Expert Insight: The Purpose of Disappointment

“Although disappointment feels awful, it can provide you with a wealth of valuable information about yourself and your world. Its purpose is to keep you moving toward what’s beneficial and away from what’s going to come back and bite you. It’s meant to teach you how to make realistic, well-informed choices by recognizing the delicate balance between what you have power over and what you don’t. Examining disappointment with an open mind will help you distinguish between being foolhardy, childish or demanding, and courageous, generous and willing to take appropriate risks. In short, it’s there to help you get the good things you deserve.”

Karen R. Koenig, The Food & Feelings Workbook

“Examining disappointment with an open mind” is the phrase that jumps out at me in this quote. We’re often so busy trying to escape disappointment we don’t stop to think that it might have something to teach us.

Let’s take dieting, for example. When you’ve tried many different diets, you experience disappointment after disappointment. Rather than exploring your disappointment, you immediately blame yourself and then turn to food to detach from the emotional pain of yet another failure.

However, if you were to examine your disappointment with an open mind you might stop and think “I’ve tried so many diets but they always end up with me putting on the weight I’ve lost. I’m constantly disappointed. This just isn’t working”.

You might then wonder about the failure rate of diets, start exploring the large body of research into why they don’t work and, oh I don’t know, maybe follow a blog about having a peaceful relationship with food. 😊

You would then be able to see that expecting yourself to succeed at something that largely doesn’t work was always unrealistic.

Examining disappointment in recovery from your eating issues is vital. Disappointment can be a sign that your expectations are unrealistic here too. Have you assumed it would be easier than it is? Do you believe you should have cracked it by now? Do you think you can resolve your issues with food whilst bypassing your feelings and your relationship with yourself?

These are important questions to ask yourself – and the learning comes from your disappointment.

Rather than triggering hopelessness, disappointment can teach us so much if we allow it. We just need to understand its purpose and, as Karen Koenig says, learn to examine it with an open mind.

 

What’s the Point?

You’re having a conversation with a close friend. There’s something exciting going on in your life and you’re dying to fill them in. As you talk, you’re brimming with energy and enthusiasm about your venture. When you finish, rather than sharing in your excitement your friend says flatly:

“What’s the point?”

Slightly stunned, you ask them to explain what they mean.

“Well”, they say, “it’s just that you’ll never do it. You’ll never achieve that. You might as well give up”.

How do you feel?

Deflated and defeated. Like the wind has been knocked out of your sails.

And so it goes with making peace with food. While this may not be an actual conversation you have with a friend (I really hope not), it’s often a dialogue that takes place within you.

You can be making real progress normalising your relationship with food when bam! a voice says “What’s the point? You’ll never succeed”. Suddenly, the rug has been pulled from under you and you feel utterly hopeless.

It’s why you can feel enthused about your process one minute and despondent the next.

That voice, which we’ll call the Hopeless Side, isn’t the same as your Inner Bully. The Inner Bully wants you to feel ashamed, depressed and generally rubbish about yourself.  The Hopeless Side has a very different motivation.

It’s trying to protect you.

The Hopeless Side knows your history of dieting and attempting to lose weight. It knows how hard you had to focus on your eating. It understands the sacrifices you made. Most importantly, it remembers your overwhelming disappointment when the diet failed and you regained the weight you lost. It recalls the emotional pain you suffered as a result – the frustration, the despair, the sense of failure.

So it wants to protect you.

It wants to protect you from feelings it believes you can’t handle.

The problem is, it doesn’t differentiate between dieting and normalising your relationship with food. It just thinks anything eating-related is a no-go area and it needs to step in to protect you. So it says “What’s the point? You’ll never do this. Your eating will always be out of control. Just give up”. In its mind, it’s saving you from the pain of trying and failing yet again.

So it keeps you stuck because – for the Hopeless Side – being stuck is better than moving forward and risking disappointment.

If you want to get unstuck, it’s important to address it and deal with it.

Here are some suggestions of what you might say to the Hopeless Side when it’s asking “what’s the point?” and telling you to give up.

“This is different”
Normalising your relationship with food – or eating intuitively or whatever you want to call it – isn’t the same as a diet.  Instead of working against yourself by attempting to stick to someone else’s idea of what or how to eat, you’re working with yourself. You’re giving yourself full permission to eat and listening to your body’s cues about hunger, preference and satisfaction. You’re also exploring ways to meet your emotional needs that don’t involve food. Therefore, the Hopeless Side can’t hold your dieting history against you – this is making peace with food and you’ve never been here before.

“I can handle disappointment”
People whose eating is emotion-driven usually learn to detach from feelings early on in life. They also often have a hard time trusting they’ll get what they want. Sometimes, this is as a result of being promised things as a child that were never delivered. The Hopeless Side doesn’t understand you’re an adult now and can learn to handle challenging feelings. And, actually, it’s essential that you do. If you’re disappointed, it’s OK to acknowledge it – there’s no better way to build emotional resilience.

“Thank you, but I’ve got this”
The Hopeless Side needs to understand you know what you’re doing. Articulate your approach to eating and why it’s what you want. List your character strengths and achievements. Remind it how far you’ve come in your process already and you don’t need any help because you’re in charge of your life. Then it’s a polite but firm “thanks, but no thanks”.

As much as the Hopeless Side thinks it’s helping by protecting you from difficult feelings, it’s not. It’s standing in the way of you and the life you want and deserve.

Because life is to be lived. Really lived.

It’s to be lived free from obsessing about food every waking moment. It’s to be lived in gratitude for the body you have and all it does for you. It’s to be lived wholeheartedly, courageously and authentically. Not hopelessly.

That’s the point.

***

“What’s the Point?” is the question for this month’s eatonomy group on July 27th.  For more information about the group, please see the Community page. To book a place, please use the Contact form.

There are additional questions for eatonomy group members – and anyone else who finds them useful – on the News page.

Food for Thought: Staying Connected to Hope

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” – Shel Silverstein

It’s that time of year again when I ask myself the searching question: “why didn’t I take two weeks off work so I could watch the TV?”.

Yes, it’s Wimbledon – the tennis tournament most beloved by players and fans alike.

One of the things I love about tennis is the way a match can turn around.

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Staying Connected to Hope”

Gentle Reminder: Make Movement Joyful Again

Exercise.

I can practically feel the groaning and eye rolling.

In preparation for writing this blog post I did a bit of research. I googled some exercise slogans. What I found ranged from the ridiculous – “squat till you puke” (eww) – to the downright offensive, which I won’t repeat here. (Guys, seriously?).

Many of the so-called “motivational and inspirational” quotes I found conveyed the message that to have the body you’re “supposed” to have, you must punish it into submission.

No wonder the ‘e’ word has such a bad rep.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: Make Movement Joyful Again”

Expert Insight: Body Appreciation vs. Body Loathing

“Advertising for many commercial goods functions by cultivating our body insecurity or hatred in order to sell products.  If we all believed we were attractive as we are, for example, we would have little need for most commercial beauty products.  Women in particular are taught that their self-worth is determined by how well they match the cultural standard of beauty.  Most of us therefore feel inadequate and that we can never measure up.  And it seems as if advertisers have recently realized that they were so busy exploiting women’s insecurities, they’d forgotten half the population. So now they’re doing their best to make men feel equally horrible about themselves.  Buying into these images doesn’t benefit anyone but the advertisers”.

– Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, “Body Respect”.

A few years ago, when I was facilitating a workshop on emotion-driven overeating, I was talking about not buying into “the cultural standard of beauty” that Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor describe.  One of the participants became quite angry and said something like “it’s all very well to say that but this is how the world works”.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Body Appreciation vs. Body Loathing”

Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?

You’re sitting in a café having coffee with a friend. Every few minutes you surreptitiously tug at your top so it doesn’t cling to the contour of your stomach.

You receive an invitation to your school reunion.  You’d love to go but feel you can’t because you’ve put on weight and you worry about what people will think.

You regularly scan your body in a full-length mirror, thinking “God, look at my thighs/belly/insert other body part here”.  When you’ve examined all your “defects”, you mutter a conclusive “ugh” before walking away from your reflection in disgust.

Continue reading “Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?”

Food for Thought: Coming to Our Senses

“There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if only we can come to our senses and feel it”. – Elizabeth A. Behnke

How could someone allow themselves to put on so much weight? Why can’t they just come to their senses?  This – and much worse – is often what people who aren’t thin fear others are thinking about them.  To be fair, it sometimes is what people think if they’ve never had any kind of overeating issue themselves.

I know from personal experience how easy it is to put on a lot of weight without even knowing.  Hard as it might be for some people to believe, it’s not difficult to put on 5 stone or more without really noticing.

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Coming to Our Senses”