As a mental health therapist who works with adolescent girls, I bear witness to the body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, and self-esteem challenges that many girls are struggling with at increasingly younger ages. We now know that eating disorders are caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. The media’s role in contributing to body dissatisfaction, poor self-esteem, and eating disorders has been extensively studied within the past decade. We are taught to be more critical consumers of the media messages that we receive regarding beauty, body image, and one’s relationship to food. However, at the start of the New Year in particular, we are inundated with harmful and contradictory media messages.
A recent commercial by clothing company Ann Taylor Loft depicts a woman weighing herself and then proceeding to obsessively exercise while covered in saran wrap. With the start of the New Year comes the flood of “New Year, new you” proclamations. From advertisements that pronounce the importance of weight loss at any cost, to friends and coworkers casually conversing about their new diet plans, it seems that it is impossible to escape the message that the New Year is about “fixing” oneself. Over and over we are told the lie that being thinner will make us happier, will fix our relationships, and will cause us to finally love ourselves. We are taught that if we are able to achieve “the perfect body,” that finally everything else will fall into place. Below are my tips for navigating this challenging time, specifically for those who are in recovery from an eating disorder.
1. Set a positive intention for 2015
I recently went on a yoga retreat in The Shenandoah Valley as a way to celebrate the start of the New Year. On the retreat the instructor talked about the idea of setting intentions versus the idea of New Years Resolutions. Setting a resolution sends the message that we are flawed in some way and that we need to “fix ourselves” or our lives in order to find happiness. The belief within the yoga tradition is that we are already enlightened and that everything that we need to find happiness is already within us. The idea of setting an intention for The New Year is about trying to manifest more of what we want in our lives. For instance, one intention that someone could set would be, “I nourish my body and treat it with care.” Another example would be to set the intention, “I treat myself with compassion.”
2. Become a critical consumer of the media
One way to fight against the media’s unhealthy obsession with weight loss is to become an advocate for having a healthy relationship with food, your body, and exercise. Consider starting a blog or writing on social media platforms where you can speak out against specific advertisements that promote an unhealthy fixation on weight loss. Speaking out about these issues can feel empowering, however be careful to take stock of where you are in your recovery before doing so.
3. Follow body-positive social media platforms and unfollow or unfriend accounts that are triggering
Make an effort to seek out blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts that are pro-recovery, spread body positivity, or focus on something entirely different from food or exercise. In addition, stay away from triggering magazines that promote the diet culture. Everyone’s triggers are different and it’s not necessarily true that reading one article on weight loss will cause you to relapse, however why make things more difficult on yourself? Choosing to surround yourself with more positive social media platforms can only help to further you along in your recovery. Also, keep in mind that you have so much more to your identity than your eating disorder. Try to find social media platforms that relate to hobbies that you have or other interests outside of your recovery.
4. Surround yourself with people who have positive attitudes about food and their bodies
While it may not always be possible, when given the choice between surrounding yourself with those who are obsessing about weight-loss or their new exercise routine and those who have a positive relationship with food and their bodies, try to choose the latter. When you are forced to be around someone who begins a conversation about their crazy new juice cleanse, know that it is ok to change the subject, walk away, or explain to the person that you would rather not focus on dieting or weight.
5. Focus on finding new positive coping strategies
An eating disorder is an ineffective and dangerous strategy for coping with uncomfortable or upsetting thoughts and feelings. Even if you are in recovery from your eating disorder and are not acting on your disordered behaviors (or have diminished these behaviors) that does not mean that your feelings of depression/anxiety/worthlessness, which may have initially driven these behaviors, have magically disappeared. I first want to emphasize the importance of seeking professional help if you are struggling with an eating disorder. Asking for help is a sign of true strength and no one should have to face the recovery process alone. Meeting with a therapist can help you to process through your thoughts and feelings and they can also help you to identify some positive coping strategies. Some examples of some great coping strategies that have shown to be helpful for those in eating disorder recovery include the following: talking a relaxing yoga class, engaging in meditation and mindfulness, socializing with friends, journaling, reading positive/inspirational books, engaging in fun art activities, spending time with animals, volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about, and deep breathing exercises. Different coping strategies work best for different people so it is important to find which strategies are the most effective for you.
6. Keep a daily gratitude list
Research shows that those who experience and express gratitude are happier than those who do not. Try starting a daily list of things that you are thankful for. This can help you to begin to focus on the positive things throughout your day. For instance, if you are reading this, one thing that you can be thankful for is that you are alive to see another beautiful day on this earth. Practicing gratitude and keeping lists of what I am thankful for truly has changed my life and can help to challenge negative thinking patterns.
Recovery from an eating disorder can seem incredibly daunting, especially around the New Year when everyone is racing to join the nearest gym. However, the fact that you are on this pro-recovery blog right now indicates that if you have not already begun the recovery process, you are at least thinking about it. Know that full recovery is possible and that you are worth it. 2015 is a beautiful new beginning. It is a fresh start for you to finally begin to treat yourself with the compassion and respect that you deserve.