What are your 2021 Anti-Resolutions?
Year after year, the pattern rarely varies. Resolutions made, promptly followed by resolutions broken. The odds of sticking to New Year’s resolutions are, in fact, completely stacked against us, as research shows a paltry success rate of between 10 and 20%. But since the challenges of 2020 have reconfigured every aspect of daily living, 2021 may be the ideal time to reset this ritual as well. Perhaps it’s time we consider this upcoming new year, the year of the anti-resolution for dieting, exercising, eating healthier and managing stress.
We’ve asked therapists steeped in mindful eating, body positivity and resilient thinking to help reframe this perennial wish list. There are no checklists to mark off or milestones to meet, just inspiration to view yourself and the world around you through a new lens.
Instead of Dieting in 2021… Consider being more mindful about what you eat.
Replace the resolve to lose weight on a diet with a shift to mindful eating. “Keep in mind that while all diets work in the short run, there’s not a single plan that has long-term results for the majority of participants, and that’s why people make the same resolution every year,” says Judith Matz, nationally recognized speaker, therapist and co-author of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet. “The deprivation that comes from dieting often leads to overeating or bingeing, setting into motion an endless cycle of frustration.”
Instead, learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, and choose from a wide variety of foods, including healthful ones.
Matz describes the essence of the process. “First, learn to recognize when you are just beginning to feel hungry. If you have a headache, are crabby, irritable, fatigued and low on energy, you’ve waited too long and are much more likely to overeat as a result.”
Next, think about what food would make you feel satisfied. “Sometimes a fresh apple or a raw carrot is exactly what you want, and at other times you might want ice cream or a bowl of pasta. Depriving yourself of foods you love can be counterproductive – there’s room for all types of food,” she says.
For patients with specific medical issues, such as high cholesterol, Matz notes that adjustments can easily be made while still respecting the process: a craving for ice cream can be met with a sorbet instead.
Finally, trust your body to let you know when to stop eating. While that may sound simple, Matz counsels patience, especially for chronic dieters. “It can take time to tune in to your natural cues for both hunger and satiety.”
The key is to stop having rules around food and to really listen to your body. “Ultimately it’s about having a healthy relationship with food rather than focusing solely on eating so-called healthful foods,” she says.
Moving from body image to body appreciation.
An equally important shift is changing the desire for a new body size to a genuine appreciation of the body you have. Matz defines this as “body positivity, relating to your body with acceptance and respect rather than self-criticism and shame.” It means rejecting ingrained cultural messages related to body embarrassment and weight stigma and replacing them with ones that reflect inclusiveness and self-compassion. It encourages taking pleasure in natural body changes throughout your life cycle and not putting off anything you might enjoy doing because you’re not the “perfect” size or shape.
Body positivity also empowers you to view exercise positively rather than as punishment for having the wrong body. “Unhook exercise from weight, and focus on choosing exercise for endurance, strength, flexibility, stress reduction, health, social connection or just the simple pleasure of moving your body,” advises Matz.
Finally, refrain from focusing on weight loss praise, which reinforces the mistaken belief that you can’t be happy, healthy and successful unless you’re a certain body size, says Matz.
“Consider that body positivity is a gift we can give to support family, friends and, most notably, the next generation.”
Find joy in what you do and who you surround yourself with to reduce stress.
Resolving to manage stress effectively is an oft-expressed but infrequently realized New Year’s wish. But it can be triggered by one pivotal question, says influential family therapist Debbie Gross, who asks it at every session with a new client: “What brings you joy?”
She explains, “It’s transformational in terms of moving out of the survival mode many experienced last year, and into thriving mode. When people are in crisis, they become overwhelmed by the thought that no one will meet their needs. Their only goal is to focus on how to get through this moment; their attitude is ‘If I don’t take care of me, who will?’”
To stop the “anxiety spiral” in the brain, Gross recommends the “5, 4, 3” grounding exercise for staying in the present: “Focus on five things you can see, four things you can hear and three things you can feel, either physically or emotionally.”
And while it’s all too easy to devolve into perpetual doom and gloom against a backdrop of unceasing anxiety, Gross says we have a choice – Eeyore or Tigger?
“We can wake up each day just waiting for the next problem to come our way, or we can look at the world with more of a ‘beginner mind’ that recognizes small, everyday miracles,” she says. “It takes real work for some to switch the channel in their brain to that mindset, but the difference it makes is astounding.”