I was speaking with a client this week who had been struggling a bit in lock down. On top of that she’d had some stuff going on in her life which was worrying her. As a result she’s found herself eating extra snacks and larger meal portions than before, and her weight had fluctuated up.

We were discussing how none of this was a problem in and of itself, however, what was a problem was her judgement of the situation… that she had failed.

Because her weight had fluctuated up from 5 days of snacking she was feeling frustrated and angry with herself, and was telling herself things like “I can’t lose weight for good” and It always happens like this: it’s good for a while then I fall off the wagon”,

This is such a common thought process in women who have a long history of dieting. I can relate: I used to think like this all the time too – and I really had to re-programme this default thinking.

After all, if you continue to feel frustrated and angry with yourself and you have a tendence to over eat, the chances are this thought process will fuel yet more emotional eating and compound the problem.

Failing badly keeps you yo-yo dieting

Many of us beat ourselves up when we deem ourselves to have failed. Whether that’s because we have eaten some biscuits in the afternoon when we promised ourselves not to, or didn’t say no to the wine offered. For many women on the never ending weight loss journey these scenarios can feel like a complete failure.

I used to think this way myself. Before I created a weight loss mindset and kept off 20kg, I thought I’d done something wrong and sabotaged myself. I expected that the ‘right’ way to lose weight was to find a diet, stick to it until you see the results then figure out how to maintain it.

The thing is I rarely saw a diet through to the stage where I lost all the weight. Looking back now I see that failing badly played a big part in this. I now believe this is one of the key factors that keeps women stuck in that cycle of losing and regaining weight again and again.

What is ‘failing badly’?

When we view incidents like eating something that wasn’t planned or drinking the glass of wine with crisps after a long day at work as having ruined all of our previous efforts, this sets us up for a self-blaming and judgey mindset.

If you’ve been ‘good’ all week, then you go and have that wine, and you’re telling yourself it’s all ruined and you’ve failed again, you’re much more likely to either go back to old eating patterns or to go into restriction and deprivation mode to ‘correct’ what has happened.

Either way it’s a classic yo-yo diet mentality that keeps you in this cycle.

Failing well: your key to success

What if the incident that happened wasn’t really a failure at all? Could it be a key to your success?

When we view these incidents as a problem with our self discipline or character, and we punish ourselves with going back to old eating patterns or restriction again, we miss the beautiful lesson.

There is a reason why you overeat sometimes. And there may be many of these reasons to uncover.

When you’re frustrated and pressured at work this could be a trigger to raid the biscuit jar. When you’re stressed with the kids this could be a trigger to snack on their food as you make it. When you’re feeling exhausted you may be feeling hungrier than usual and want to go for seconds – even though you know deep down your body doesn’t really need it.

All of these insights into your personal triggers are gold dust. They provides you with the information you need to understand what doesn’t work and why you’re doing these things in the first place.

If you start to blame yourself and beat yourself up for not ‘being good’ you’re missing the beautiful lesson in all of this which gives you the key to success: you can understand why this happens then work out how to approach this situation differently in future instead of repeating it.

Cultivate compassion and curiosity

The truth is our journey to end yo-yo dieting and to rebalance our body to it’s natural body size again will be an up and down journey. There will be good days and bad days.

The difference between the dieting mindset and the success mindset is how you react when the going gets tough and things don’t go as planned.

Imagine instead of beating yourself up and judging yourself as weak or undisciplined you ask yourself ‘why did this happen?’. This is how you can access the wisdom in these events and move on to create a different future.

By practising asking yourself questions and revealing this widsom you’ll become more and more curious over time – and as the understanding of your triggers grow you’ll create more ability to identify these triggers happening in future and change how you respond to them.

The solution? Write it down and move on

Here’s an exercise I encourage my clients to do when they find themselves beating themselves up because they overate or over-drank:

  • Write down what you ate or drank.
    (Pro tip: stick to the facts – e.g. 4 glasses of wine, 1 pack of crisps and 1 burger and chips. Take out any descriptive words that could be judgement like “binged on chocolate” or “ate way too much ice cream”).
  • What triggered this?
  • What was going on in my mind when this was triggered?
  • Did I try to resist this, or did I react?
  • What did I learn?
  • What will I do next time?

Rinse and repeat. It may seem to simple but this exercise is powerful – if you keep using it to understand your triggers in all the areas of your life you’ll start to master your intentional eating in all situations.

What do you think?

Do you have any ways you like to look at ‘falling off the wagon’? How do you deal with ‘failures’? Post your thoughts in the comments below!