Setting Healthy New Year’s Resolutions
Following the hustle, bustle and festivities of the holiday season, the year concludes with reflection and hope on New Year’s Day. On this occasion, we reflect on successes and failures of the previous year and make resolutions that will guide our thoughts, actions and intentions in the coming twelve months.
In our thin-obsessed culture, a shockingly high percentage of goals involve diet, exercise and weight loss. In fact, three out of the five most common American resolutions pertain to diet and exercise. While self-awareness and goal-setting is important in the ongoing journey of self-improvement, it is troubling that the New Year is so deeply rooted in making changes to body weight, size and shape. While some resolutions related may be medically-indicated and necessary due to emerging health concerns, a majority stem from vanity or the desire to achieve the thin physique our society has widely defined to be attractive.
The development of healthy New Year’s resolutions is particularly important for parents. Children closely observe their parents’ attitudes and behaviors in addition to exposure to external messages from television, magazines, the internet and their peers related to their bodies. Through self-awareness and role modeling, parents can help to influence healthy body image and a positive relationship with food and eating in their children despite the external—and often negative—influences of our larger culture.
Guidelines for parents to support the creation of positive, healthy New Year’s resolutions
- Show yourself kindness and don’t make resolutions that punish you for enjoying the foods and festivities of the holiday season. Also, avoid setting goals that are unreasonable or unattainable—when objectives are unrealistic, people are more likely to go to extremes to meet their body, weight and dieting goals.
- Think beyond the physical self and consider a resolution that has nothing to do with appearance. Americans often focus myopically on physical health, when in fact overall wellness involves nurturing the mind and the spirit as well. A good rule of thumb when making resolutions is to think about who you want to be in the coming year, not what you want to look like.
- Not all exercise and healthy eating is “healthy.” Diets or exercise regimens may start with healthy behaviors and intentions, but they can sometimes turn unhealthy when behaviors become extreme and/or thoughts about food, eating and movement become obsessive or distorted. For example, orthorexia is an eating condition characterized by an obsession around healthy eating, while over-exercise is characterized by compulsivity and intense angst or anxiety when one can’t exercise.
- Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Some estimates suggest that one in three people have given up on their New Year’s resolution by the end of January. If you don’t achieve your goal, think about the progress you were able to accomplish and shift your resolution accordingly. Self-improvement is a journey, not a destination.
In addition to consideration of the strategies above to support the creation of body and eating-friendly resolutions, we encourage parents to commit to learning basic information about eating disorders in the New Year. Understanding common eating disorder risk factors, warning signs and symptoms can help you protect your children from these illnesses, or intervene early if an eating disorder develops.