New Year, New Me?: A Fed-Up Client Talks about New Year’s Resolutions

At this time of the year, New Year’s resolutions are incredibly popular, but for folks in the eating disorder community, this poses many problems, as most of these resolutions revolve around weight loss and dieting. To understand more about the impact of resolutions on people working toward recovery from their eating disorders, Kate interviewed an adolescent client, C, about her experience with resolutions and why this time of the year is particularly challenging for her.

Kate: How have New Year’s resolutions impacted you in the past when you were in your eating disorder?

C: New Year’s resolutions were how I was able to recenter my eating disorder. I would set new goals in how I wanted my eating disorder to look in terms of weight loss goals, body image ideals, and restriction checkpoints. They always led me to increase my eating disorder symptoms because I felt like I had failed in the previous months and I thought I needed to be doing more, especially as I compared myself to others. I would set more drastic goals for myself that were largely unattainable so that I had something to strive for in the next year.

Kate: It sounds like you really set yourself up for failure when you created these resolutions. How much did social media influence your resolutions?

C: Social media always focused on exercise regimens or different diets and they were always directed at teenagers. It really enforced the idea that the only way to have a good year, a better year, was to be more fit, skinnier, work harder on yourself. You couldn’t relax. Social media never has resolutions like, watch TV more, learn to not exercise every day. It’s never these more positive resolutions; if they’re there, they’re overlooked because they’re viewed as unhealthy.

Kate: How has your view of what’s considered “healthy” changed over the past year?

C: With treatment, I was forced to confront the ideas that certain things that are very normalized in society aren’t necessarily healthy for everyone. In residential, we weren’t able to walk much or go up the stairs. Even when we could go outside, we couldn’t walk much down the path. We were all so frustrated that we couldn’t move, but in reality, we all knew that the reason we were moving was to compensate for the meals we were eating that were much bigger than what we’d been eating in our eating disorders. Looked upon from an outsider’s view, that sounds crazy, that they didn’t let us move. Some people outside of treatment would say that this didn’t seem healthy but in reality, it was the healthiest thing for us, because it wasn’t allowing us to use our eating disorders while in treatment.

Kate: This is a great example of how exercise can be both good for you but also detrimental, and I think excessive exercise is normalized in our society. 

C: It’s also like that with desserts. We’d have to have desserts 3 times per week. We knew when those days were coming up and it was a stressful aura in the dining room. I’ve seen so many resolutions about only eating desserts once a week or eating fruits instead of sweets. I had one resolution once about eating frozen grapes for dessert because I saw it on social media as a “healthier” dessert option. In res, I had to have cake and ice cream for dessert and it was a wake-up call that it was okay to do this, that it’s okay to have what you want when you want it, and that dessert isn’t always the enemy.

Kate: It sounds like treatment has really shifted your view on what “healthy” actually means. How has treatment changed how you view New Year’s resolutions?

C: It reminded me that you don’t have to set a goal once a year that you want to follow through with for a whole year. In 6 months, you could be a very different person than you are right now. No matter what you think you want to be in the next year, you can’t dictate that because one day doesn’t change who you are fundamentally. In reality, we can shift our goals on a daily basis and creating overarching goals for a full year doesn’t help. Think about 2020, your New Year’s resolutions for this past year probably didn’t work out because we hit a global pandemic. We set ourselves up for failure, but we can’t be disappointed in ourselves for circumstances happening that impacted our goals set 12 months ago.

Kate: That’s a good point about 2020. It’s been a total dumpster fire and most people probably have not achieved their New Year’s resolutions from last year because of it. Do you think the pandemic will influence how people create resolutions this year?

C: I’ve already seen a lot of “lose the Quarantine 15 in 2021” posts on social media and I think a lot of people are hopeful about 2021 because of how shitty 2020 was. When we set our expectations so high, we can’t always achieve them. Everyone imagines 2021 to be this great thing, but in reality we’re still in quarantine, our numbers are still high, and it’s going to take months to distribute a vaccine. Creating this expectation that everything has to be better by the end of 2021 will make us that much more disappointed.

Kate: Can we talk about the “Quarantine 15” for a second? Tell us what that is and why it’s bullshit.

C: I feel like many people gained weight during quarantine due to not having the same fitness routines that we used to have – even something as simple as not walking in the hallways at school and work – and we don’t have access to the same food as before. People are eating take-out more because everyone is emotionally exhausted and sometimes cooking feels like too much. And we’re stuck at home all day so people might be eating more to find a little joy or because it’s mindless eating. People gaining weight is normal and expected right now and by making weight gain something that is feared and should be changed just further stigmatizes weight gain as this negative thing. In reality, it’s just another body function. Our bodies gain and lose weight every day and it changes so often. Our body is reflecting how crazy of a year it’s been and by making it such a negative thing, it turns something normal into something that should be hated or feared.

Kate: I feel like this really stigmatizes and demonizes folks in larger bodies or people working toward recovery from their eating disorder who need to gain weight in that process.

C: Especially in eating disorder recovery, a lot of us are told we have to gain weight and that conversation happens early on in treatment. It’s difficult to have that conversation when you know society views weight gain as such a negative thing. By creating a fear of weight gain that is so ingrained in our society, it devalues members of society who are in larger bodies. It makes them into someone to fear, which is fucked up. 

Kate: That’s why the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement is so important – because it proves that “healthy” can look different and you don’t have to be thin to be healthy.

C: I can 100% say that if you compared someone in a larger body to me when I was at my lowest weight during my eating disorder, they would be healthier than me. I was doing so many things to achieve a smaller body that was destroying my body’s ability to function and the fact that people cannot even recognize that I was the unhealthy one compared to someone in a larger body is really sad. We value thinness so much in our society that we assume that anyone who is losing weight is doing it in a healthy way and it completely invalidates those suffering from eating disorders, mental health issues, or physical health problems who are losing weight for bad reasons.

Kate: It’s sad to me that our society is still valuing thinness so much and that it’s reflected in what you’re seeing on social media about losing the “Quarantine 15,” considering everything we’ve gone through collectively this year. 

C: Especially because some resolutions can be healthy. I’ve created a short-term goal, which I guess it kind of a resolution, to not purge. 

Kate: What happens if you do purge?

C: I know that if I do purge, I can’t see it as a personal failure because the purging represents so much more and is just a physical manifestation of deeper issues. I can’t get angry with myself for not being able to achieve my resolution when I know the circumstances surrounding it. I just have to regroup and move forward.

Kate: It sounds like you’re setting an intention, as opposed to creating a resolution.

C: Yeah. Setting intentions allows for growth while also keeping in mind that it’s okay to have slip ups, versus a resolution that creates the idea that if you don’t follow through 100% that you’re a failure.

Kate: One last thing I want to ask about is the “new year, new me” mantra. What are your thoughts on that?

C: Bullshit. We don’t change in the matter of one night, counting down from 10 as the clocks change. The earth really didn’t move that much in the matter of seconds that we’ve dictated to be this all-important shift in our lives. We’re the same people on the 1st as on the 31st. By creating this idea that we have to be a “new person” in the new year sets us up to be disappointed.

Kate: It sounds like the idea of resolutions and “new year, new me” is all leading to failure and disappointment.

C: When you feel like you have to force yourself to change every single year, you just end up disappointed when you don’t reach these goals that are often unattainable. We create these long-term goals and expect them to happen in a short timeframe. Plus, you’re enough just the way you are, as cheesy as it sounds. Goals are great, but ultimately they aren’t always authentic to our values, past experiences, and who we are as people. We are who we are because of what we’ve been through, good and bad. My message to everyone this New Year’s is that you are enough, especially having gotten through this year because of how shitty it’s been and how many obstacles have been thrown at all of us. 

Kate: Hell yes! Surviving not thriving has been important to remember this year, and hopefully people will work on setting intentions rather than unattainable, diet-culture resolutions as we head into the new year.