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As the New Year approaches, we may experience a range of emotions.  For some, there is excitement as we are provided with the opportunity to have a fresh start.  Often we find ourselves reflecting on the past year, relishing in our accomplishments and positive memories.  We may even feel the pain of challenging life events, and hope that the next year will bring forth some healing. Through such reflections and deliberations, we might feel the willingness to put forth resolutions, goals, or intentions for the coming year.

A Painful Reminder

For someone struggling with an eating disorder, the new year may elicit painful memories of the past year (or many years), and serve as a reminder of how the disorder has taken up so much time, energy, and essentially, life, out of the person.  Many clients who struggle with eating disorders find that their existence has become consumed with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors surrounding their illness, which have ultimately impaired their physical, emotional, social, and occupational functioning.  The person’s other memories, accomplishments, or experiences can become a blur or feel nonexistent as the eating disorder becomes a priority in their life. Commonly, the suffering individual’s relationships, passions, hobbies, and productivity dwindle as the eating disorder takes up more space.  Thus, the coming of the new year may serve as a harsh reality check that the person hasn’t truly been living or thriving, but is barely surviving.

Not only does the New Year symbolize a new beginning or step forward, but the activities surrounding the New Year – seeing loved ones, being in social settings, and having experiences around food – may trigger distress as you struggle with your relationship with food and body image. Moreover, a common trend is for others to create resolutions related to eating and body image – gym memberships skyrocket during this time as people promise themselves that they will reach their ideal body goal.  Moreover, your New Years’ experience and what the holiday means for you can bring up feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, shame, or even grief if you won’t be celebrating for whatever reason.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, here are a few ways you might be able to ease your distress or possibly find some comfort as the New Year approaches:

Tips for New Years

Take pressure off the day – By viewing New Years as a special day or occasion, there are certain expectations to celebrate or engage in the holiday in a particular way.  You may expect yourself to feel excitement and anticipation, or to eagerly come up with goals and resolutions that you are willing to take on with full force. Depending on the type of eating disorder you exhibit, being around food, alcohol, and other triggering cues in social environments may create insecurity about food and body image, and fears of engaging in eating disorder behaviors (i.e. restricting, binging, purging).  For individuals who do not celebrate, they may feel grief, loss, or disappointment for not engaging in this customarily special occasion.   Thus, if you are trying to recover, you can try treating the holiday as just another day without the added expectations of food, celebration, and excitement. You can even be creative and come up with another “special” day in its place, like “self-care day” or “movie marathon day.”  You can even continue your regular daily activities, if possible. This may remove the emotional charge associated with the day and relieve some pressure and fears about your eating disorder.

Design a plan for safety – The various associations with New Years can activate many emotions in individuals struggling with an eating disorder.  You may experience feelings of sadness when reflecting upon how the eating disorder has affected the past year and your life overall, including your relationships, productivity, interests, and quality of life. You may feel anxiety about starting a new year because of various pressures that come along with it, or shame about not meeting certain goals that you expected to fulfill by this year.  The range of emotions that may be triggered may ultimately create urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors.  Thus, having a safety or self-care plan can prepare you should you feel overwhelmed.  For instance, you might ask someone you trust whether you can check in with them during New Years.  You might even identify a “safe” person with whom you can celebrate (or not celebrate).   You can plan some activities that feel nurturing and fulfilling (watching a movie, journaling, reading, volunteering, etc.).

Create a recovery-focused resolution – While certain resolutions may be triggering to your eating disorder, creating a recovery-focused intention for the next year can be a profound step in your healing.  Think of one thing (make it simple!) that you can commit to this year that can help you be more kind and gentle with yourself and push you forward in your recovery.  You may plan to write down one positive affirmation daily, even if you don’t believe it.  You may commit to reach out to one friend every week to be honest about how you are feeling.  Even if you do not feel ready or willing to let go of your eating disorder, your resolution can be to become more willing and eager to recover.

Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral student and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She offers individual and group psychotherapy to adults and adolescents with disordered eating and body dissatisfaction.  To start this year with the intention of recovering from an eating disorder, contact Bahar for a counseling appointment.

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