, beach bodies, and summer clothes.
When we’re constantly bombarded with photoshopped images, models on Instagram telling us the latest must-have diet and workout routine, and advertisements and messages suggesting that if we do not look a certain way we are unworthy of love or belonging, summer - a time that may have been focused on relaxation and fun in the past - can take on an entirely different meaning.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to exercise, eat well, and feel strong and confident in your body. Appreciating the things your body can do and spending time on a healthy diet and exercise plan can improve your mood and quality of life. For some, however, “healthy eating” and exercise become compulsive behaviors that take over their lives.
Individuals who exercise compulsively:
- often miss important social or professional obligations so they can workout;
- feel extremely sad or guilty when they don’t exercise;
- don’t give their body time to recover after an intense workout;
- continue to exercise despite illness or injury; or
- exercise as a way to “purge” calories from eating.[i]
For people with orthorexia, an obsession with “healthy eating,” the focus on eliminating or restricting certain foods can be so intense that it is harmful and often leads to nutritional deficiencies. Warning signs include:
- compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels;
- an increase in concern about health of ingredients;
- cutting out an increasing number of food groups;
- unusual interest in the health of what others are eating; spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events;
- showing high levels of distress when “safe” or “healthy” foods aren’t available; and
- an obsessive following of food and “healthy lifestyle” blogs on Twitter and Instagram.”[ii]
These obsessive behaviors are not sustainable and have serious side effects. From damaging your body from over-exercise and undernutrition, to losing relationships after ignoring friends and family in favor of the gym, the risks should not be taken lightly. People in recovery often report that all of the obsession with control and looking a certain way created such isolation and exhaustion that they were barely around other people enough to even be seen. They ended up missing out on many of the things they were so concerned about because they were so focused on diet and exercise.
This summer, know that the people in the advertisements and the “body goals” pictures are people who often don’t even look like the people in the images. The right diet or workout will not make you any more worthy of love and support than you already are. You deserve to feel confident and beautiful in your skin, but you are so much more than your appearance. You do not have to miss out on enjoying life because someone made up arbitrary rules about how you are “supposed to” look this summer. And, most importantly, recovery and self-love are possible.
If you are concerned about yourself, take an eating disorder screen - it's free, anonymous, and confidential.
Also on mentalhealthamerica.net
You can also read more about eating disorders from our partners at the National Eating Disorders Association.