New Year’s Resolutions and Eating Disorder Recovery

It's that time of year again: the season of New Year's Resolutions.

These often focus on weight loss, "healthy eating," and going to the gym, which are topics that create a total nightmare for someone trying to recover from an eating disorder. Talk about ripe conditions to really stir up ED thoughts and behaviors! 

“I should probably watch what I’m eating too.” 

“If everyone else is eating less and going to the gym more often, then it’s totally normal and fine for me to do the same.” 

“It’s no big deal for me to work on changing my body, even if that requires some restriction.” 

Often comparison and competition get activated, and all the principles of recovery – nourishing your body well, listening to your body, all food being legal, taking a break from exercise or adopting more gentle and less rigid guidelines around movement – somehow end up feeling ”less than.”

In fact, even moreso, you end up feeling less than. You feel not good enough. And you feel left out for not jumping on the New Year's “healthy eating” bandwagon. 

So what’s the best way to cope? 

I like to divide this into two main categories: internal coping and outward response.

Internal coping includes everything you might do to manage the flurry of thoughts and feelings inside you. It’s showing up for and tending to yourself with compassion and kindness.

Outward responses are what we do or say – how we behave – in the moment when others start talking about their New Year’s Resolutions.  

Let’s break it down, highlighting some strategies for each. 

Internal Coping

Tending to your thoughts and feelings:

  • Reassurance (reminding yourself that you're enough; reminding yourself where your worth comes from (hint: not your body size/shape, what you eat, external achievements))
  • Logic (e.g., “Most people will only do this for a few weeks.” ; “Restriction will only send me back into my eating disorder.”)
  • Seeing recovery as a strength (e.g., “How awesome that I can nourish my body with a tasty sandwich and chips (which is exactly what my body wants and needs in this moment) rather than feeling compelled to only order a side salad.”)
  • Self-compassion ("Wow, it’s really hard to hear all this diet and weight loss chatter. Sheesh, this stirs up a lot of discomfort.”)

Barriers to this internal piece include:

  • Unaware! Not realizing you’re getting caught up in your ED
  • Not having time to process – this is when it all seems to be happening so fast
  • Active resistance. Perhaps you want to fit in. Or perhaps you’ve gotten sucked into the belief that losing weight/changing your body really is the answer. 
  • The “not enoughness” that gets triggered  -- and the ED can feel like a good solution to this (there’s often a high that comes with the ED)

Outward Response

how you respond outwardly when the topic of New Year’s Resolutions comes up

  • Disengage (walk away, get on your phone, tune out)
  • Change the subject
  • Set a boundary / speak truth (state discomfort and ask to not discuss; share alternate perspective) (e.g., “This year, I’m really focusing on being kind to myself (or listening to my body or meditating most days or building new relationships or or or or…)

Barriers to outward responses

  • Vulnerability
  • Fear (of not fitting in, of being judged, of being vulnerable)
Dealing with others new years resolutions

We can’t control what other people talk about, nor can we control our society’s New Year’s obsession with everything that feels very diet-culturey. 

But we can control our response. 

We can control how we show up for ourselves, including the stories we tell ourselves and how we tend to our emotions. 

And we can control what we say or do in the moment. We can set a boundary. We can ask for what we want and need. We can more slyly steer the conversation to something more supportive. Or we can choose to simply exit the conversation, stepping away from that which no longer serves us. 

Let’s start 2023 feeling empowered to take really good care of ourselves, staying centered on what ultimately brings us freedom, peace, and ease.