Navigating New Year’s Resolutions & Eating Disorder Recovery

Becky Pike, MSW, LCSW

For many, the new year represents a chance to start anew, to leave behind unwanted memories and trials and face brighter opportunities. New Year’s resolutions are on the forefront of many people’s minds this time of year. We have all seen countless lists focused on weight loss, exercise, and huge life changes. The pressure to lose weight, eat healthily and work out suddenly intensifies in January. It’s inescapable, and it’s hard for everyone.

Dieting and weight loss resolutions and the pressure surrounding them can be particularly triggering if you have an eating disorder, are working to heal your relationship with food and body, or if you are in recovery. A seemingly simple resolve to become “healthier” can quickly become a downward spiral. Severely restricting calorie intake, eliminating food groups, experimenting with a “cleanse,” or any form of exercise done excessively can subtly take the disguise of “healthy living,” but eating disorders thrive on such opportunities.

Eating disorders are biologically-based brain illnesses influenced by environmental and psychological factors. Environmental risk factors for developing an eating disorder include weight and appearance pressures, messages from the media, and weight-related bullying. Biological factors include dieting, genetics, neurochemistry, neurobiology, and hormones. Psychological factors include stress, life transitions, identity, trauma, anxiety, depression, and substance use.

Once an eating disorder is present, maintenance influences take over. The influences that maintain an eating disorder include biological changes that occur as a result of disordered eating and psychological changes that are connected to the eating disorder behaviors that then turn and reinforce a person’s repetitive, disordered behaviors. For these reasons, being especially vigilant about recovery during this resolution-focused time of year is critical.

Those working to recover or maintain their recovery from an eating disorder, as well as their loved ones, might be wondering the best way to approach the new year while immersed in a society obsessed with health, weight loss, and exercise. It can be helpful to remember that New Year’s resolutions can be a positive thing. A fresh new year to develop positive and uplifting behaviors and habits that will enrich your life. It sounds so appealing! But for many in recovery from eating disorders, it may be more helpful to focus on a one-day-at-a-time approach of committing to recovery plans and new self-care rituals in place of old, self-destructive behaviors.

Below are eight ways to navigate the New Year’s resolution and dieting focus:

  1. If possible, explain to those around you that you’re finding the conversation unhelpful and do not wish to speak about diet or weight-related topics.
  2. If trying to change the conversation doesn’t work, remove yourself from the conversation. Staying in recovery becomes increasingly difficult when you are surrounded by unhealthy and triggering conversations and messages.
  3. Think about whether there are certain people or places who continually speak about or focus on diets, weight loss, and/or exercise. How you can set boundaries with these people or limit exposure to these environments? Is it possible to let them know you struggle with this topic, engage in activities or outings that limit the ability to engage in this kind of talk, or find ways to distance yourself? Your wellbeing is the top priority.
  4. Frequently remind yourself that your recovery is the most important thing and going against diet culture will help you to regain your life and maintain your recovery. Make a list of your motivations for recovery and review it frequently.
  5. Review the social media accounts you’re following and delete any that make you feel bad about yourself or reinforce messages of diet culture.
  6. Think about what you can put in place if you have felt triggered. Is there a distraction technique you can use or someone you can call when you are having a difficult time?
  7. Take a mindful moment each day. Find time to take three deep breaths and look at the sky. This will help ground you in the present moment.
  8. Remember that you’re not alone; a lot of people find this time of year difficult.

If you or a loved one is fighting for recovery from an eating disorder, you may be feeling the pressures of New Year’s resolutions and diet talk. Consider a resolution that supports your recovery, such as being more kind and compassionate towards yourself or asking for help when you need it. Step away from conversations that make you feel worse and, most importantly, talk to someone and seek support. Help and support for recovery are available through West County Psychological Associates, (314) 275-8599.


Becky Pike, MSW, LCSW   Specializing in working with preteen and adolescent girls, women, and parents, Becky often assists clients with issues such as pregnancy support and postpartum adjustment, infertility & perinatal loss, body image and self-esteem concerns, perfectionism, relationship and parenting concerns, and adjustment to chronic illness and other life transitions. With warmth and personal attention, Becky supports clients in moving beyond symptom management to identify and develop deeper understanding of the meaning so healing can occur.

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