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The excitement of the approaching New Year brings feelings of a fresh start and thoughts of a ‘new you.’ January 1st acts as the official start to the dieting season, with 45% of Americans(1) setting New Year’s Resolutions for weight loss, self-improvement, or restrictive eating. But what happens when the third week of January rolls around? What happens when we don’t meet our immediate goals, or life gets in the way of our time at the gym? Most importantly, what happens when we teach our kids to set these unrealistic goals unintentionally through our own actions?
Children are primarily socialized by their parents.(2) From a young age, our kids internalize our personal beliefs, our way of thinking, our goals and our ideals. Everything we say, including the way we speak about our body, is internalized. This process, regardless if it’s conscious or not, affects the way our children understand themselves and the way they view their body. When we choose to speak negatively about ourselves, our children hear it, and when we decide that our bodies are not good enough, our children understand it. The New Year’s resolutions we make year after year aren’t just overheard by our children, they shape the way our children view themselves.
The biggest problem I have is with the word resolutions. More often than not, it conjures up hard and fast goals, not lifestyle changes. Instead of setting an intention to be more active, we find ourselves setting a goal to lose 15 pounds by March Break. Resolutions are often set with unrealistic expectations, usually because we don’t factor in the rest of our commitments. There will be days when you can’t find time to make it to the gym, and there will be days that pizza is the quickest option for dinner. When we don’t meet our unattainable goal, our children see that we are left with feelings of disappointment and lower self-esteem.
Over the years, I have found myself stuck in this resolution cycle. During the holidays, I would eat all of the special goodies that come around only during the holidays. I told myself that I would make up for it come January, and I would say “this year, I’m going to spend at least 40 minutes at the gym everyday” or “this year I’m going to lose 20 pounds.” Then, every year, the February blues would creep in. I would become frustrated when I couldn’t meet my goal, and every year I would feel like I had failed. When we let our children see this cycle, they are taught that our body is not beautiful the way it is, and that a smaller physique will bring increased happiness.
Preventing this negative New Year’s resolution cycle in January starts with your mindset in December. If you are able to reduce the negative self-talk throughout the holidays, it will be easier to leave your strict New Year’s resolution behind and will be easier to stop the resolution cycle with your kids. This change begins with your mindset.
1. “I have to eat more now because I can’t eat [insert food] come January.”
When we tell ourselves that we have to stop eating our favorite foods by a certain date, we set ourselves up to crave them more intensely.(3)
2. “I can’t eat any more carbs today, I’ll skip the potatoes.”
The ‘forbidden foods’ that we try to starve off of completely, become the object of our desire. If we keep telling ourselves that we aren’t allowed to have it, we end up craving it more later on.
3. “I have to work for my turkey, like everyone else.”
We tend to link what we take into our body with our self-worth. If we believe we have worked hard enough, then we deserve our fair share of turkey. This can lead to overall low self-esteem when our strict expectations are not met.
The key to breaking free from these holiday mindsets is allowing yourself to eat those special foods. If you believe a certain food is rare, you will try to eat more of it at once. Instead of telling yourself that you can’t have it, tell yourself that you can. In short, just eat the cake!
Before you make any real lifestyle changes, you need to love yourself and your body. When we set these weight related New Year’s resolutions, we likely think that they will lead to our happiness or success. This year, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. What will you achieve when you lose those 10 pounds? How will it improve your life? You may learn that you are looking to reach another goal altogether, like improving your quality of life, and that can come without a change to your body.
Your children see you through rose coloured glasses. They see a beautiful mother who gave birth to them, who loves them and who cuddles them. When children see their mother commenting on how big her thighs are or how she has to lose weight, they think that if there’s something wrong with her, there must be something wrong with me too. This is especially true with the relationship between mothers and daughters, and can lead to lifelong problematic eating behaviors and disorders(4). Children don’t yet have the tools to understand why their mother is eating differently, or why she speaks negatively about her appearance. All they hear are the ideals of a skinny body frame which can be attained by restrictive eating. Unfortunately, this starts the same negative self-image in the next generation.
New Year’s resolutions can be toxic, because we find ourselves stuck with unattainable goals and black and white rules. This year I encourage all of my Rebels to strive to become a better you, and don’t try to become a completely new you. Indulging in your favorite treat is not just permitted, its encouraged! Instead of worrying over the calorie count, enjoy the time with your family. Bring body positive and encouraging words to your holiday parties. Challenge yourself to spend more time with your family instead of challenging yourself to lose weight. Make your New Year’s resolution a guideline for your continued happiness, and not a deadline for your bikini body. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and be kind to your body.
4. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal- of-nutrition/article/influence- of-parental-attitudes- in-the- development-of- children-eating-behaviour/20F431E346074B8255585DACAD7BA109/core-reader
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