Sweet Summertime, but not for Everybody

by: Suzanne Rogers, Marketing Intern

Summer is here! For most people this brings excitement, anticipation and of course, a new bathing suit (or two or three!) For others, however, summer brings about feelings of anxiety and fear. Body image concerns flood the minds of millions of people, both male and female. “How will I fit into my bathing suit?” or “I gained eight pounds since last summer! I’m not putting on my bathing suit until I lose weight!” or “I hope people can see my ab muscles, I’ve been working out all winter!” While some are shopping for new swimsuits, others are vowing to never change into swimsuits.

As a born and raised Floridian, I practically grew up wearing flip-flops and bikinis. There wasn’t a family function that didn’t include swimming in a pool and there wasn’t a weekend without a visit to the beach. With warm weather year round, I exercised regularly, usually by jogging on the beach. This changed two years ago when I decided to start a new chapter in my life: I moved to St. Louis to finish college. Moving here in early fall, the beauty of the season tricked me into thinking winter wouldn’t be so terrible. I learned otherwise. One of the first snow falls I experienced about five months after moving to St. Louis left me feeling lonely and isolated. I put on a pair of flip-flops while wearing my bath robe one quiet afternoon as I watched the snow fall from the sky above and coat the ground below. Too cold and wet to walk or jog anymore and too dangerous to drive in, tears formed in my eyes as I imagined what my family and friends were doing back home: walking to the beach in tank tops and flip-flops, applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 (something that becomes a part of one’s daily routine while living in Florida) and drinking mango margaritas underneath the palm trees. All of a sudden I realized, “Gone are the days of jogging on the beach year-round and my bottles of sunscreen upstairs won’t be needed until May.”

Much has happened since that moment. I started college again and am currently one semester away from graduating. I became a staff writer for the campus newspaper. I’ve made some friends. Between school work and work itself and all of the activities going on in between left me little or no time at all to exercise. Not to mention barely leaving the indoors during the winter unless school or work required me to. Yes, I’ve gained weight. No, I do not know how much I weigh. Yes, I love the sweet summer time! No, I’m not as eager to go on float trips or sit by the pool now. Yes, I love swimming! No, I do not want to get into a bathing suit this summer. Yes, I eat healthy. No, I do not restrict, binge or purge. Yes, I walk and jog now that it is warm out. No, I do not have an eating disorder. Is my body image a bit out of whack right now? Maybe, a little.

But I know people with eating disorders. I’ve seen people firsthand who suffer from eating disorders. I know what the physical repercussions are for those who have eating disorders, such as the loss of teeth, osteoporosis and in extreme cases, death. And now I understand, although not completely, what it must be like to suffer from an eating disorder. Me not being able to change into the same swimsuit I used to prance around in while living in Florida isn’t even the tip of the iceberg concerning body image issues and eating disorders. I love food. I love trying new foods. I enjoy cooking and dining out. I love sampling finger foods and wine at parties. Whenever I have time to exercise, I will. But it isn’t this simple for everybody. Those who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder struggle with anxiety, have a phobia of gaining weight or being fat, isolate themselves from family and friends, are obsessive about types of foods and nutritional and caloric values and are sometimes in a state of denial. Having an eating disorder isn’t a choice. In the words of a colleague, having an eating disorder isn’t a vanity issue; it’s a mental health issue. Eating disorders affect millions of men, women, boys and girls. Psychological, interpersonal and social factors may all contribute to eating disorders. And for people who are living in places where there are four seasons a year may now start to recognize some of these signs and symptoms in someone they know personally.

Sweet summertime is a time for enjoying the warm weather, swimming in a pool or lake, grilling out with family and friends, brewing homemade sweet tea and eating ice cream on the front porch while swatting away the mosquitoes. But for those who may have an eating disorder, things that come so naturally with summertime aren’t easy for them….

So the next time your family member or friend makes a negative comment about his or her body or repeatedly decides to not swim in the pool or refuses to eat ice cream when ice cream was his or her favorite dessert, consider whether something bigger may be brewing in the tea pot and it may not be homemade sweet tea. This realization could potentially save a life.