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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

New Year's Resolutions In ED Recovery

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

A New Year's resolution is a decision to do or not do something to accomplish a personal goal or break a habit. It comes at the end of the year when people are often feeling a tad reflective, looking back over the past year and wanting to commit to making better choices or to improving themselves or the lives as the new year begins.

Resolutions come from a sincere desire to change,and, the marker of the end of one year and the start of the new, can be a really good time.

Most studies show, though, that about a third of resolutions don't make it past the first month. One reason for this include the fact that most of us underestimate how long it will take to kick a bad habit or adopt a good one. Studies show that it takes approximately 66 days for a habit or behaviour to become automatic. Also, the way we think of the behaviour change is a problem. We tend to make long lists of big habits we want change, like to stop drinking, increase your income, save more money (or some!), or to recover.Thinking about it, each one of these is a difficult task,requiring a lot of hard work.We overwhelm ourselves by focusing on substantial changes further down the road rather than small changes in the here and now.

For those of us in recovery, resolutions can even negate the process of healing from an eating disorder and can unintentionally set up someone for failure. For example, a person in recovery might resolve to “Not have another bingeing episode”, or “Not engage in purging episodes after a meal” as a hopeful motivating factor to sustain recovery. The reality of eating disorder recovery is that lapses do happen and it is incredibly important to not beat yourself up. Acknowledge them, and learn from them. Remember, in recovery, there is no failure, only feedback.

Setting realistic New Years resolution goals while in eating disorder recovery

Resolutions often feed into our pre-existing perfectionism and pass/fail thinking. It's important to work on the practice of setting goals with self-kindness and awareness and the flexibility that can help you thrive during your recovery instead of stumble.

Some realistic goals for the New Year might include:

  • Learn a new hobby. Part of being in recovery means finding new ways to enjoy your time not being taken up by your eating disorder. This is will help when you're trying to rediscover (or discover) who you are without your eating disorder. You may choose to attend cooking classes, explore an interest in foreign films, a new language, or take up watercolour painting, or finally learn to play the piano.

  • Schedule quality time with friends and family at least once per week. Repairing relationships damaged by an eating disorder takes time, but you can take small steps towards stronger bonds by treating the time you spend together as a priority to be scheduled in your calendar. Enjoy a home cooked meal or even a takeaway, watch a movie together, or break out a fun board game to play. Turn off your phone so there are no distractions, then focus on having some laughs and communicating honestly and openly.

  • Perform a random act of kindness each day. When you’re caught up in the constant mental battle with your eating disorder,that it’s almost impossible to focus on the people around you. I found it really helped me to rediscover helping others and remember that I wasn't the only one struggling. Pay for a stranger’s coffee, volunteer somewhere(check out, or pop in to check in on an elderly neighbour. Finding ways to give back will boost your self-confidence and helps you get out of your own head.

  • Ask for help . An eating disorder is a chronic illness, not a choice or a moral failing caused by a lack of willpower. If you’re feeling the compulsion to binge, or over-exercise, call or text a friend. If they don't know the details of what you're struggling with, you don't have to tell them why you're getting in touch; but the very act of changing the usual routine can break the link in the chain that leads to the binge (or whatever behaviour you're trying to change). If you are considering skipping a therapy appointment because you don’t have transportation, call a friend who has been supportive and ask for a lift. Asking for help will feel uncomfortable and vulnerable at first but it's a big step in the recovery process.

  • Celebrate your successes . Being committed to recovery requires a growth mindset. You have to realise that obstacles will pop up and,let's face it, you will make mistakes along the way. This does not mean that you’re weak, or a failure or that the progress you’ve made isn’t important. It simply means you need to take the time to reevaluate your plans and update your coping skills.

Other ideas for goals could be include:

  • Meeting with your therapist or coach on a more regular basis.

  • Joining an eating disorder support group or forum, or if you are already in one, then making attempts to more actively participate.

  • Practicing self-care

  • Learning mindfulness

  • Learning how to be more patient with yourself

  • Making new friends who are supportive of you

Notice that these goals are not black and white. Setting black- and -white, pass- or -fail resolutions feed into the polarised thinking we tend to have with eating disorders;they are more likely to result in failures than accomplishments and as a result, leave us feeling like failures.

Begin with intention instead

I encourage clients to put less pressure on themselves by developing the habit of making regular daily, weekly, and monthly intentions instead of making a big list of tortuous resolutions. In the same way an approach of gratitudea (a small but powerful tool) should be a year-round practice rather than consigned to Christmas day, setting intentions to recover or break negative and disordered behaviours will be more sustainable if we spread the effort throughout the year.

The distinction between goals and intentions is more than a semantic one. An intention is more forgiving, without this intrinsic succeed-or-fail dynamic that comes with New Year’s resolutions. The idea of intention honours effort and process, not just results.Think about adopting a long-term resolution of reducing our anxiety by taking up meditation.That is an excellent but not always easily attainable goal. Yet on a daily basis, if we set the intention to sit for two minutes and pay attention to our breath, this is a lot more achievable.Everyone who meditates regularly will tell you there is no such thing as a bad meditation session. You can't 'fail' at meditation. As long as you choose to sit quietly—and, depending on the type of meditation, focus on your intention, breath, or mantra or follow the words of the teacher—it is a success.

Start with the present

While goals are about the future, intention is rooted in the present. The future is full of unknowns and can give rise to anxiety,especially when you have an eating disorder, which commonly makes you incredibly change-averse. The present keeps us grounded.

Setting an intention starts with mindfulness. I work with clients on a simple yet powerful three-step mindfulness method called PBC:

  1. Pause. Stop what you are doing. Take a brief time-out and check-in with yourself.

  2. Breathe. Take a conscious breath to become present and grounded. Reset.

  3. Choose. Make a mindful choice about an intention for that moment,day, week, or month.Ask yourself:How do I want to feel? (this could be in this moment, later today after I've made this choice, this week, or for something else coming up at work or a family get-together, an event, or trip).What do I really want? Alternatively, what do I want to achieve?How will I know when I have this? What do I need to feel, think, see, or hear?What resources do I have available and what do I need to achieve this?What steps do I need to take?

Goals with intention (GWI)

Goals or resolutions motivate us, provide structure, and lend meaning and purpose to our life. However, when paired with this intention, GWI (goals with intention) we get the best of both worlds. GWI’s propel us toward our future self while keeping us firmly planted in our present self. This way we stop missing the present because we are firmly focused on planning for the future.

Studies show that we are more likely to stick to our with long-term goals when future rewards are balanced with immediate rewards. Those rewards tend to be more experiential in nature. They are about process rather than results.

Focusing on the process and on small daily intentions helps us avoid getting overwhelmed by ambitious long-term goals. We know the GWI’s are there, but when we learn to organize our days around gradual, incremental steps we begin to enjoy the journey without getting too anxious about the destination.

Staying on track

Focusing on gradual, incremental steps in our recovery, or whatever behaviour we want to change or improve on next year—but only if we stay on course. For most of us, doing so alone is pretty tough. We can set ourselves up for success by seeking out the support and accountability that can help us avoid faltering along the way.

Sharing a GWI with someone you trust can really help you. The accountability of telling someone what your goals are, of having someone who checks up on your progress and help celebrate your successes, can substantially increase your likelihood of success, they will be there to inquire about your progress, and to celebrate your wins along the way. You can further formalise informal accountability by joining a group or forum where the members can help keep each other on track.Hiring a coach is another way to inject structure, support, and accountability into your life and recovery. Whatever strategy you adopt, set yourself up for success by steering clear of the standard 'New Year-new you' type of resolutions. Stay grounded in the present, and in the process, by balancing long-term goals with daily intentions, you will find a more holistic and sustainable way to move forward this year.

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