Friday, March 6, 2009

It's ok to fail

A perfect life is something that we strive towards, after all isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are; changing something you don’t like about yourself. And if year after year we tell ourselves that we need to change then we carry over to our daily lives that feeling that we need to be perfect and aren’t. When we decide that this year will be the year we become healthy (guilty!) we strive towards control over ourselves. We set boundaries by defining what health or a weight loss program is for us, even if we don’t follow a traditional diet. And while we are in control, everything is ok, but when we lose that control, we feel like we failed, fell off the wagon, sabotaged ourselves. We have all experienced what happens next – throwing in the towel, saying that this diet isn’t for us, feeling like a failure and so eating even more and saying horrible things to ourselves.

Now if you are reading this, then you are probably a human being like me. You are probably living a life that isn’t perfect, because unfortunately life just doesn’t happen that way. No matter how annoying or painful that is, it’s a good thing, because the challenges in life are what make us grow and come to realise what is most important to us. It doesn’t really matter what the original reason was either, wether an event that was out of our control, throwing our emotional state out, time pressure which meant we weren’t able to follow through with our resolve or self sabotage. Any situation that throws us off course requires the same response, accepting ourselves.

Eventually our lives return to an equilibrium where we must face up to the choices we made in dealing with our crisis and the impact they had on our goals. In the thick of it, the easiest answer is to give up, but when we simply accept that we aren’t perfect, that things happen in our lives and sometimes our response is not ideal, then it’s easier to return to our good habits. This is part of the process of learning to love and respect yourself and providing room for failure to enable growth and learning. The worst thing we can do is punish ourselves for being human and for being imperfect. Here are a couple of strategies that might be helpful:

  1. If you are breaking one of your boundaries, realise it, decide if you still want to keep going and if you do, accept that that is the choice you made. Making a conscious decision is very empowering because you give yourself permission to proceed rather than feeling out of control when you realise halfway through a 2L bucket of ice cream what you are doing. Which brings me to point two.
  2. Avoid negative self talk and if you don’t know how the strategies invest some time into learning them. It will probably be the best investment for your mental health and self esteem you can make. Of course, apart from the theory you need to apply it – that’s the bit I always struggle with (read: don’t do) but just the knowledge has helped.
  3. Keep asking yourself, gently, if you are still making the right choice based on how you are feeling.
  4. Don’t vow to make up for the episode. Perhaps you’ve taken a step backwards if you are trying to lose weight, that’s a part of life and aiming to work harder to make up for it is more likely to be a discouragement to a return to a healthy lifestyle. The problem is that it’s like punishing yourself because you are a human being. If you manage to graciously accept your failings then you have learnt a whole lot more than what sticking to your course might have done.

At least this is what I have come to realise, over the last few very sad days. Between tears, I would gobble up bowls of ice cream, chocolate covered honeycomb and hot chocolates. While I knew that this wouldn’t make any difference to the hurt inside and I would probably even feel worse from a sugar overdose, I still did it. I accepted myself while making those choices and today when I feel better I’m still ok with my response (despite the added kilo’s that I have no desire to check on) and am returning to the healthy habits that I’m creating. It actually makes me happy to realise that this is in stark comparison to what would have happened in the past.

But I’m curious if there is anything I could have done differently or is occasional emotional eating just a part of life as much as emotional experiences are? It’s the classic female cliché, reaching for a block of chocolate and a chick flick to unburden our feelings, but is it really ok or is there a better option? Would we be better off to deal with our feeling the way men do? Have you found a good way to deal with emotions without reaching for the freezer door?


  1. Emotional eating is such a struggle. I think it really depends a lot on how we use it... are we adopting a healthy attitude about it and letting it happen occasionally or is it ruling our lives?

    Thanks for the suggestions for strategies!

    - Sagan

  2. Sagan - Finding the balance with emotional eating it tough. Sometimes it's admitting there are other problems we need to deal with in our lives and being honest can be confronting.

  3. I believe that there are deeper issues connected with emotional eating. It is indeed a struggle. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Banana - I do agree with you entirely. I have made a whole list of other reasons. Hopefully the suggestions can be applied in other situations as well.



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