by Stephanie Milstein, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist for the BRIDGE program at the Beaumont Children’s Hospital Hough Center for Adolescent Health
Year in and year out millions of individuals make, and then break, New Year’s resolutions. Generally, one of the most popular is “I’m going to clean up my eating and get into shape.” Sound familiar?
How about approaching things differently?
Whether the goal is to lose weight or something else, traditional New Year’s resolutions pave the way for something called dichotomous thinking or “black and white thinking.” This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” in between. Dichotomous thinking is a very common defense mechanism employed by individuals with an eating disorder.
It’s important to note an individual dealing with a clinical eating disorder is not the same as someone who is on a diet. Not all “resolution” diets result in eating disorders, but a lot of eating disorders begin with a diet. When a genetic pre-disposition toward developing an eating disorder is combined with a change in eating patterns and/or increased activity in children, adolescents and young adults at the peak of growth and development, there is great risk for an eating disorder to develop. Therefore, it’s important for parents to be alert to significant changes in their children’s eating and activity patterns.
When it comes to diets, dichotomous thinking can surface in the form of labeling foods as “good” verses “bad,” or needing to get in a “good” workout, meaning that it has to be a certain routine and for a specified time period.
There is a fine line between healthy and going to extremes. Therefore, we want to encourage individuals that are in recovery from an eating disorder, as well as everyone else, to work on making overall positive life changes to set yourself up for success and progress and off-set these rules of rigidity.
Forget about January. February can be the month of the anti-resolution.
We encourage parents and adolescents to take the following into consideration instead of the standard, easily discarded resolution:
- Reflect on your accomplishments attained during the past year, then outline goals to continue to address the work in progress?
- Identify personal relationships that you want to strengthen, then spend more time with those individuals.
- Make a bucket list of things that you want to continue to work on attaining this year and beyond including interests, things that you are passionate about, and places you want to travel.
- Identify an area in which you want to work on making progress, but don’t set an all or nothing goal that is pass or fail. Instead, identify attainable indicators of improvement.
Recovery is characterized by overall balance. Be a positive role model. Make an anti-resolution!