Setting (and Keeping!) Realistic New Year’s Resolutions While in Recovery for Binge Eating Disorder

The closing of one year and the start of another is a time of reflection for many people. With that reflection, there is often a desire to start something new or to change or improve upon something in one’s life. The New Year offers such an opportunity, to leave behind bad memories and experiences and start fresh. 

This is where the tradition of creating New Year’s resolutions comes into play. The people who set them typically have a genuine desire to change a behavior or redirect the course of their lives, and in our image-obsessed culture, it’s no surprise that the top three New Year’s resolutions year after year involve weight loss. While goal-setting is a crucial aspect of any self-improvement journey, it is unsettling that during this time of year the majority of goals are so deeply entrenched in changing one’s body. 

For people participating in binge eating treatment programs, the pressure of these “resolutions” can be a serious and detrimental trigger. The National Eating Disorders Association describes binge eating disorder (BED) as a “severe, life-threatening and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food.”  

Feelings of being inadequate or like a failure are already common in those working on their BED recovery efforts and add to that the pressure of sticking with a resolution. This is the very basis of the vicious cycle many people in binge eating disorder recovery face: Falling short of a goal leads to tremendous shame and guilt, which in turn often leads to engaging in the binge eating disorder symptoms and behaviors they are actively trying to change.

Males who are struggling with binge eating disorders feel this pressure even more so, as it is still largely considered an illness only experienced by women. In fact, there has been a rise in binge eating disorder in men, and men make up approximately 40% of the population suffering from the disorder. Interestingly, in incidences of bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, males make up only about 10% of the population. It is much more socially acceptable for a man to be significantly overweight or eat large amounts of food than for a female. As such, most of the information and resources available for binge eating disorders are female-centric, written almost exclusively by and for women. Because of this, men rarely seek out binge eating treatment programs or even recognize their behaviors to be binge eating disorder symptoms.

A former binge eater-turned-author-and-therapist who specializes in eating disorders, Andrew Whalen, explains, “With men, it’s usually a disconnect. It’s about ‘I want to eat,’ not ‘I’m coping with an emotional trauma.’ “ 

Along the same lines as the example of a guy eating a pizza on his own, when females go through a breakup or other difficult emotional situation, it’s common for friends to bring her ice cream and chocolates. On the other hand, males generally don’t even have deep discussions about similar situations in their lives, so it should come as no surprise that they do not recognize what they’re going through.

For both males and females in binge eating treatment programs such as Oliver-Pyatt Centers, the development of healthy, realistic New Year’s resolutions is essential. Not only can it prevent potential derailments from their success in treatment, but it can also play a critical role in having a more positive relationship with food and a healthier body image. It can be overwhelming deciding what goals to set, but it’s important to remember that there is no black-and-white, “right” answer. An individual’s recovery goals will largely dictate what steps to take.

With all of that said, goals and resolutions are only as good as their action plan. Here are some tips to ensure positive, realistic, and attainable resolutions are set for the New Year. 

Think Outside the Physical Box

Although it may be easier said than done, consider resolutions that have nothing at all to do with physical appearance. Americans tend to focus almost exclusively on physical health, but the mind and spirit are equally extremely important to a person’s overall wellness.

Aside from the fact that numerous studies have shown that up to 80% of people fail their New Year’s resolutions before February, who a person is and what they stand for is much, much more important than what he or she looks like.

It may be hard to see it, but resolutions do not have to have anything at all to do with a person’s looks, eating disorder or treatment. Some examples of goals that fit that criteria include reading a new book each month, going back to or continuing school, working toward a promotion at work, traveling to a new place, or joining a new club or association.

Be Realistic and Honest With Yourself

The primary reason why so many people are unsuccessful with their New Year’s resolutions is likely because they set goals that are unreasonable or unattainable. Especially for those with binge eating disorder symptoms, when a set objective appears unrealistic, people become much more likely to go to extremes to achieve that goal. This is particularly true of physical appearance, weight loss, and dieting goals.

If someone wants to accomplish a specific task or goal, that is an excellent first step toward making real change. However, making sure that goal fits in with recovery or treatment efforts, along with a person’s progress in their own journey, is paramount. An innocent-seeming resolution such as wanting to add lean muscle or fit into specifically-sized jeans can unintentionally put a tremendous burden on someone struggling with a BED, which can, in turn, be a catalyst to start the cycle of binge eating all over again. This is something commonly seen in binge eating disorder in men especially. For example, a goal of losing 20 pounds in January is unhealthy — and highly unlikely. Committing to working with a doctor and therapist to create a healthy weight loss plan, though, is realistic.

It’s also a smart idea to keep the list of New Year’s resolutions short. It’s unrealistic that anyone could successfully complete 20 something-odd different resolutions. Instead, choose two or three things that are most important and focus on working toward achieving them.

Break Large Resolutions Into Smaller Goals

The vast majority of people create general resolutions, such as “lose weight” or “eat healthier.” The problem with these is they do not have a measuring point, so how can their success possibly be measured? Being specific naturally takes those broad resolutions and breaks them into more manageable goals. Instead of deciding to “eat more veggies,” or “work out more,” commit to eat one serving of vegetables with dinner every night and exercise a specified number of times each week.

Alternatively, creating smaller goals for each month or even week could be a more appropriate method. Experiment with it to find what works best. 

Have Fun With It

A large basis of people’s inspiration for New Year’s resolutions is what other people are doing in their lives and wanting to live up to that — even though what they’re seeing is likely a highly idealized version of reality. The New Year should be something people look forward to, not dread, so instead of looking around and playing the comparison game, turn tradition on its head and have some fun with resolutions this year. 

Rather than create a laundry list of challenging tasks, make resolutions about trying new things, going to new places, or learning something new. 

Be Kind to Yourself

Having a built-in break from work or between semesters at school is a fantastic opportunity to practice self-care, which is often something people in treatment for eating disorders struggle with. Self-care can truly be anything that nourishes the soul; there are no steadfast rules about what is or is not self-care. Take a nap, soak in a bubble bath, binge watch a favorite TV show, flip through magazines, go look at puppies up for adoption, or do some yoga. 

The other aspect here is to practice self-love and grace. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. The key is to not get too down and to focus on the positive if there is a hiccup. Instead of focusing on what wasn’t accomplished, think about what was

Just Because a Resolution Involves Healthy Eating or Exercise Does Not Make it Healthy

Something nearly everyone struggling with a binge eating disorder has to overcome is their mindset. Diets and exercise regimens generally start out with the best of intentions and healthy practices, but they often turn unhealthy when thoughts or attitudes about food or eating become extreme and obsessive. As an example, any type of exercise done to the point of excess or severely cutting down on calories may look outwardly “healthy,” but of course it is anything but. 

Men and women who are in recovery or treatment for a binge eating disorder are far more likely to develop these distorted thoughts, which can quickly lead to the cycle of binge eating behaviors, so it’s important to be cognizant of that and take preventive measures. 

Healthy resolutions for people in binge eating treatment programs and/or recovery need to be positive, attainable, and specific. They do not necessarily have to be related to food, treatment, or physical appearance, but they can be. Here are some examples:

  • Being aware of when someone needs extra help (from family, friends, therapists, etc.) and not being afraid to admit it and ask for it
  • Making self-care a priority
  • Limit portion sizes or committing to measuring portion sizes 
  • Committing to meeting regularly or more regularly with therapist or dietitian
  • Getting out of one’s comfort zone by challenging oneself to try new things 

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate when progress is made! Just like trying to come up with resolutions that have nothing to do with food, try to think of rewards that have nothing to do with eating either. Think about what things will give you more confidence and a feeling of pride overall. An example could be concert tickets or a day of doing absolutely nothing.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers

For those seeking binge eating disorder treatment in the New Year, consider Oliver-Pyatt Centers. The luxurious treatment facilities offer a two-pronged approach to eating disorder recovery that involves psychiatric management and medical treatment. Plans are individually tailored and include residential treatment in an intimate setting as well as partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient levels of care for patients who advance through the recovery process. Individual psychotherapy and daily exposure therapies are core aspects of treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers and all genders are welcome, with a focus on the individual and not what they identify as.

To determine if the eating disorder treatment program at Oliver-Pyatt Centers is the right one, contact us today.