Rethinking Resolutions: Setting Goals That Support Eating Disorder Recovery
It happens every January, almost without fail: the hyper-focus on losing weight and getting in shape can make the early months of the year difficult for anyone to navigate. This social pressure to engage in weight-related New Year’s resolutions can make the start of the year a particularly complicated time for those in eating disorder recovery and their loved ones. Taylor Rae Homesley, LPC, CPCS, CEDS-S, Clinical Director at our Child, Adolescent & Adult Hospital in Atlanta, encourages us to proactively rethink the way we approach long-term goal setting, reject diet culture, and reclaim the start of the year as a time for renewal and recovery.
Navigating the New Year and the Same Diet Culture
The beginning of a new year can seem like a good time to set some long-term goals. Resolving to make self-improvements in the coming year is not inherently problematic; the issue arises when these goals are rooted in the notion that you––and more specifically, your body––is something that needs to be “fixed.” According to Homesley, resolutions that frame our bodies as self-improvement projects feed into the realm of diet culture. It may feel like the aggressive invitation to fix yourself is everywhere you turn. Our bodies should not be mediums for micromanagement, despite the diet culture messages that tell us exactly the opposite—that all of our focus should be on slimming down through this detox or that get-fit-quick workout plan.
“Those messages go beyond the inevitable advertisements and sponsored posts for weight loss products,” adds Homesley. “Sometimes, the most impactful triggers of the season can arrive in the form of conversations with people we know.”
Feeling pressure to engage in weight-related goal setting or even just hearing about others’ efforts to lose weight on social media or in group chats with family and friends can make it hard to maintain recovery—but navigating the new year doesn’t have to feel like walking through a minefield. Homesley offers the following advice for individuals in recovery:
- Plan ahead: We can’t predict every diet culture trigger we’re going to encounter in the new year, but we can plan ahead for the ones we expect. Understand that you’re probably going to come across images and conversations that may trigger intrusive thoughts and push you to lean into unhealthy behaviors. Unfortunately, the “New Year, New You” messages are so ubiquitous that they can muddy what you actually know to be true about your body and yourself, especially in the context of recovery. Knowing you will likely encounter these triggers ahead of time can help keep you from falling for the diet culture ploys. Use the tools that have been helpful for you in the past, whether that’s discussing canned responses to triggering comments with your treatment team or therapist, asking a support person for extra care this month, or arming yourself with a list of your top coping skills.
- Stay off social media: It’s no secret that social media can be a significant trigger for disordered thoughts and behaviors. However, many in recovery for eating disorders fail to recognize that diet culture triggers can slip through even the most thoughtfully curated social media feeds. Consider giving Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Pinterest a rest for a few months, or at least until the New Year fervor wears down. If you’re going to engage in any sort of January detox, let it be a cleanse of your social media feeds. Consider what accounts make you feel bad about yourself or are preaching diet culture lies, and don’t hesitate to unfollow or mute them.
- Stick with self-care: Prioritizing your health and well-being is always in season—and that’s particularly true at this time of year. Continue to do the things that make you feel good about your recovery journey. Follow your meal plan. Connect with the people you love. Engage in expressive arts. Take care of you.
Making it a Goal to Not Restrict
Make sure your positive intentions for the new year aren’t driven by diet culture. If you’re planning to set a New Year’s resolution or two this year, Homesley recommends asking yourself whether sticking to it will add to your life—or take away from it.
“Many new goals set in a new year can be restrictive,” Homesley says. “Goals that enrich your life are usually healthier than ones that do not.”
There’s a big difference between setting a long-term goal to identify and engage in more forms of joyful movement and setting a short-term goal to eliminate food groups to achieve a particular look.
When it comes to setting healthy goals, Homesley suggests using the SMART goal-setting framework. That means choosing goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic.
Supporting Your Loved One’s Goal Setting—and Recovery
Homesley has sage advice for those looking to support loved ones with eating disorders during New Year’s goal-setting season: set a good example. This message is particularly crucial for parents of children in eating disorder recovery. Children watch—and internalize—their parents’ behaviors and ways of thinking. Staying mindful of how you may be, even unintentionally, engaging in unhealthy, diet culture-driven behaviors is essential in order to keep your observant children from following suit.
“It seems like common sense, but it’s worth pointing out—kids see and hear everything,” said Taylor Rae. “Setting a positive example around healthy goal setting is an easy way for parents to combat diet culture during New Year’s.”
Now is a great time to reframe how you and your family approach goal setting. What goals can you set that have nothing to do with diets or appearance? Remember that you can achieve happiness and health in any body. What values or can you all become more attuned to this coming year? How can you support each other in making more time for resolutions related to hobbies or interests?
We have a long way to go before our society is one that collectively advocates for self-acceptance at the start of a new year. While we’re hopeful for that day, know that you always have the power to rethink and revolutionize your resolutions. Here’s to a peaceful, joyful, and fulfilling 2023.
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