New Year, Same You…And That’s Ok

New Years Day

Contributor: Silvia Solano MS, RDN, a nutrition care coordinator at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

A new year is often an opportunity for a new beginning. For this reason, writing New Year’s resolutions is an annual ritual for many. While the act of pausing to reflect about how to make positive changes in the new year can be a healthy practice, it can also be problematic for those in recovery from an eating disorder.

Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions overwhelmingly propagate diet culture and can lead to unrealistic body goals. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Statista1 in 2021, the number one resolution for respondents was to exercise more (50%), with a goal to lose weight coming in at a close second (48%). Weight loss programs and gyms are very aware that the new year makes people particularly receptive to their sales pitches. As a result, they boost their advertising throughout the months of December and January. Too often, these ramped up marketing campaigns promise instant results with minimal effort, and focus on weight loss as the optimal key to self-improvement.

These advertising claims, plus the pressure to resolve to be better in the new year, can be triggering for someone with an eating disorder. Both factors feed into the eating disorder mindset, which prizes an individual’s ability to perfectly meet the goals they set for themselves as a means to feel worthy.

But individuals in recovery don’t have to let the “new year, new you” pressure mess with their progress. Instead, they can shift the focus of their resolutions to healthy goal-setting.

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Revising Your Resolutions

The first step in revising your resolutions is to start from a place of self-compassion. Practicing self-compassion encompasses three features: First, respond to your own emotions with self-kindness rather than judgement. Second, be mindfully aware of your own feelings and thoughts about suffering, rather than over-identifying with these feelings. And finally, recognize that your experiences are part of a common human experience—in other words, you’re not alone. 2 Practicing self-compassion may be a powerful mitigation tool for reducing the impact of perfectionistic concerns about appearance that have been linked to disordered eating. 2,3 Remember, achieving any of the goals you set for yourself does not make you more worthy. You are worthy simply by being human.

Another step toward more healthy goal-setting is to avoid all-or-nothing statements that frame success as your ability to perfectly meet your goals. Celebrate progress, not perfection. Further, resolve to make changes that foster your overall well-being, such as practicing mindfulness, rather than narrow diet goals like calorie-counting or time spent in the gym. Finally, revising your resolutions may mean scrapping them all together! The calendar does not dictate when you are ready to make changes in your life, you do. Plus, there is no cultural mandate to write New Year’s resolutions. It’s simply a tradition that some people enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, then don’t do it.

Good Goals

If you do want to participate in this New Year’s tradition, here are some suggestions for healthy goal-setting.

  1. Set compassionate goals. Focus your resolutions on a more holistic approach to well-being. A resolution in this theme may include reconnecting with supportive friends, working on self-acceptance or taking time to rest when you need it. Incorporating movement and serene exercise that you enjoy as a way to connect with your body, instead of as a way to change it, can become a valuable coping skill. Any goals you set for yourself should be made with an eye toward self-compassion and in support of your healing.
  2. Set practical goals. If you are in recovery, your New Year’s resolutions could include keeping the goals your therapist has set for you. For example, your therapist may be encouraging you to focus on following your structured meal plan, or exploring your hunger and satiety cues, depending on your stage of recovery. Or you could try to thoughtfully reduce triggers in your life, such as removing toxic social media sites from your social feeds.
  3. Set realistic goals. Individuals who struggle with an eating disorder often set unrealistic diet goals for themselves, only to move the finish line when they achieve that goal. Make sure that your goals are specific and attainable, and then celebrate your successes when you achieve them. Instead of saying generally, “I will practice mindfulness more in the new year,” say, “I will practice mindfulness for 5 minutes each day for 10 days.” You might consider enlisting the help of your therapist or a trusted friend to keep you accountable on working toward your goal and celebrating with you when you reach it.

New Year, Same You

Ultimately, New Year’s resolutions do not offer any special powers to fix the things we struggled with in the previous year. For individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, you may still have daily battles to block eating disorder urges. And unfortunately, making New Year’s resolutions may trigger the traps of diet culture from which someone in recovery is trying to escape. However, with mindful self-compassion and the support of your therapist, resolutions could offer a new beginning, plus a kick-start for making and keeping the lifestyle changes that you began in recovery.

Resources

  1. United States: New Year’s resolution for 2021. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/
  2. ‌Bergunde, L., & Dritschel, B. (2020). The shield of self-compassion: A buffer against disordered eating risk from physical appearance perfectionism. PLoS ONE, 15(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227564
  3. Bardone-Cone, A. M., Lin, S. L., & Butler, R. M. (2017). Perfectionism and Contingent Self-Worth in Relation to Disordered Eating and Anxiety. Behavior Therapy, 48(3), 380–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2016.05.006

Sheppard Pratt LogoThe Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt provides treatment for adults and adolescents with complex eating disorders. We call eating disorders “complex” because each disorder has its own unique set of causes, symptoms, and health risks, and every individual may experience the illness and the recovery process differently.

Everything we do is guided by our extensive experience and the latest research into the biological, psychological, and social factors of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a 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.

Published January 7, 2022, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 7, 2022, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC