As the new year approaches, it’s tempting to think about New Year’s resolutions. News article after news article talks about strategies for a “New Year, New You.” A lot of that advice revolves around restrictive eating, exercise, and intentional weight loss. All of this is dangerous territory for those of us who have eating disorders or who are recovering from an eating disorder. How do we survive New Year’s resolutions and eating disorders? Here are some tips for reframing New Year’s resolutions and getting the year off to a great start—on your terms.
1. Is the Timing Right?
Just because the calendar says it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s the best time to make changes. Reflect on where you are in your journey. Is the timing right to think about making changes? There’s nothing wrong with maintaining your current routine if it’s serving you well. Making changes takes a lot of energy. For example, if you started treatment in the fall, it might not be the best time to add more changes to your plate. Instead, you might want to reflect on what you’ve accomplished over the year and commit to maintaining that.
You can make changes on January 1, but you don’t have to. Pick another significant day or a random one. After dealing with the holidays, you may just want to relax and refocus in the new year, and that’s fine too. Consider the rest of the steps at the right time for you.
2. What’s Meaningful for You?
If you do want to commit to a New Year’s resolution, think about what’s meaningful in your life right now. Reflection on questions like:
- What’s bringing you joy?
- What could you do to help yourself feel more cared for?
- What social connections do you have?
- What are you grateful for?
- What’s holding you back?
A New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to big or complicated. It can be something small that gives your life meaning. Maybe taking the time to have a quiet cup of tea before bed. Maybe trying a new form of movement that might bring you joy. Perhaps meeting a friend for coffee once per month. If you haven’t started eating disorder treatment, consider committing to talking to someone you trust about seeking treatment.
3. Write It Down
Write down your goal. There’s an acronym often associated with goal setting—SMART. This stands for:
Not all aspects of SMART will apply to every goal, especially when it comes to New Year’s resolutions and eating disorders. For example, making a goal to take one afternoon per week for self-care isn’t really measurable; you either do it or you don’t. But making your goal specific, actionable, and realistic, with a rough timeline for accomplishing that goal, might make it easier to achieve.
After you write down your goal, think about how to break it down into the smallest possible steps. A big goal can seem overwhelming. A tiny, small goal seems much more achievable. For example, let’s say you’ve decided your New Year’s resolution is to start eating disorder treatment. That’s an awesome goal, but it might seem intimidating.
What steps do you need to take to get there? You might want to start by talking with someone you trust. You might want to research types of treatment and treatment centers. You might want to visit a center or two. That seems like a lot, so break it down a little further. For example, look at the first step (talking to someone). Decide who you would want to talk with. Decide how you would like to talk with that person (email, in person, phone, etc.). Set a date for when you want to initiate that conversation. You may want to outline what you want to say. Decide on a date for that.
Then take that first step. Decide on your next steps after that.
4. Be Forgiving
Research has shown that perfectionism and eating disorders are closely linked. We hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, and then we struggle when we don’t meet those standards. You may not achieve your goal perfectly. That’s totally okay. We make mistakes, we get scared, we forget things. It’s okay. We absolutely make mistakes.
When we make mistakes, we try again. Maybe the timing wasn’t right. Maybe something triggered you. Evaluate what happened through a lens of learning and forgiveness. Then try again.
The New Year can be a powerful opportunity to change. It may also feel like a high-pressure time. Do what feels right for you in your journey. New Year’s resolutions and eating disorders might seem complicated. Ultimately, though, do what serves you best when it comes to your recovery.