Many of us start the new year with refreshed optimism and a list of ambitious resolutions. By the time late January rolls around, however, it’s not unusual to feel defeated—rather than empowered—by the goals we set for ourselves.
This can feel especially true when we’ve set resolutions around what we eat, how we exercise, and the ways we take care of our bodies.
A resolution, by definition, indicates that something is a problem. That it’s a bad thing in our lives that needs to be “resolved.” That’s why framing a goal as a resolution often leads to all-or-nothing and self-defeating thinking.
We may find ourselves categorizing our decisions as “good” or “bad,” or striving for impossible-to-achieve perfection rather than attainable benchmarks. When we can’t “stick” to these resolutions, we blame ourselves instead of taking a step back to think about whether the resolution is playing an expansive, not restrictive, role in our lives.
The resolutions we set around food and exercise, in particular, tend to be restrictive.
In January, our social media feeds are flooded with posts about low-calorie or “elimination” diets like Whole 30, Keto, intermittent fasting, or “cleanses” that give us fewer, rather than more, choices about how to nourish our bodies. They may keep us from getting the nutrition we need, and in ways that can be medically unnecessary, or even dangerous.
We may also attempt rigid exercise programs that promise to literally shrink us. These can lead to over-exertion or injury—when in reality, we should choose movement that makes us feel energized and joyful.
Resolutions like these tell us something is inherently wrong with certain foods or our bodies, and that can lead to a cycle of restrictive or rigid behaviors that are unsustainable. It’s time to move away from resolutions and replace them with intentions.
How to Reframe a Resolution as an Intention
Unlike resolutions, which limit our choices, intentions open us up to more possibilities. They help us decide how we will engage with the world with each new decision, instead of forcing us to follow a strict set of rules.
Intentions encourage us to get in tune with our minds and our bodies, which will help us make choices based on what we really need, and not what external voices say we can and cannot have.
A resolution says, “I won’t eat any of _____ food,” which can lead to cravings, binging, or self-punishing thoughts or behaviors.
An intention says, “I will say one thing in gratitude about every meal,” which encourages us to remember the ways food helps us nourish our bodies and live the lives we want.
A resolution says, “I have to do a certain exercise for _____ minutes every day”—a rule that doesn’t take into consideration how our bodies actually feel every day.
An intention says, “Today I’ll engage in any movement that makes me feel good in my body,” which gives us permission to move in ways that are right for our bodies in the moment.
A resolution says, “I can only have _____ calories a day,” which can send us spiraling into restrictive choices, lack of nutrition, and hunger.
An intention says, “I will pause to listen to my body during meals, and will let my hunger cues determine how much I eat,” which gives our bodies the opportunity to tell us what they need.
What your intention (or intentions) will be depends on what’s most meaningful for you. As you’re setting intentions, it helps to:
- Map your intention. Think of actionable, yet achievable, steps. Maybe your intention is “to feel more connected to friends and family.” Your next steps could be to invite a friend over for coffee, or to make a date to FaceTime with a parent or sibling.
- Follow up with your intention. That doesn’t mean you have to adhere to a strict schedule of daily check-ins. It can mean making time once a week to reflect on or journal about the steps you’ve taken to follow your intention, or whenever it makes sense to you.
- View food as neutral. Neither good nor bad. Just nourishing.
- Consult with a registered dietitian and physician, if there is a medical necessity for changing your eating.
- Release yourself from guilt or shame. There’s no “wrong” way to follow your intention.
All the while, keep in mind that an intention isn’t something you can “succeed” or “fail” at—it’s a mindset for living more fully on your terms. And that’s something to aspire to any day of the year.
Midwest Counseling & Diagnostic Center, an outpatient group mental health practice in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, can offer support. Our extensively trained, highly skilled therapists are down-to-earth, non-judgmental, and committed to helping you find the path forward on your journey. For more information on eating disorder support and nutrition therapy and support offered by Midwest Counseling, please contact Rose Metivier: firstname.lastname@example.org.