We are likely all too familiar with the abundance of messages around weight loss that come along with the new year. Whether it’s ads on TV or our social media feeds being overloaded with weight loss products and diet or fitness challenges, we are bombarded with messages that our top priority in the new year should be to lose weight and get fit.
For someone with an eating disorder, these messages are like a minefield, luring them back into extreme behaviors that diminish their physical and emotional health rather than enhance it. This is compounded by the fact that as humans, we tend to evaluate ourselves in comparison to others, most often making “upward comparisons” in which we look to others who are seemingly doing “better” than us and conclude we should be performing at the same level. If we see that we’re not, our self-esteem takes a huge hit (Festinger, 1954). So when our friends and family talk about their extreme plans to lose weight and get in shape, we feel inferior unless we do the same. Recognizing this tendency can help us to disengage from the comparative pressures and reorient to what is truly important to us.
When we notice our minds engaging in the comparison trap we can apply mindfulness and acceptance strategies, acknowledging that this is what our minds inherently do, then using this as a reminder to reconnect with the things that bring joy and richness to our lives.
Maybe it’s being present with your family and friends, finding balance in your life, or showing your body more appreciation and kindness. It’s also helpful to think of setting an intention for the new year rather than a resolution, as resolutions are often unrealistic and set us up for failure. What are your New Year’s intentions for recovery? What are your values related to recovery? Write a list of all your motivations for recovery and return to it frequently each time your mind pulls you into comparison-with-others land.
Just because diet and fitness talk can be all around us this time of year doesn’t mean that we have to listen to it. Tell others that this talk is not helpful for you and is harmful for your recovery. If they are unable to refrain, disengage from the conversation and connect with others who are supportive and have a healthier relationship with food and exercise. The same goes for social media -- try to only follow accounts that are not reinforcing diet culture so that your feed is not constantly triggering you and pulling you away from what really matters in the long run.
Finally, have compassion for yourself during this challenging time, honoring that it takes a lot of effort to not engage in the health and fitness obsession that is everywhere we turn this time of year.
Honor that recovery is hard work and that showing ourselves some compassion for the struggle of staying on course when we’re constantly being pulled off of it is essential during this time.
Source: Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.