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Resolutions vs Intentions: Approaching the New Year in Eating Disorder Recovery

The beginning of a new year is often a popular time for people to set goals for what they’d like to accomplish and how they plan to get there – otherwise known as New Year’s resolutions.

While there’s nothing wrong with reflecting on your goals and setting actionable steps to achieve them, resolutions can be particularly harmful to those in eating disorder recovery. Not only does excessive diet culture messaging come up during this time, but resolutions can also negatively impact one’s emotional well-being if they aren’t accomplished to a certain set of self-imposed expectations, often leading to feelings of guilt and shame.

Since many of those with eating disorders struggle with perfectionism and anxiety related to falling short of their expectations or goals, we encourage getting rid of the resolution mentality and setting healthy, meaningful intentions instead.

The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions have become a highly normalized part of the new year and are often rooted in the pressure for self-improvement, most often focusing on health, acceptance, and happiness.

However, both the media and diet culture messaging have quickly capitalized on people’s body dissatisfaction during this time of year, pushing the mindset that thinner bodies are considered ideal and larger bodies should be changed or transformed in order to meet that body standard. These types of image-based resolutions are very common around the new year and can be harmful or triggering for anyone (regardless of body shape or size), but even more so for those living with an eating disorder or struggling with disordered eating tendencies.

Furthermore, people with eating disorders are often all too familiar with setting unrealistic body image goals and the feelings of guilt or shame that follow when they haven’t met them accordingly, otherwise known as having an all-or-nothing mentality. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many New Year’s resolutions centered around dieting and weight management are set up to do, which is part of the reason why resolutions can be dangerous for someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Here are some other ways New Year’s resolutions may be harmful for someone recovering from an eating disorder:

  • External Pressure: The societal emphasis on New Year’s resolutions can create external pressure, making people feel compelled to set goals even if they are not ready or committed to doing so.
  • Short-Term Focus: New Year’s resolutions often prioritize short-term results rather than focusing on sustainable, long-term habits, which may lead to burnout or relapse.
  • Social Comparison: Comparing yourself to others can play a huge role in setting resolutions, and seeing others achieve their goals quickly or seemingly effortlessly may produce feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Still, it is possible to take the framework of New Year’s resolutions and turn it into something positive, particularly by setting realistic and healthy intentions (rather than resolutions) to better improve your self-growth, happiness, and recovery.

The Power of Intention

Setting intentions (rather than resolutions) can be a powerful and compassionate approach to setting and achieving your goals in the new year, especially for someone recovering from an eating disorder. Intentions are simply something you aim for or plan to do, and they’re often better aligned with your true intrinsic values, so they don’t hold the same rigidity and pressure that resolutions often carry.

Instead of focusing on the pressure to achieve specific outcomes, leading to perfectionistic tendencies for many people in recovery, intentions emphasize the entire journey rather than just the destination. Essentially, intentions allow for goals that better promote one’s personal development and multiple aspects of long-term health and happiness rather than simply focusing on a particular result. This can be especially important for those with eating disorders who struggle with unhealthy behaviors related to perfectionism.

Moreover, intentions are inherently rooted in self-compassion and self-awareness. Instead of punishing oneself for perceived failures, setting intentions allows individuals to approach their journey with kindness and understanding. This self-compassionate approach is an essential part of eating disorder recovery.

Healthy New Year Intentions for Eating Disorder Recovery

When setting intentions for the New Year, especially for those recovering from an eating disorder, it’s crucial to focus on aspects that promote overall well-being, self-compassion, and a healthy recovery. Here are some examples of realistic and healthy intentions to set in the new year:

  • Prioritize Self-Care: Start incorporating activities that promote relaxation and lessen anxiety like meditation, journaling, or anything else that makes you feel calm.
  • Engage in New Hobbies: If a new hobby has recently piqued your interest, such as crocheting, reading, or even learning a new language, the new year is a great time to start trying it.
  • Build a Supportive Network: Take time to strengthen your support system by connecting with friends, family, or support groups to understand and encourage your recovery journey.
  • Cultivate Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Develop and start practicing healthy coping mechanisms that nourish both your mind and body, such as journaling, mindfulness, or a gratitude practice.
  • Maintain Healthy Routines: If you’ve been struggling with self-care, establish and maintain healthy routines in the new year that support your physical and mental health, including regular meals, adequate sleep, and consistent self-care practices.
  • Explore New Forms of Self-Expression: Explore other forms of creative self-expression that allow you to connect with your emotions, thoughts, and identity outside of your relationship with food and body image.

Always remember that these intentions are meant to be positive and supportive of your recovery journey, and it’s crucial to tailor them to your individual needs and circumstances. If you’re unsure of whether you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating tendencies, take our eating disorder screener to gain a better understanding.

Also, if you’re currently struggling with an eating disorder and are looking for increased support during this tough time of year, our RecoVERY Community is a great place for members and experts to connect and gain support in their recovery. 

Start your 30-day free trial to see how our community can complement your healing journey and help you have a better relationship with food.