I don’t like January. It’s a time of starting new diets and reassessing why we failed to lose the 10 pounds we’ve been trying to lose since last January. It’s a time for implementing new workout plans to replace the ones we gave up on last January—or, if we were really resolute, the ones that actually lasted through last February before we gave up.
January is a month of new beginnings, new resolutions. We’re determined that this year, we can achieve our personal goals, whether they’re realistic and reasonable or monumentally unattainable. We’re buoyed by unbridled hope that the newfound patterns of eating and exercising we’re implementing this January will propel us to shed our excess pounds and tighten up our sagging tushies, once and for all.
New year, new anxiety
People with eating disorders already feel guilty enough about what they’re doing to their bodies. And people like me, who have a long and entrenched history of bulimic behaviour, find themselves plagued with anxiety due to expectations we can never live up to.
These negative thought patterns only double down on the remorse and self-anger we’re already feeling due to the abuse we’ve imposed on our bodies. We become paralyzed, not energized—and the risk of resuming or increasing our bingeing and purging only multiplies.
It’s one more eating-related initiative we can fail at, as the entire media universe is screaming: GET SKINNIER IN THE NEW YEAR.
Magazines, television shows, flyers and internet pop-up ads all encourage us to:
- “Ring in the new year with a new look!”
- “Be your best ever!”
- “Be someone new every day!”
- “Work out the easiest way ever!”
- “Eat and buy satisfying meals that’ll melt away fat!”
- “Destroy fat the gentle way!”
You are good enough
Can’t we just be satisfied with being our best selves? With taking it a little easier? Settling for just being adequately wonderful? Can’t we just forgo fat-free, miracle liquid fasts, kale everything and pure veganism, and still feel like we’re staving off failure and courting success and contentment?
Those of us suffering from eating disorders think there’s some sort of moral superiority that goes hand in hand with being thin.
The media and Western culture promote a feeling that our bodies aren’t good enough—we need flatter tummies, firmer breasts and tauter arms, and if we attain these things, we’ll be healthier and happier. However, this isn’t always true. Moreover, thinking that we’re simply not good enough as is makes those of us suffering from eating disorders think there’s some sort of moral superiority that goes hand in hand with being thin.
My friend Donna had a very good-looking, physically fit husband. Donna was physically fit as well, but about 30 pounds overweight. So, by conventional standards, she wouldn’t have been deemed “good-looking.” Then, she lost 30 pounds. Suddenly, people started paying attention to her at parties, asking for her opinions and listening to her observations. Sadly, when she regained the lost poundage, the interest in her dwindled, too.
Donna’s experience reminds me of the phrase, “When you’re rich, they think you really know!” from the song “If I Were a Rich Man” in the play Fiddler on the Roof.
Do you have an unhealthy relationship with food and a sense of urgency to get on the scale? Do the numbers you see control your mood? These realities are only reinforced by the January “kick-ass” mindset, and when people with eating disorders fail in their determination, they go back to disordered eating with a vengeance.
Defeat the doubt
People suffering from eating disorders need to become comfortable with their feelings so that their outside is in sync with their inside. Yes, the media creates a sense of dissatisfaction with our bodies—but media blitzes touting New Year body transformations don’t cause eating disorders. They stoke the fires, but only if the wood has already been ignited.
People who struggle with disordered eating are satisfying emotional, as opposed to physical, hunger. They have difficulty with self-soothing, and with identifying and expressing what they feel. Physical symptoms such as a stomachache or headache will often reflect their emotional states.
For anyone out there struggling with an eating disorder, here are four extremely important things we need to understand:
Foods can’t be labelled good or bad
Enough with the mindset of, “I’m being good because I haven’t had a Snickers in three weeks. I’m being bad because I ate four Oreo cookies.”
Our behaviour can’t be labelled good or bad
We must stop thinking things like, “I’m good because I went to Yoga three times this week. I’m bad because I haven’t walked 10,000 steps today.”
We need to pay attention to natural hunger cycles
A gurgling or rumbling stomach; dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness; nausea; a lack of concentration; and agitation or irritability are all sensations that are trying to tell us we’re in need of fuel for our bodies.
We may eat in an attempt to change our feelings
Emotional hunger is brought on by thinking we can change the way we feel by eating something. When we eat due to emotional hunger, that means we eat when we’re not physically hungry, but are angry, lonely, tired or burned out.
Understand your body
With understanding comes clarification. Relearning how to eat intuitively protects us from unhealthy triggers and frees us from the clutches of eating to appease uncomfortable feelings. On the other hand, dieting resolutions promote a mentality of scarcity, separating us further from the intuitive eating mindset.
Being attuned to our bodies and trusting them to tell us what they need is very hard for people who have eating disorders, but professional treatment can help people with disordered eating patterns learn to listen to their bodies’ signals.
For me, my bulimia was my primary source of pleasure, solace and security, so I had to find other ways of giving myself pleasure, relieving stress and providing myself with comfort. I gradually turned to Yoga, reading, knitting, rocking in a rocking chair and walking to create a sense of relaxation and rejuvenation in my life. I even began to savour food, instead of shovelling it in quickly and guiltily.
When we change the way we relate to ourselves, triggers stop being triggers. And when we learn to relate to ourselves in a positive manner, the inner critic within each of us won’t come roaring back in full force when we fall short—as we all do, at times—especially in the month of January.