Americans’ top New Year’s resolutions are often to become more physically fit and lose weight. Because dieting and over-exercising are two activities that commonly contribute to the development of eating disorders, we caution against diving headfirst into a resolution focused on reducing body size, particularly if you have a family history of eating disorders.
“Eating disorders have a strong genetic component, and seemingly harmless – even seemingly healthy – New Year’s diet, exercise and weight loss regimens can quickly spiral out of control, especially for someone who has a family history of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors,” said Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, clinical director of the adult partial hospitalization program at Eating Recovery Center.
To reduce risks for eating disorders development related to weight loss goals, we recommend turning the focus away from changing perceived shortcomings in appearance and instead focusing on prioritizing the things in life that you value. More often than not, these resolutions emphasize how you feel rather than how you look.
5 ways to focus on "feeling better" instead of "looking better"
- Be more kind and compassionate to yourself.
Practice at least one method of self-care daily, even if you have to schedule it into your day. Pamper yourself with a hot bath, a yoga class or a manicure, or simply spend some time journaling or practicing a hobby that brings joy or special value to your life.
- Treat yourself as you treat others.
Make a point to practice the “golden rule” on yourself. Try to not be as hard on yourself this year, and remember that you deserve happiness, just like everyone else.
- Try one new activity or take one small risk each month.
Gradually approach your fears and try new experiences in life to broaden opportunities for enjoyment and engagement with others.
- Ask for help more often.
Do not be afraid to let someone know when you need a shoulder to lean on, a supportive ear to talk to or even just a friendly hug. Although others may not be able to “fix” your struggles, you do not have to be alone as you explore your feelings and frustrations.
- Take time to appreciate the beauty around you.
Practice mindfulness and commit to being present in the moment. Celebrate the wonders of the world around you by spending time in nature or with supportive family and friends, both of which can be grounding and peaceful when you feel stressed and chaotic.
While New Year’s resolutions that emphasize feeling good over looking good can support a life of balance, not all appearance-focused resolutions are harmful or dangerous. However, severely restricting calories to an unhealthy level, engaging in an excessive and rigid exercise regimen, withdrawing from family and friends, displaying extreme anxiety about gaining weight or “being fat,” or bingeing and purging behaviors in the pursuit of a weight loss-centric resolution can indicate the development of an eating disorder.
“If a friend or loved one begins exhibiting troubling weight loss behaviors in the execution of his or her New Year’s resolutions, it is important to seek help as quickly as possible,” said Brennan. “Early intervention significantly increases the chances of lasting eating disorders recovery.”
For more information about eating disorders treatment resources, visit EatingRecoveryCenter.com.