How to Harness the Power of the Fresh Start Effect without Dieting

fresh start effect

Back to School Vibes

Speaking of the fresh start effect, you know what feels amazing as a 38-year-old working mother of two? Checking off the back to school list. Lysol wipes, check. Two extra masks in a ziplock bag, check? Hot Wheels lunch box, check. 

Not only is more time to myself on the very near horizon but, there’s just something magical about cooler nights and new backpacks that makes me feel the promise of a new beginning. 

Like buying a new planner. 

Or starting a new chapter.

Or, if you’re a geriatric millennial like me, cracking open a fresh, new TrapperKeeper. 

It’s not unlike the hopeful vibes of the New Year, amiright?

The Power of the Fresh Start Effect

While we all know that gym memberships and diet book sales skyrocket in January, it’s not until recently that science has understood the mechanism driving this phenomenon. It’s actually called the “Fresh Start Effect” and it was discovered by a group of behavioral scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard who found that Google searches for “diet” and the all around commitments to pursue new goals increase following temporal landmarks like the start of a new week, month, year or our birthdays. 

In her incredible book, How To Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, one of those scientists, Katy Milkman, explains “… people instinctively gravitate toward moments that feel like fresh starts when they want to make change happen.” Her colleague Hengchcen Dai shared that it’s related to how people perceive time. “… rather than perceiving time as a continuum, we tend to think about our lives in ‘episodes,’ creating story arcs from notable incidents, or chapters, in our lives.” 

Milkman goes on to say “We’re more likely to pursue change on dates that feel like new beginnings because these moments help us overcome a common obstacle to goal initiation: the sense that we’ve failed before and will, thus, fail again.” 

Fresh starts help us view our lives in terms of one chapter closing and a new one opening. They create distance mentally between ourselves and our past “failures,” which helps us to feel more hopeful and positive about future success. 

So this back to school fresh start vibe is a real thing we’re all feeling. And it’s a great opportunity to create positive change in our lives. If we’re feeling called to, we can harness it to feel better, but, and this is a big but, as a recovering dieter, it can present a real challenge. 

Why The Fresh Start Effect can be Dangerous for a Recovering Dieter

You’ll notice I mentioned Google searches for “diet” skyrocket in January. If you’re reading this article, you’re no stranger to the promise of a new diet fixing everything in your life from your pants size to your pay grade. So as you work to heal your relationship with food, a fresh start can feel a touch triggering. 

It’s possible you’ve never turned over a new leaf in your life that didn’t involve cutting carbs or punishing yourself with exercise. How does one “reset” as an Intuitive Eater when that previously meant doing a juice cleanse? 

How To Harness the Power of The Fresh Start Effect without Dieting 

If you’d like to listen to this week’s lesson, you can do so on the pod right here!

Be Honest & Gentle with Yourself 

Honestly, maybe you’re not ready. Maybe your diet brain hasn’t sufficiently healed. Perhaps any thoughts of a fresh start for you involve cutting out gluten or downloading a dangerous and triggering app. You might be too new to this process, or not even sure what a non-diet life would look like just yet. 

That’s okay. Our loving encouragement would be to continue on your Intuitive Eating journey however feels best to you right now. Keep working on the principles and practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. Get some support if you need it. There will be plenty of opportunities to harness the fresh start energy in the future. 

Check Your Intentions

If you feel ready, the first step is to commit to not bullshitting yourself. Many health-affirming habits and behaviors can look similar to dieting, the only differentiator being the intention. 

fresh start effect

Meal-prepping salads, going to the gym or avoiding dairy can be acts of self-care or weight loss tools, only you can truly know the difference. So if you’re feeling pulled and ready toward a fresh start this fall, get really clear on your intentions. Check in with yourself. Am I really just disguising a diet here? Do I really want to do this? Is this really about feeling better physically and mentally? Or do I think I should do this because I’m secretly hoping that this will make me lose weight? 

Again, only you will know the answer to this.

Take the Intuitive Eating & Health at Every Size Approach 

After checking your intentions, commit to this fresh start through an Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size lense. 

First, realize that this fresh start is totally optional. You don’t ever have to be “working on yourself.” We forget that a lot. 

Second, it doesn’t even have to be about your physical health, health is not a moral obligation. So ask yourself: what do I want and need right now? 

Maybe you want to start a new habit around:

  • Paying bills on time or starting to save more 
  • Defending yourself from your inner critic
  • Keeping your home more tidy 
  • Calling your grandmother more often
  • Relaxing and having fun more regularly
  • Taking more naps 
  • Working on a hobby
  • Starting a new business or networking for your career
  • Watching more YouTube videos of cats being assholes

Who knows. What we want to do here is continue to rewire our diet brains by realizing that the fresh start effect can relate to anything you want it to relate to, not just our health-related habits. 

Third, if you want it to be about your physical health and feeling better, think in terms of weight-neutral, health-affirming behaviors and think in terms of adding in instead of restricting. 

Could you work on your sleep hygiene? Or eating more fruits and vegetables? Could you work on moving a bit more each day? Or meditating? Leaving more space in your calendar to take care of yourself? 

fresh start effect

It will probably be helpful to avoid any previous habits that are strongly correlated with dieting for now. 

Focus on Habits

Instead of starting a new diet, can you think in terms of working toward a health-affirming habit that feels good? We do know that our routines and habits impact our health, so how can we put feeling good more on autopilot? 

There’s so much great reading to be done around habits including Duhigg, Fogg and Clear. We’ve already mentioned Milkman above. Some of it can be a little diet-y but, if you’re further along your journey hopefully you’ll be able to take the lessons without the side of diet culture. 

What we’ve learned over the years around habits is that you’ll want to get clear on the cue, routine and reward. You’ll want to start tiny, tiny, tiny instead of sweeping changes. You’ll want to make your new habit obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. And you’ll want to stack habits or bundle temptations, use commitment devices and cue-based planning and surround yourself with positive influences. Most importantly, practice self-compassion, believe in yourself and stay in a growth-oriented, practice mindset about the whole thing. 

The fresh start vibes you might be feeling right now are real. And it’s a great time of year to reboot some habits and routines that will help you feel better in your daily life. You can harness the power of the back to school season by taking better care of yourself for real, instead of slipping back into the diet cycle that can be so harmful.  

If you need help breaking out of that cycle before you can even think about a fresh start that doesn’t include cutting out gluten, book a breakthrough session with us today. Just click this link and wait for the calendar to load. Book a time and either myself, Bridget or Kimberly will give you a call. We’ll discuss in detail what’s not working and where you’re feeling stuck, and then show you how you can move past this struggle in your own life. 

Perhaps this year, your back to school fresh start could be finally putting the struggle with food behind you for good. 

Book that breakthrough session now and let’s do this.

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