A New Year often brings reflection on the past year and a desire to change for the better in the upcoming year. The New Year often brings a lot of pressure to set new goals and higher standards and it is almost impossible to have a conversation with someone without them asking you “what is your New Years resolution?” Studies have shown that the majority of New Years resolutions focus around weight loss and getting into shape, which can be triggering for those individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder or who are at risk of an eating disorder. Additionally, often in the form of resolutions, we fall into the habit of committing to something new at the beginning of the year, only finding it difficult to sustain in the months to come. Why is that, and is this something that is beneficial for those in eating disorder recovery?

Relapsing after a resolution

Resolutions seem effective, in theory, and usually come from a sincere desire to change. However, resolutions and goals are not much without action steps in place and realistic methods for moving forward. For those who are in recovery, resolutions often negate the process of healing from an eating disorder and can unintentionally set up someone for failure. For example, a person in recovery might resolve to “Not have another binging episode”, or “Not engage in purging episodes after a meal” as a hopeful motivating factor to sustain recovery. The reality of eating disorder recovery is that relapses do happen and it is incredibly important to acknowledge relapses, accept them and seek treatment immediately. Relapsing during the New Year after you have already set your resolution is okay and is part of your eating disorder recovery journey. The most important part of relapsing is seeking help and practicing self-care. Setting goals that are not realistic can result in many obstacles in your recovery. These lofty unrealistic goals may seem like a great idea but when put into practice they can actual cause more harm then good.

Setting realistic New Years resolution goals while in eating disorder recovery

Resolutions often demand perfectionism, and this is a dangerous trend for those in recovery. Instead, practice giving yourself grace and flexibility and set goals that can help you thrive during your recovery instead of stumble. Some realistic goals for the New Year include:

  • Meet with your therapist or dietitian on a more regular basis
  • Join an eating disorder support group or if you are already in one, then make attempts to participate more
  • Volunteer
  • Learn how to put yourself first
  • Practice self-care
  • Focus on taking one day at a time
  • Learn how to be more patient with yourself
  • Make new friends who are supportive of you

Notice that these goals are not black and white, meaning that they are not categorized by a specific amount or duration. Many New Years goals are categorized by doing (a certain amount of) some activity for a specific duration such as exercising for an hour a day, 3 days or week or eating a specific number of calories each day or saving a certain amount of money each month. Setting black and white resolutions are more likely to result in failures than accomplishments and as a result, many individuals will feel defeated instead of empowered. Rather than setting black and white resolutions, set resolutions that do not have a specific amount or duration. An example could be save more money or attend more therapy sessions. By not having a specific number set, you are more likely to be successful in your resolution and feel empowered, especially during your eating disorder recovery process. After all, the goal is to life a better life.