So many of us set goals to change our diet or exercise in the new year. Then, by March, we burn out and the gyms are empty again. This can leave us feeling demoralized and ashamed, as if we somehow failed or don’t have enough willpower. The end of February is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It’s just about that time we start beating ourselves up because we haven’t maintained our new year’s resolutions. And for those of us who feel victorious, it’s a good time to ask if our fitness and eating goals have become so rigid and obsessive that we’re miserable and on our way to an eating problem.
Instead, let’s reframe resolutions this year and think of them as explorations. Not big, sweeping changes that aren’t sustainable, but deeper goals that reward us on many levels and build slowly over the year. And, in honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s create explorations that will prevent and not encourage crazymaking around food or shame our bodies.
1. I resolve not to diet.
Set realistic goals about the things that you’d like to change about your relationship with food and body. Be patient with yourself and honor the process it takes to get there. Research shows that dieting doesn’t bring sustained weight loss, yet the $60 billion diet industry profits from our low self-worth. Vow to never diet again and instead make choices aligned with taking good care of yourself at any size – which sometimes means eating cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday or treating yourself to your favorite dish. Food restriction and overeating are opposite sides of the same coin. Don’t deprive yourself; instead, listen to the wisdom within your body that tells you when and how to eat that’s best for you.
2.) I resolve to include conscious movement in my life.
The right music can transform dish-washing into a satisfying dance party in my kitchen. Movement comes in all shapes and sizes. Think outside the box – or the gym. What form of movement nourishes and feels good to your body and soul? Do you like to move your body alone or with others – outside or inside? Does vigorous or more gentle movement ground you? If you feel joy when you move your body, you’ll be more likely to do it again and again. It’s not a truly healthy habit if it stresses you out or doesn’t bring you joy.
3.) I resolve to feel my feelings instead of eating or starving them away.
We often use food — either over- or under-eating — as a way to deal with (or not deal with) challenging feelings or thoughts. Eventually, it can just become habit. Mindless overeating is something almost all of us do at times, but it also can be a way of self-soothing when our physical and emotional needs aren’t being met. Do you find yourself eating more food than is comfortable to keep yourself awake — or during social obligations that aren’t all that fun? Maybe you actually want sleep or to be in different company, but you treat yourself to food instead. You take care of the part of you that enjoys yumminess in your mouth, but not the other part of you that needs sleep or connection. Strive to meet the needs underneath the feelings and you may find that food falls into place as just one of the many pleasures of life.
4) I resolve to discover what truly nourishes my heart and soul.
We can be so afraid in our culture to sit still and ask ourselves what really fills us up. We compulsively eat, drink, shop, exercise, text, clean, play games, and work. We are sometimes afraid to simply be and to check in with our hearts. Are we afraid of what we might find? We may not know our heart’s desire. If we do know, we may not know the first thing about connecting to it or bringing it into our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to change and try something else, even if that something else might be good for us. We may be so conditioned to feeling lousy, criticizing ourselves, and living in our heads instead of our hearts; sometimes it’s hard to imagine operating otherwise.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat or exercise differently in the new year and setting goals. But don’t forget that the reason you are overindulging in food, drink, or sedentary living may be that you are starving for what matters most to you. Explore this instead and watch what happens! Check in with yourself (or, if you are a planner, your calendar) every month or season. Are you filling your life with the things that matter most? If not, make appointments with yourself. Build that nourishment right into your life the way you schedule other priorities. You matter. And if some binge-eating, exercise resistance, or loss of center creeps back in here and there, try dispensing with the self-criticism. Recognize this as a sign that your soul and spirit need more nourishment and give yourself that gift.
This Eating Disorders Awareness Week, be gentle with yourself and explore what you hunger for.