Goal Setting For Eating Disorders

Written by Kathleen Someah, Nutrition Assistant, New Dawn Treatment Centers

The celebratory drop of the New Year’s Eve ball marks the end of a year and the beginning of new experiences and opportunities.  For many individuals January 1st serves as an opportunity to establish resolutions and various ways of improving one’s life.  While such intentions may appear innocuous to some, for individuals struggling with an eating disorder this seemingly simple tradition can transform into an overwhelming, competition for success, quantified by numbers on a scale.

The after-holiday onslaught of advertisements popularizing physical improvements and externally-related goals only exacerbates the challenge of establishing resolutions that focus on something other than physical appearance.  According to the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38% of resolutions made for 2012 focused on weight and physical adjustments.  An additional survey addressing the top ten New Year’s Resolutions revealed that Americans ranked losing weight as their top priority for the upcoming year.  While this may be a common intent for some people, it can quickly turn into a dangerous cycle for individuals struggling with disordered eating.

According to a recent interview by Psych Central with Judith Matz, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in the treatment of various eating disorders, it is essential that individuals try to redirect the focus of such resolutions from losing weight to restoring one’s inner spirit.  Matz encourages individuals struggling from food and weight disorders to emphasize different methods of nurturing one’s body and mind without manipulating food.  Such alternatives include practicing mindfulness exercises and establishing meditation routines.  However, for many, this is easier said than done.

“For a lot of years my eating disorder was my New Year’s resolution,” said a client at New Dawn Treatment Center. “I wanted to learn to love myself and to stop bingeing and for some reason, I thought that if I made that commitment enough years in a row, something would change, even though it never actually did anything.”

Because New Year’s resolutions have a reputation for dissolving as the days following January 1st progress, some professionals offer methods geared toward helping one commit to their resolution.  Newly popularized approaches related to establishing New Year’s resolutions follow the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which helps individuals identify realistic and pertinent goals that can actually be accomplished.  This technique involves a series of five steps.  In step one, individuals are encouraged to establish specific goals and write them down using simple language. The second step instructs one to write goals in a manner that is both measurable and meaningful to enable a person to identify when their goal has been met.  A core tenet of the third step is “as if now,” meaning write your goals as if they have already happened in order to maintain the momentum of your subconscious.  Step four encourages individuals to be realistic when identifying goals, for if an intention is too farfetched it may never actually be achieved.  In the fifth and final step, one is instructed to increase the momentum of the goal by establishing time constraints to aid in organizing and increasing momentum for accomplishing the specific resolution.

“Last year I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to stop bingeing, and the more I think about that I realize that giving up bingeing was less about giving up my obsession with food and more about finding a way to control my weight,” said a client at New Dawn Treatment Center. “So I guess you could say that my underlying goal was to develop a disorder based on control and restriction.  But this year I have decided that my resolution won’t have anything to do with food. Instead, I am pledging to be happier with myself and find more ways to feel peace throughout my recovery process. This year is about me, not the food and not the weight.”



Staik, A. (2012, January 3). Three Steps for Writing S.M.A.R.T. Achievable Goals for the New Year | Neuroscience and Relationships. Psych Central Blogs. Retrieved December 29, 2012, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2011/12/three-steps-for-writing-s-m-a-r-t-achievable-goals-for-the-new-year/

Tartavosky, M. (2012, December 27). What To Consider When Setting New Year’s Resolutions | Weightless. Psych Central Blogs. Retrieved December 29, 2012, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2012/12/what-to-consider-when-setting-new-years-resolutions/


Published Date: January 7, 2013
Article Contributed by our Sponsor ~ New Dawn Eating Disorder Recovery Center

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 9, 2013
Page last updated: January 9, 2013
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorder Help