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: 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.

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Expert Insight: Losing Weight Naturally

“When you do start to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full after years of being on one scheme or another, you will most likely go down a size or several sizes.

Unless you have been eating drastically less than your body needs for years, your weight should stabilise at its natural set point, which will be lower than what you’ve achieved through dieting and bingeing”.

Susie Orbach, “On Eating”

When clients first seek help for their emotion-driven overeating issues, they often think if they can sort out their weight, everything else will be OK.

In this way, therapy can be seen as another weight-loss initiative.  There’s sometimes a sense of disappointment that we’re not focusing on weight during sessions and, as a result of this, some clients assume I’m anti-weight loss.

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Are You Committed to Your Destination?

I remember the day I wanted to give up.

I was at home.  It was a warm, bright morning and sunlight was streaming into the study.  I was heading towards the door but, as I passed my desk, something stopped me.

A simple thought.

“This is too hard”.

I’d worked so hard to understand my issues with food and myself but, despite my efforts, I couldn’t make enough sense of them to consistently affect my eating behaviour.  Although my bingeing had stopped, I was still eating when I knew I wasn’t hungry.  It felt like an impossible struggle with no way out.

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Food for Thought: Anything is Possible

“What you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass” – Paul J. Meyer

It’s the adverbs that make this sentence so meaningful.

He could have said “what you imagine, desire, believe and act upon” but that doesn’t have the same power.  Instead, Meyer colours in the specifics – we must vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon.

It’s not enough to hope for the best, plod along, see what happens – we have to want it, believe it and make it happen.

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Food for Thought: The Risk of Authenticity

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen”. – Brené Brown

It’s a lovely idea, isn’t it?  We have the choice on a daily basis to be genuinely who we are.  It’s often what we yearn for – to have the courage to be ourselves, regardless of what other people think.


What if.

What if people don’t like us?

What if people tell us we’re wrong?

What if we risk being ourselves and we get hurt?

Continue reading “Food for Thought: The Risk of Authenticity”