In 2017, Blake Lively proudly announced her New Year's resolution to her 12.5 million Instagram followers: "I WILL fit into my jeans again, gall darnet," the actress wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of food from the meal-delivery service Epicured.
The photo racked up more than 174,000 likes. "You are such an inspiration!!!!" commenters gushed. "I know exactly how you feel!"
And in fact, many women do know exactly how she feels.
In 2016, almost 40% of Americans vowed to lose weight, while 41.1% resolved to "live a healthier lifestyle." For comparison, just 33.2% resolved to spend more time with family and friends.
While losing weight or making healthy changes is beneficial for some, experts caution that these health-conscious resolutions can also have negative effects."We often set high expectations to change something in our life, like eating healthier or exercising more, and while the intention may come from a good place, it can lead to unhealthy outcomes," Dr. Rebecca Wagner, clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center, Houston, told Revelist. "For example, someone may decide to go on a diet to lose weight, but dieting, for example, can trigger an eating disorder."
Take Jordan Younger for example.
The 26-year-old blogger initially adopted some diet changes for a healthy reason: curing her chronic indigestion. But her decision to cut animal products out of her diet eventually snowballed into eliminating other food groups, and even solid food altogether.
"I had gotten into the vegan lifestyle so I could be the healthiest version of myself, but now I was wreaking havoc on my body, and I knew it," she wrote for Refinery29. "After a major conversation with one of my close friends about her eating disorder, I finally realized that was what I was dealing with, too."
Younger developed what some psychologists define as orthorexia, or an overwhelming obsession with eating healthy food. Symptoms are often entirely mental but, as in Jordan's case, can also include malnourishment and weight loss. The condition is still relatively unstudied, but the American Psychological Association has called for more research into its causes and repercussions.
New Year's resolutions can also trigger other common eating disorders, according to Wagner.
Commitments to diet and exercise can sometime spiral into anorexia nervosa. Anorexics suffer from a crippling obsession with food, calories, and exercise that results in dramatic weight loss. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that between 0.5 and 1% of American women suffer from anorexia — and between 5% and 20% of them will die from it.
But Wagner told Revelist that implementing a new, restrictive diet plan can also lead to another extreme.
"If someone is eating too few calories during the day and they end up over-eating or binge eating in the evening and this becomes a pattern, they are at risk for developing binge eating disorder," she said.
Binge eating disorder, as Revelist previously reported, is characterized by repeatedly eating large amounts of food, to the point of physical discomfort and mental shame. These "binges" are often accompanied by a feeling of losing control, and can be triggered by restrictive eating throughout the day. Side effects include weight gain, depression, and anxiety.
Wagner suggests adopting more modest, realistic resolutions in order to prevent complications.
"If you plan to set a New Year’s resolution related to eating or exercise, remember to have moderate expectations that include flexibility, so you decrease the risk of feeling like a failure if you are unable to attain your goals," she told Revelist.
And if you feel that you have developed an eating disorder already, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also call 877-789-5758, email email@example.com, or visit eatingrecoverycenter.com to speak with a Masters-level clinician at the Eating Recovery Center.