It happens almost every January, without fail — the hyper focus on losing weight and getting in shape that can make the early months of the year difficult for anyone to navigate. Whether personally engaging in weight-related New Year’s resolutions or not, this can be a complex time for those in eating disorder recovery, along with their loved ones.Taylor Rae Homesley, LPC, CPCS,CEDS-S, clinical director, and Holly Pudwill, MS, RD, LD/N, CEDRD-S, manager of nutrition services at Veritas Collaborative are proactively rethinking 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 start of a new year can seem like a good time to set a few long-term goals. After all, what could be problematic about resolving to make self-improvements? According to Taylor Rae and Holly, these types of goals are often steeped in diet culture, which can negatively impact a broad range of individuals, even those not engaging in making New Year’s resolutions.
“We’re already drowning in diet culture throughout the year,” said Holly. “Then January comes, and we face an onslaught of messages aimed at getting us to buy into the myth that we should be constantly dieting or fixing our bodies.”
“And those messages go beyond the inevitable advertisements and sponsored posts for weight loss products,” added Taylor Rae. “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. Taylor Rae and Holly offer the following advice for individuals in recovery:
- Plan ahead: We can’t predict every diet culture trigger we’re going to encounter during the new year, but we can plan ahead for the ones we do expect. Understand that you’re probably going to come across images and conversations that may trigger unhealthy thoughts and make you want to lean into unhealthy behaviors. These negative experiences are going to happen—but knowing it ahead of time can give you enough mental space to access healthier thoughts, behaviors, and coping skills.
- Stay off social media: It’s no secret that social media can be a major 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 and Pinterest a rest for a few months, or at least until the New Year fervor wears down.
- 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 care plan. Connect with the people you love. Engage in art therapy. Take care of you.
Making it a Goal to Not Restrict
Setting positive intentions for the new year aren’t inherently harmful, however, focusing on goals that are driven by diet culture can be. If you’re planning to set a New Year’s resolution or two this year, Taylor Rae and Holly recommend 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,” Taylor Rae. “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 engage in more healthy exercise to feel good in your body and setting a short-term goal to restrict food groups to achieve a particular look,” added Holly.
When it comes to healthy goal-setting, Taylor Rae and Holly suggest 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
Taylor Rae and Holly have good advice for those looking to support loved ones with eating disorders during New Year’s goal-setting season: set a good example. This is particularly true for parents of children in recovery for eating disorders. Children watch—and internalize—your behaviors and ways of thinking. Staying mindful of how you are engaging in unhealthy, diet culture driven behaviors and how these behaviors may impact others is important.
“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 completely reframe how you and your family approach making goals,” added Holly. “Think in terms of what you can do together as a family and how you can support each other—and banish diets from the discussion.”
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