Fresh year, Fresh Start in Eating Disorder Recovery

Woman enjoying eating disorder recovery

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

Right about now, we start hearing the “A New Year, A New You!” messages from the media, the diet industry, women’s magazines and health blogs. These industries capitalize on the feelings of guilt regarding indulgence, weight gain or just pure, self-inflicted shame that start creeping up during the holiday season.

They’re ready to go once New Years’ resolutions start being made, and the money begins to pour in as we once again place all our hopes in diet products, fads, training programs, etc. In no time, promises are broken, the weight is gained back, resolutions fail, “willpower” disappears and by February, many feel even guiltier than they did on January 1st.

In other words: they win, you lose.

How did we get on this treadmill, and more importantly, how can we get off? For those in eating disorder recovery, this messaging and the people who fall for it present major challenges to staying healthy throughout the ups and downs of the holiday season. Here’s a radical thought – why don’t we start by rejecting the “New Year, New You” messaging in the first place?

Don’t Fall for the Trap

First of all, we need to recognize that this language is inherently insulting. You’re not good enough as you are, you need to become a “new” you. We need to be strong and not fall for this strategy to begin with, because it is a calculated trap. The message is designed to get you to buy things, not to make you a better person. And what if you’re fine with yourself just as you are?

Clearly, big business is not really interested in promoting self-acceptance and contentment. To stay healthy in recovery, it is important to approach the holidays like any other season, recognizing there are good days and bad days, fun and difficult times.

Woman coping with changeNothing that could or will happen will require a “new you” once January 1st comes along. Change and progress is an evolving and lengthy process; it does not happen on one calendar day, but occurs over a lifetime. Embracing this, accepting that true growth is a long-term proposition, is essential to staying strong in recovery and can be a tremendous help to others so they don’t fall into the trap either.

If people placing their personal salvation in their New Years’ resolutions surround you, work hard to be the encouragement they need to release that pressure and not buy in to what the culture is selling.

Set Realistic Goals

But setting goals is a good thing, right? Yes, of course, but goals don’t suddenly become important or necessary after perceived guilt-induced behavior. Goals or resolutions can be set at any time of year, for any reason. They don’t need to be spurred on by a major failing or lapse of judgment or behavior.

Additionally, goal setting specifically tied to New Years is often unrealistic and idealistic, inevitably leading to failure and therefore more guilt and shame. If you do use the beginning of a new year to set new goals, make them short term and obtainable.

Also, don’t set out to change your entire life, your entire being, your entire person. That is impossible; moreover, it is unnecessary. Small changes go a long way, focus on what is in front of you, and be realistic in what you can and cannot accomplish. If you’re having a hard time figuring out exactly what that is, consult a therapist, counselor, mentor or close friend.

Embrace Failure

Lastly, you can resolve to grow, progress or change, but whatever you do, expect failure. Embrace it. Why? Because no one is on a smooth trajectory that is constantly upward. Failure, falling off the rails, slip ups – whatever you want to call them – are a part of life. Totally normal. When you expect failures, they don’t shock or overwhelm you when they happen.

Woman happy in recoveryWhen you embrace the moments that you don’t rise to your own (or others’) expectations, you practice grace and acceptance. You practice continuing to move forward, no matter the setback. Progress, growth, and true recovery is about getting up after a fall, and accepting that setbacks are a part of life. Perfection is not required in recovery in order to find lasting freedom. Also, taking a measured and accepting view of your failures will be an inspiration to others as well.

You don’t need to create a new you – you are wonderful, beautiful and unique the way that God created you. Change, growth and recovery occur over the long term – a product of resolutions made daily in the mind and heart.

Embrace the holiday season for all the joy it brings, without a plan regarding how you’ll resolve to reverse the “damage” come January 1st. This year, instead of chasing unrealistic goals, be present, be kind to yourself and others, and practice grace and acceptance. Others around you will likely follow suit.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

What are your intentions for practice self-love and care in the New Year?

Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 27, 2016
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