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Reframing resolutions into Intentions to challenge diet culture

Last Modified: 12/30/2020

Diet Culture

This post was written by Caroline Hall, LCSW, therapist and manager at Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.

January 1 is just another day in the calendar year. Sure, after the year we have had in 2020, we yearn for change. We have been living in an atmosphere of COVID-induced anxiety. The start of a new year presents a clean slate – a chance to be introspective, take stock and create changes that could help us be the best version of ourselves. Sounds amazing, right? Unfortunately, the New Year can often be detrimental to one’s mental health, specifically targeting those with poor self-image by exacerbating toxic and damaging diet culture.

There are many things we know for certain about New Year’s resolutions. They are ever-present, often discussed at our holiday family dinners, with primary focus on self-change, self-improvement and on our bodies. And they almost always fail. New Year’s resolutions often coincide with failure. So why do we set ourselves up for disappointment year after year?

Why do New Year’s resolutions fail?

Research tells us that around 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. Willpower isn’t to blame, but rather the real conundrum might be the resolutions we are encouraged to pick in the first place. Lose weight! Exercise more! Try this new diet! Oftentimes we identify goals that are vague, unrealistic and directly influenced by what we believe society expects of us. Society has encouraged us to adhere to diet culture through most media platforms by integrating a narrative of needing to lose weight and be fit. We then reach “failure,” which directly contradicts the sense of empowerment and change we were striving toward.

The problem with diet culture

A little over 50% of resolutions are health related, such as increasing exercise, eating healthier and losing weight, each directly informed by diet culture.

According to Alexis Conason, PsyD, who was featured on Psychology Today, “diet culture refers to a system of beliefs that likens thinness to health and moral value. As a result, we devote our time, money and energy to the noble pursuit of weight loss.” And “diet culture stems from racist, sexist, puritanical notions that deprivation is a value, pleasure is sinful, and we can … obtain perfect health and thinness if we just eat the right things.”

This disproportionately influences women by targeting the belief that we aren’t good enough and we need to spend our energy trying to shrink ourselves instead of taking up space in the world. Diet culture functions in a way to make us feel guilty for eating certain things, or for not exercising a certain amount. Yes, this huge topic deserves its own blog post, maybe more on that another time.

Food and exercise are meant to be celebrated, not diminished or challenged. Food and exercise serve as a function of self-love, and in that respect should be positively incorporated into our New Year’s intentions.

Swapping resolutions for intentions

Setting and reaching goals isn’t primarily about willpower or self-discipline. It’s about intention and finding joy in pursuing what matters to you, and you alone. Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. We should not give up on change, but we should re-orient our thinking in order to truly sustain change.

Evolutionarily, the human brain grew by stacking one base above another on its neuroaxis, extending the time between stimulus and response, resulting in more space to inform our decision-making. “The wider the view, the wiser your intentions.” So, ask yourself, is my view too narrow and influenced by diet culture?

Follow up with thoughts like these:

  • What makes me feel safe?
  • Slow down, think before acting, allow my cortex more time to understand what is happening, what led up to it and what is my best response?
  • Am I focusing on one piece of the puzzle? Or am I looking at the puzzle in its entirety?
  • Notice how my fight-or-flight impulses inform my more thoughtful, cognitive choices, e.g. is my on-edge energy inflating a perceived threat?

I would encourage you to direct your attention to intention itself. It expands your horizons and allows for more positively informed thinking patterns.

Intentions for a revamped year, and a healthy mind

So, my charge to you is to go into the New Year with informed intentions. Intentions that are fueled by self-love and self-compassion. Below are some ideas to help you have a fulfilling 2021, full of joy and contentment.

  • Be conscientious of speaking nicely about yourself. Positivity shines from the inside, attracting more positivity.
  • Remind yourself that pencils have erasers for a reason. We are human, and we make mistakes and do not always achieve our goals. And that is OK.
  • Live in the moment. Depression dwells on the past and anxiety thrives by fixating on the future.
  • Orient yourself away from labels, these create stigma within ourselves and toward others.
  • Fuel your body out of comfort and joy.
  • Move your body with kindness and respect.
  • Stop restricting yourself from love.

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