New Year’s Eve brings the pressure of making up your mind. There’s nothing wrong with trying to start over. But for many, struggling with the constant pressure to change who they are, how they look and what they eat year-round, the determination does more harm than good.
“There’s this message that in some way you’re not good enough, or you’re not good enough. That stigma message,” says Paula Edwards-Gayfield, a licensed professional counselor and expert with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Yahoo Live. “There’s this narrative that you should somehow be ashamed of yourself or your body,” she said, adding that messages like this encourage harmful societal beliefs that can easily be associated with food culture.
It’s a long-standing sentiment and “cultural norm,” says author and activist Virgie Tovar, who spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle about the specific expectation that people start the new year with weight loss. “Weight loss is about, ‘I’m responsible for my body and my weight because that’s what my culture expects of me,'” she said at the end of 2021. Weight is responsible for life. This includes my financial situation. This includes all sorts of things. This includes my weight. “
While different areas of life fall under this area of responsibility, Edwards-Gayfield explains why body image is critical. “Maybe I don’t feel good enough in all the other areas of my life, but I can do well in this because I can show that I can be this height, this size, this weight, and I can surrender,”
That sense of control is the direct link between resolutions and eating disorders.
“With eating disorders, it’s not about food,” she says. “Absolutely, it’s food-related behaviors that show up. But when we think about what are the things that are maintaining the behavior, the eating disorder is allowing that person to sort of mitigate or dampen down, suppress an emotion experience, suppress the feelings of not being enough.”
It’s the very sense of control that we crave as human beings and that we feel we lose over the holiday season, when “indulgence” is temporarily acceptable. As people emphasize the need to loosen their waistbands or make room for slices of pie that would otherwise be deemed “bad” to eat, “we never really let go of diet culture,” says Jillian Lampert, Ph.D. and chief strategy officer of the eating disorder treatment Veritas Collaborative and the Emily Program.
“We show up at holiday events and say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t, but it’s just so whatever that I’m going to,’ right? We like to bring that along,” she continues. For those who struggle with disordered eating, it’s hard to not let that behavior from somebody else impact your own. “That eating disorder’s gonna start thinking about, ‘Should I be doing that? Or what should I be eating?'”
As January 1st presents an opportune deadline for people to correct that seemingly unacceptable behavior, talk of fad diets and weight loss goals are everywhere. Lexie Manion, a NEDA Lived Experience Task Force Member who is in eating disorder recovery herself, tells Yahoo Life that the conversation of resolutions has been “very troubling” for her as a result.
“The idea of reinvention is very pleasing to some, but we must recognize how damaging it can be on our minds to try to change our bodies completely,” she says. “Attributing true happiness to external validation is a slippery slope. Eating disorders thrive on poor body image and comparing our bodies and lives to others, so we must be pragmatic with our thirst for change and look inside before altering the outside.”
To do so, Edwards-Gayfield suggests approaching resolutions — whether defining your own or discussing others’ — with boundaries. “We’re not discussing food or body concerns,” she proposes saying. “We’re taking this off the table.”
Manion emphasizes the need for safe spaces to talk about triggers and boundaries when it comes to her own recovery. However, Lampert says that communicating those limits is important when somebody feels comfortable enough to do so.
“We’re certainly trying to teach our patients to ask for what they need, and to also sort of role model a different way to be with ourselves and our bodies and food and weight in the world,” she says. “One tiny little example is saying, ‘I really don’t want to talk about that.'”
Edwards-Gayfield adds that it’ll likely lead to more valuable conversation and goal setting.
“We’re not our bodies by shape and weight, and if we can remove ourselves from focusing on body size, shape and weight and really explore some of the things that we value, who we are as people, would that help to refute some of the messages that people may be more vulnerable to?” she questions. “If I wasn’t focused on my body, what else would I be talking or thinking about?”
More importantly, she suggests stepping away from the mindset of having to address “something that’s wrong” so that people can participate in creating resolutions that set them up for success.
“I appreciate my practices of setting yearly goals and intentions, and then breaking them down into small, more manageable goals throughout the year,” Manion says of her own annual reflections and resolutions. “Finding our strengths and honing in on our passions in life that have nothing to do with our external appearance can help us in refocusing on what matters so we live more intentional lives, free from body image struggles and ready to embrace a recovered life.”
“[The new year] offers lots of things,” Lampert says. “But starting over with our weight, our bodies, doesn’t have to be one of them.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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Despite the best of intentions, once the glow of a fresh new year wears off, many people struggle to make good on their plans. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of people who made New Year’s resolutions were successful. That means over half of the people who set a goal for the new year will fail!
The study also involved non-resolvers, people who did not make a New Year’s resolution but had a goal they wanted to achieve that year. Only 4% of non-resolvers were successful at achieving their goals, a far bleaker result than those who did make a New Year’s resolution.
Naturally, we don’t want to be in the camp of folks that fail to achieve their aspirations and dreams for 2023, so we’ve put together an exhaustive plan for following through on your resolution.
If you want to realize your New Year’s resolution this year, follow these 10 steps: