Clinical Psychotherapist and Eating Disorders Specialist Angie Viets, LCP speaks to the pressure and stress the new year can bring to those suffering from an eating disorder. In her post, Angie pushes us to reflect on the idea of a “resolution”, and to use it to help encourage and support recovery.
This will be the year! Back and forth the conversation in my head repeated. One hour the upcoming new year meant I was going to ‘perfectly’ recover, eliminating all eating disorder behaviors, all at once, once and for all. Done. The next hour I plotted methods for ‘perfecting’ my eating disorder. Ambivalence highlighted and amplified by what, another day?
Now, as a recovered clinician, I watch the internal battle I overcame play out in front of me with the beautiful souls who entrust me with their hearts as they recover. As we creep ever closer to the new year, black and white thinking—a hallmark of a brain hijacked by an eating disorder—goes into overdrive. My work as a recovery guide is to aid in softening the sharp edges of all-or-nothing thinking.
The middle path—the place between black and white—offers a bright golden light (gray is far too depressing, we need more light!). When we allow the light to wash over and within us, we find an opening, a secret door. Behind the door is the truth.
The truth about recovery is it doesn’t happen on a certain day. Nor does it happen all at once. We set ourselves up to live in a never-ending failure funnel when we buy into the belief that January 1st we can walk away from behaviors entirely. People, in general, are unable to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because we set ourselves up for failure.
REWORK YOUR RESOLUTIONS
What if reworked resolutions? I had a conversation with Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, Eating Recovery Center Chief Clinical Officer and Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Services to understand how he approaches this time of year with his clients. Here’s what he had to say:
“People’s desire to start fresh or to draw a line in the sand and step over the old and into the new has been around a long time. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to say this is my last year of illness, or I’m going to do whatever I value even better (my sport, school, job, art, passion). However, if it’s unrealistic, too much too soon, or tied to an increased level of stress then it’s an invitation not to make the mark and to continue to chisel away at our self-esteem.”
I loved his criteria for whether or not a resolution will serve you! Check out your resolutions and ask yourself:
- Is this goal realistic?
- Is it too much too soon?
- Will this increase my level of stress?
Dr. Bermudez shared that when resolutions immaterialize it adds to the sense of ‘I can’t’ and ‘I’m stuck with this eating disorder no matter how hard I try;’ which can then become a perpetuating factor of the illness. Beliefs become further entrenched when we’re unable to meet recovery goals, with thoughts like: This is who I am. Who would I be without the eating disorder? This is all I’ve known for such a long time.
MAKE THE NEW YEAR A TIME OF REFLECTION
I had to laugh when Dr. Bermudez said, “Our biology doesn’t recognize the season. Our body doesn’t know the difference between the 4th of July or New Year’s Day.” That’s so true! We put unnecessary pressure, not only on ourselves, but our body by shocking it into massive change.
Let’s pause and reflect instead. Dr. Bermudez encourages another path. “What if we made this a time of reflection?” He has the following suggestions to consider when you’re making New Year’s resolutions to improve your self-esteem, instead of tearing it down:
- Set realistic goals.
- Make your resolutions gradual and sustainable. Small changes rather than unsustainable drastic changes.
- Remember that change is a process. Make it attainable, which is by far more helpful.
- Slow down! Make room for subtle shifts which increase your chances of success.
- Be careful not to add more angst than relief.
By following this more gentle approach to resolutions, you are more likely to find your path to recovery.
Sometimes our New Year’s resolutions seem as ridiculous as tucking in a newborn baby on December 31st and asking the baby to walk when they wake up the next morning, despite their inability to even hold their head up independently, sit, or crawl. We would never put such an impossible task on someone we love. So why then would we do it to ourselves? It’s because we aren’t gentle enough with ourselves. We put too much pressure on ourselves. We don’t treat ourselves with enough compassion. In fact, sometimes we are just down right mean to ourselves.
Perhaps on December 31st we could whisper softly to ourselves, much like to the new baby: “I can’t wait to watch you change and grow stronger over the next year. To witness your courage as you slowly stand back up, careful to regain your balance when you fall. I’ll be right here, ready to hold your hand.”
HOW DO YOU WANT TO FEEL?
One of my favorite author’s, Danielle LaPorte, talks about how her New Year’s resolutions always seemed to add stress, “Earn more money, remodel the kitchen, plan a trip…” Danielle realized even as she was considering her goals for the upcoming year she felt dread, overwhelm, and pressure by the process of reaching those goals. Of course, the end result of the kitchen remodel is great, but the stress of having it torn up, managing contractors, the cost and so on are a lot! She got clear that the never-ending striving, hustling, and grinding it out was tearing her down.
With the awareness of how her goals were making her feel, she decided to flip her approach. She began a new ritual, redefining resolutions for herself by getting clear about how she wanted to feel, instead of what she could accomplish.
If you tap into how you want to feel in the new year, you’ll find your resolutions will take on a completely different shape.
SLOW & STEADY
There’s a reason the adage, slow and steady wins the race, is so enduring. What do you say, as we embark on another year, we set small, achievable and realistic goals for ourselves. What if one of our resolutions could be to cut ourselves some slack? To make room for more joy, less stress.
Cheers to baby steps, self-compassion when we fall, and steady, gradual growth!
Happy New Year, Beautiful!