How New Year’s Resolutions Can Hurt Your Recovery
Katy Harvey, RD, CEDRD
Every January we are bombarded with the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, often having to do with diet and exercise. For a person recovering from an eating disorder, this can be really challenging. You are trying to heal your relationship with your body, while the world around you is perpetuating the notions that our bodies are projects that constantly need fixing - with thinness under the guise of “health” being the ultimate goal.
What if we challenge the underlying assumption:
the notion that thin = healthy = good.
Thin does not necessarily mean healthy.
There are plenty of people in larger bodies who are very healthy. And there are a lot of thin people who are unhealthy. How are we even defining “health?” Our culture has distorted health to the point that even the medical community believes the myth that health is contingent upon thinness. The World Health Organization defines health as the complex interplay between our 1) physical health (is your body functioning properly?); 2) mental health; and 3) social wellbeing. There are plenty of people who are “healthy” by physical standards, but have sacrificed their mental and social health to get there. A great example of this is someone with “orthorexia,” which is basically an obsession with healthy eating.
Let’s also go back and challenge the notion above that being thin and healthy are “good.”
Until we start to recognize and challenge the bias implicit in this belief system, our society is not going to treat people of all sizes equally. Being thin does not make someone a better person, nor does being fat make them worse. New Year’s Resolutions that are about losing weight or controlling your body are one of the ways we are complicit in this form of prejudice against larger bodies. And this fuels our own fear of becoming fat.
I’m not trying to shame you, but rather to open your eyes to the ways that the eating disorder has preyed on your fear of fatness, and that the thin ideal has very much been pushed upon you throughout your life in ways that are both subtle and overt.
An example of a subtle way that this happens is in children’s cartoons and storybooks. I was reading Disney’s The Little Mermaid to my son the other day and noticed how the heroine, Ariel, is very thin (and not to mention sexualized in her seashell bra), and the sea witch, Ursula, is fat. In this case thin = good, fat = evil. Now, of course, kids don’t get this, and most adults don’t notice it either, but it’s there. It’s practically a form of subliminal messaging. Enough of those messages and your brain makes the association.
An example of an overt form of thin = healthy = good is food advertisements where the food that is being promoted as “healthier” is almost always a lighter, lower calorie dish that is also being promoted as aiding in weight loss. (Think Special K or Yoplait Yogurt). And diet program advertisements where the “before” picture the person is always fatter and frowning, and the “after” picture where the person is thinner and smiling.
We are literally taught to think this way. So, of course, there are times we’ll fall for it. And the eating disorder will certainly use it against you.
Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions
What can you do instead of resolving to change your body? There are a lot of things! On principle, I choose not to make New Year’s Resolutions at all because I personally associate them with being part of our diet culture. That’s what feels good to me.
But if you like the idea of setting a resolution, great. Let’s just make sure that it actually supports your recovery and your overall life. Here are a few ideas below.
5 Things you can do besides diet in the New Year.
1. Dare Not to Diet: An online course from eating disorders expert and dietitian Glenys Oyston. She also has a really cool podcast with another dietitian, Aaron Flores called Dietitians Unplugged (meaning “unplugged” from diet culture).
2. Make a rebellious REbeLoution: This challenge is brought to you buy a non-profit eating disorders prevention program called REbeL. They are challenging all of us to make rebellious resolutions to be kinder and more accepting towards ourselves.
3. Order a Recovery Box for yourself or a loved one: A box of supportive tools for a person in recovery, including a stress ball, journal, journal prompts and feelings wheel.
4. Buy a daily mindfulness journal: I love this one called Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You. It’s super simple and easy to do.
5. Nothing at all! That saying “New Year, New You” sucks! You could adopt the mantra “New Year, Stay You” and embrace your true self as being wonderful the way you are.
Whatever you decide, I challenge you to really think about where your motives are coming from. My wish for you is that you find peace in your body and joy in your life in this upcoming year. That’s what recovery is all about.
Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City. She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.