Like clockwork, January 1st arrives and suddenly we’re all inundated by messages on every platform telling us how we can improve ourselves for the new year. “New year new me,” new year’s resolutions, etc. – all tell us that the new year is a great time to become even better!
The new year can be an excellent time to reflect on how things have been and the changes we want to make, but in American culture, “new year, new me” almost always means “new year, smaller me.” Gyms fill up, diets start, and a lot of people end up starting the year feeling guilty about who they are. Diet culture runs on the belief that the perfect body means the perfect life. And that is unfortunately an incredibly pervasive lie that can take a tremendous toll on one’s life.
When you start to feed into what the media is telling us you might notice your habits change. If you have adopted the mantra “new year, smaller me,” this belief can be a dangerous slope for disordered eating. This type of eating is often associated with yo-yo dieting and irregular eating behaviors. Disordered eating can develop across the age spectrum as well as impacting all identified genders, and those identifying as non-binary.
All bodies are good bodies, and as therapists in training we want to work with people as they find compassion for all our bodies do for us, without supporting a life of diet-cultured decisions and disordered eating.
You might be wondering what you can do if you know someone in your life who is struggling with disordered eating. It is important to remember that everyone has a different way that they want to be supported, so ask them how you can help. Approach these sensitive conversations without judgment, and lead with curiosity! It might be supportive to partake in conversations that do not involve food, weight, or commenting on appearances. Focus on what qualities you enjoy about that person, other than appearances, and remind them of that. Tell them you love spending time with them or make time to do something together. Sometimes people need time to accept that they are struggling. Allow that individual to take their own journey, but remind them you care and are there for them when they are ready.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape the messaging of diet culture. Its reach is far and wide, and everyone knows someone who loves to perpetuate its message. But there is a choice in how you respond, and that choice can be not to give into the disordered eating thoughts. Here are some things that can help you make that choice:
Limit the amount of diet culture that you do consume
Maybe you can’t completely block it out of your life, but that doesn’t mean you have to intentionally interact with it either. Consider going through your social media and unfollowing accounts that make you feel like you’re not good enough as you are. Talk to friends and family and let them know how discussions around diets and weight and food are affecting you. Allow yourself to take up the space you deserve and set boundaries for yourself around topics that feel harmful.
Reconnect with other things that bring you joy and feeling grounding
What has your focus on your body, food, and weight taken from you? Were there things you loved to do that you stopped doing, or things you’ve refrained from doing because of rules diet culture made up? Consider taking time to get to know yourself and what you value, outside of your body shape and appearance. Allow those interests and values to guide you back to yourself.
Notice how often judgmental or shaming thoughts come to your mind about your body, food, weight, etc. How often do you think of what you “should” do? Noticing those thoughts as nothing more than thoughts that simply come to your mind, rather than taking them in as fact, may allow you to have more choice in how you respond to them.
Challenge disordered thoughts as they come up
Is it possible that some of what you’ve been taught about bodies and weight and food are not true? Are there any thoughts around food, weight, body, etc. that you don’t agree with? Are there things you tell yourself or standards you hold yourself to that you wouldn’t hold a loved one to? These are all possible starting points to challenge and disordered eating thoughts as they come up.
Disordered eating beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors can be incredibly challenging to navigate alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or unsure of where to begin, working with a therapist may be helpful! Chicago Mindful Psychotherapy will be hosting a new therapy group “Living In Your Body” which focuses on bettering your connection with your body despite a history of disordered eating, and it will focus on many of the things discussed in this blog. The group is slated to begin in February 2023, and registration is now open. If you feel that this is a group that may be right for you or a loved one, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.