Written by: Ashley Moser, LMFT, CEDS (she/her/hers) Clinical Education Specialist, The Renfrew Center
New Year’s goal setting can be a complicated journey for those dealing with an eating disorder. In this post, we identify how to navigate the season of resolutions without jeopardizing your recovery.
As the new year approaches, we are inundated with “new year, new you” messages. While it may be tempting to set goals for self-improvement at the start of the new year, research shows that goals focusing on weight loss can have a negative impact on our relationship with food, our bodies, and our mental health. It’s estimated that 20-25% of dieters will go on to develop a clinical eating disorder and even more will develop disordered eating.
The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions
New Year resolutions have become a normalized part of the holiday season. From news broadcasts to social media feeds, it seems like the pressure for self-improvement is at an all-time high. While reflecting on the year prior and identifying areas of growth can have positive intentions, research shows that most New Year’s resolutions include weight loss as a strategy for self-improvement. The desire to change our weight, shape and size can have negative effects, especially for those struggling with disordered eating, body image issues, or those in eating disorder recovery.
How Weight-Loss Resolutions Make Eating & Body Image Issues Worse
The intentional pursuit of weight loss as a New Year’s resolution:
Increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, disordered eating, or triggering on a relapse for those in recovery.
Reinforces the harmful belief that smaller bodies are ideal and discounts diversity in body size and shape.
Perpetuates the myth that smaller bodies are always physically healthier.
Reinforces the falsehood that weight loss will always lead to happiness and improved body image.
Strengthens perfectionistic tendencies and ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
Demands your time, energy and a mental focus on food, calorie counting and movement rather than your deeper, more meaningful values.
Contributes to diet culture, weight stigma and consumerism.
Often creates a mindset of food scarcity, increasing the risk of binge eating in the future
Disconnects us from our body’s cues and signals.
Evokes feelings of failure if unable to meet or sustain goals.
3 Strategies for Dealing with Resolution Talk
Even with the knowledge that weight loss focused resolutions can be detrimental, it can still be difficult to not be influenced. While logically we may know to steer clear, emotionally, it may be easier said than done. Let’s look at a few strategies to manage the impact of messages that encourage New Year’s resolutions.
If you find yourself considering weight loss as a resolution…
Consider the Source
A primary source of weight loss focused resolutions come from those who profit from them most, such as the diet, fitness, wellness, and beauty industries. Armed with large advertising and marketing budgets, these industries bombard the media with messages that create anxiety and insecurities about our bodies, our health, and our physical appearance. If you find yourself considering weight loss as a resolution, consider that it may be influenced by a source that wants you to buy their products and profit off your attempt to change your body.
Slow your Scroll
Another source of weight loss focused resolutions comes from the influence of social media. In addition to those industry ads, you will find an influx of sponsored weight loss focused from influencers and other business and news outlets. If you find yourself considering weight loss as a resolution, consider that it may be related to the social media content you consume.
Friends and Family are not Facts
Both direct and indirect weight focused messages from friends and family can be a source of shame, fueling a desire to pursue weight loss in the new year. It can be challenging to hear other important people in your life setting goals to change their bodies, go on a new diet or try an intense workout routine. This can bring up distressing thoughts about being different, not good enough or even less than the people in your life if you choose to opt out. Even an unintended comment about food, size, weight, or movement can evoke uncomfortable emotions that drive the desire to pursue weight loss. If you find yourself considering weight loss as a resolution, remember that friends and family may not have all the facts about what is right for you and your body.
4 Ways to Manage the Emotional Toll of the Season
If you do not find yourself considering weight loss as a resolution, you may still be impacted by the emotional toll of the season of New Year’s resolutions.
So how do you manage the emotions that are evoked by this time of year? While easier said than done, leaning into the emotions you experience will allow you to feel your feelings, allow them to rise and fall naturally and decrease the need for coping with the use of eating disorder behaviors. Let’s look at what that is in action.
It is very common to experience emotions such as shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and anger when pressured to change our bodies as part of “new year, new you” messaging. This is true for everyone, not just those with eating disorders. Normalizing these emotions takes away some of the additional shame experienced. Validate your emotions by reminding yourself that it makes sense you’re feeling this way.
While shame, guilt and anxiety are uncomfortable emotions, they are part of the human experience and serve a function. Efforts to suppress or avoid them will typically heighten their intensity in the long term and increase the likelihood of using eating disorder symptoms to cope. The recommendation is simply to feel your emotions. Approach these emotions with curiosity rather than judgment and allow them to be experienced in both the mind and in the body. All emotional experiences dissipate over time. Eventually our emotional tolerance builds, and we become much more comfortable feeling these emotions in the future.
Connect Over It
Find others who can relate. Having a community of others can be extremely healing and preventative. Consider joining a support group either virtually or in-person. If there is no one in close proximity, use social media to connect with others who share your values and promote body diversity. Follow anti-diet dieticians and eating disorder therapists to help counteract the harmful messages on social media. While social media can be an unhelpful source of influence, it can also be a source of connection when following likeminded accounts and unfollowing those that promote dieting and weight loss.
Ask for Help with It
If you find that the pressures of New Year’s resolutions are impacting your wellbeing, consider seeking professional support, if possible. If you are already connected to a treatment team, let them know how this season is impacting you. If you do not have a current therapist or team, seeking one out that is knowledgeable in eating disorders can be very beneficial with concerns specific to relationship with food and body. If you do not have access to qualified treatment providers, consider utilizing some of the free resources listed below for education and support during this time of year.
The impact of New Year’s resolutions can be challenging to navigate, especially for those with disordered eating or those in eating disorder treatment or recovery.
The Renfrew Center is here to help. If you are looking to better manage the holiday season. Here are a few ways The Renfrew Center can support you: