I genuinely dislike New Year. I’m not comfortable with the pressure that comes with it. There’s always a feeling that we have to make the new year, our year. That we need to set significant goals and that to not achieve those goals means that we’ve failed.
I’ve only started staying up until midnight because we comfort our cat when all of the fireworks go off. Before Charlie was a family member, I would be soundly asleep long before midnight! I would make half-hearted resolutions simply because it was the done thing. There was rarely any attempt to stick to them though.
Here are the reasons why I’m against New Year resolutions, especially when it comes to diet, fitness and body image:
1) Almost all New Year resolutions are unattainable. When it comes to diet and fitness, most goals that people set are around weight loss and getting their body ready for the summer. January 1st arrives, and people have a “really healthy” diet planned. The problem is that a “really healthy” diet is just a restrictive diet designed to make us lose weight quickly – and our brains don’t like it when we lose weight fast. They go into panic mode, believing that we’ve entered a famine, and make us obsess about food. The “really healthy” diet inevitably fails, and we’re left with feelings of guilt and shame.
2) New Year resolutions are almost always based on excessive expectations of ourselves. I need to make one thing clear here: perfectionism is common across all eating disorders, but it’s not universal. However, I have never worked with clients who don’t have excessively high expectations of themselves which is just as damaging to self-esteem as perfectionism. The problem is that whenever we’re talking about exceedingly high expectations, the chances of us meeting those expectations is almost zero. Again, resulting in painful emotions and negative beliefs about ourselves.
3) There is no ideal start date to have a healthy relationship with food, yourself and your body. Waiting for a key date (such as New Year or your birthday) increases the pressure to succeed, increasing the chance of failing. There’s this ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality that the big day has arrived, and the diet or fitness regime starts now and cannot stop until the bum and abs are ready for the beach. This belief means that we try hard, “fail” when our brains rebel, and then make a conscious decision to continue the old patterns until the next ‘right day’ comes along.
Do you see the pattern here? Excessively high expectations > restrictive dieting/punishing exercise regime > stick to it for a few days, maybe a few weeks > inevitably “fail” when our brains and bodies become upset with us > experience intensely painful emotions and negative beliefs about ourselves > self-esteem decreases even further > cycle continues.
Moving away from diet culture and society’s messages about how we “should” look takes time. Developing a healthy relationship with food, ourselves and our bodies takes time. There isn’t a simple process for creating a healthy relationship that works for every person, every time. Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t linear. There are ups and downs, forwards and backwards moments. What’s important is that we set manageable goals and that when we’re struggling (which will happen), we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. It’s the small, manageable steps that result in lasting change and our brains are far more tolerable of small changes than big New Year resolutions.