Reclaiming New Year's Resolutions from Diet Culture
January calendar

Throughout my years of eating disorder recovery, the holiday season always proved to be a particularly tough time, but the start of a new year was arguably the most anxiety-provoking element. The pressure to set and commit to one or more resolutions always created an internal sense of distress as I felt stuck between hard-wired disordered tendencies and the desire for a healthier future. When you’ve grown up with a steady stream of magazine subscriptions encouraging detox diets on their January covers, it can be difficult to disentangle the “new year, new me!” mentality from restriction and self-punishment.

It took a lot of time, effort, and nonlinear progress to arrive at a place in my life where the impending new year and thought of making resolutions doesn’t actively trigger my eating disorder or tempt me toward a relapse. The truth is, resolutions aren’t for everyone, and in fact, buying into the annual tradition of total transformation can set the stage for unhealthy, image-based objectives that ultimately fail and reinforce negative self-image.

But, there is nothing inherently body-based about resolutions; the reason so many of us conflate the idea of resolutions with weight loss and body image is because diet culture has co-opted the tradition through an endless supply of weight loss programs, supplements, and other products. If you choose to make a New Year’s resolution, you can absolutely opt for one that rejects diet culture, supports your recovery, and helps encourage your growth as a happier, healthier person—here are some ideas for reframing the New Year’s narrative.

1. Be specific while giving yourself grace

Research has shown that SMART goals (i.e. objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) are a good way to stay on track when it comes to long-term success. That means that rather than settling on a vague resolution, such as, “I will commit to recovery,” it may be more helpful to define what “recovery” ideally looks like for you. Some people find it helpful to work with loved ones or support members to jot down actionable items, like meal plans and/or exercise guidelines so there’s no second-guessing whether food or exercise-related goals will help or hurt recovery.

But while specificity can be helpful, attainability is another important part of the SMART goal-setting system. That means it’s essential to set goals that are realistic and achievable, given your time, resources, and more. Setting strict rules for yourself likely won’t make recovery easier or more comfortable and may contribute to feelings of disappointment or failure when you can’t be “perfect.” Consider working with your recovery team and/or friends and family to create a few clear, action-oriented resolutions that will help you stay committed without adding stress to your life.

2. Re-think about your relationship with social media

There are a lot of potential positives when it comes to social media and recovery, including support groups, online forums, and body positivity accounts. But there are plenty of undeniably toxic and triggering aspects of social media as well, as evidenced by the documented correlation between social media usage and symptoms of depression and/or low-self-esteem. Research has shown that young women who engaged with an attractive peer on social media experienced increased negative body image while another study indicated that individuals who limited their social media use to 30 minutes per day reported significantly reduced depression and loneliness over a three-week period. It’s difficult for anyone to engage with social media without falling into “compare and despair” territory, but those in recovery should be especially mindful of how certain posts, groups, and creators can affect their well-being. For some people, unfollowing certain accounts and/or setting a timer for scrolling can help curtail unhelpful comparison that may jeopardize recovery.

3. Focus on resolutions rooted in feelings

Because so many of us are taught to base New Year’s goals on appearance-related metrics (like the number on the scale or a clothing size), it may be difficult to reconnect with how we feel rather than how we think we look or are perceived by others. When you consciously move away from physical or weight-related resolutions, you have the opportunity to think of goals that will enhance your life and have nothing to do with food or exercise. This can be a great time to get curious about your passions or to re-discover the emotionally fulfilling activities, hobbies, and experiences you loved before your eating disorder. For some people, setting resolutions around reading, mindfulness, or spending more time with friends can help pull the attention away from the ingrained thoughts and behaviors of an eating disorder and refocus their energy on positive, enriching habits.

While the start of a new year can be an intimidating time, there are strategies and tactics to take the pressure off setting resolutions and to actually find ways to strengthen your recovery. The most important thing is to connect with goals that speak to you and align with your values and hopes for the future. Remember how far you’ve already come and how bright your future can possibly be.

Michelle Konstantinovsky
Equip Contributing Editor
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