When What You Tried Didn’t Work | TMOHP Episode 055

Weight-loss culture endlessly reinforces the belief that any failed plan to end overeating is on us. It’s our fault, and the solution is - to work harder. Be more determined. Get it more perfect and then you’ll see results.

Which (by the way) is a big, unhelpful myth that makes things worse. 

Today let’s talk about a more effective way to think about the “failures” you’ve experienced while trying to stop overeating or lose weight. Let’s start by reframing these “failures” as things that didn’t work for you. And then, I’ll share a 4-step process you can use to make some lemonade from those lemons. Did you know that if you don’t let guilt or frustration trap you in a dead-end loop, there’s GOLD in those experiences that didn’t work out so well?

In this episode:

  • Why working harder creates vicious cycles of overeating
  • A 4-step process for breaking out of cycles that lead to overwhelm, overeating, guilt and self-blame
  • Forgiveness

Featured on the show:

  • Start targeting the real, underlying reason you overeat. Take The Hidden Hungers Quiz
  • Your Missing Peace  is my 16-week program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something that’s completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

Episode Transcript

There's a myth that diet mentality nurtures in just about all of us. And it goes like this, the myth goes that if what you are trying to do to change your eating doesn't work, then it's your fault. And, the solution to this thing not working is for you to go back and try again and hit it harder. 

Within diet mentality, the solution is almost always that you just need to work harder. You just need to be a little more perfect. This myth that I've just described to you is actually the perfect recipe for creating a vicious cycle with guilt, self blame, overeating, and your weight. You try something, it doesn't work. You tell yourself it's all your fault. Because it's all your fault, you know that there's something wrong with you that you need to change. You need to show up bigger. You need to show up with more determination, more willpower. You need to work harder. And so you work to conjure up these things. Once you have, you dive back in and you try it again. What's that saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

That's a vicious cycle. That is a place where so many people get stuck when they're trying to make changes, when they're trying to stop overeating and emotional eating. Not only is this a myth, not only is the idea that if something isn't working, it's all your fault and you just need to work harder, not true, it's also not helpful. Because this creates the, the whole idea of this vicious cycle, right? It creates a closed loop. You try something, it doesn't work. You already know the answer. It's your fault, and the answer is to work harder. And so you work harder, and pretty soon you are that hamster running faster and faster on this hamster wheel.

So it is a myth. It doesn't take you where you want to go. It does not give you the results that you are looking for, this idea of just blaming yourself and endlessly working harder. And it also keeps you in the dark. It prevents you, this myth prevents you from learning about the things that could work. Sometimes, could work beautifully for you.

You can't be self blaming and judgmental and curious at the same time. The two do not go together. When you are, when you are deep in that self blame, when you have already decided that the answer is to work harder, you're not curious anymore because it's, it's done. It's decided. You're already, you already know the path that you need to be on. Remember, your brain tends to see the things that it is looking for, the things that it expects to see. We tend to see more of what we're already looking at. We reinforce what already exists. So if what you're looking for are things that confirm your idea that you just need to work harder and that you didn't try hard enough, you are going to collect those kind of thoughts and beliefs and you are going to collect evidence that supports those things. And that keeps you closed to a whole host of other things that you might notice that you could be curious about, that you could learn from. That could help you take what didn't work and use it to create something that could work for you. 

Now it's one thing to talk about a concept. It's one thing to talk about, well, just be curious. Ask yourself questions, learn from what didn't work. It sounds really good, but I've heard from a lot of people, and I've had this experience in my own life, that when I sit down and actually try to do the thing. Sometimes, what seemed so obvious in a description, when we try to execute on that, it's easy to just come up blank. Because it's not something that we're used to doing.

So I thought today on the podcast, I would talk about how you actually can learn from what didn't work, how you can actually learn from quote in air quotes here, failures. And actually take them from being a dead end failure, where you end up feeling bad about it and feel like you're back at the beginning and you need to start over. And how you can take those experiences and mine them for the valuable, valuable, valuable data that's actually there. There's so much to learn when something doesn't go well. 

So let's talk about how you do the courageous work of examining what hasn't worked in the past. And this could be a pattern that you have in your life. Maybe it feels like nothing has ever worked. Maybe it feels like you have been trying and trying and trying, and you're not getting where you want to go with food and eating and your weight and all that you know, tangled up all of stuff. Or maybe you're somebody who had the experience recently, maybe you tried something yesterday. Maybe you put a plan in place at the beginning of the month and you feel like you have fallen off track. This is a place, these are all opportunities where you can learn from what didn't work or what doesn't feel like it's working. 

Today I want to talk very specifically about how you can take an experience of trying to change your eating or trying to not overeat or not give into emotional eating. That's how we often think about it. How you can take an experience that didn't work and the actual steps that you can take to start transforming what may feel like a failure now into material that you can use and grow into a path toward making changes that actually fits you better and that has a much higher chance of working.

There are four steps to this process, and if you follow them, and don't judge them. If you just take the steps, it will absolutely help you break that vicious cycle of starting over and over and doing the same old thing and pushing yourself harder. And it will show you, it will start to give you some ideas and guide you into a different direction that is absolutely going to be more aligned with what works for you.

All right, so the first step is to get really clear on what didn't work. This is where you do not want to do this in your head because what we really want to do is dump stuff out of your head and take a look at it. So I strongly advise you to get a piece of paper and just write down everything that hasn't worked. The one rule is that I want you to be really careful about having any kind of statements that are self blame. Okay, so there you don't want I statements here, you don't want, I didn't try hard enough. I wasn't consistent. I didn't go to the gym. I didn't buy the right groceries. I want you to focus on the things outside of you that didn't work.

Now, this could be a list of all the things that you can think of in your life that didn't work. When around trying to change the, the patterns of overeating and emotional eating. It might pertain to one specific episode of trying that you're thinking about. So I want you to dump onto this paper everything you know about what didn't work. The difference between blaming yourself and looking at these things outside of yourself would be, for instance, I didn't go to the grocery store and buy the right groceries. That would be blaming yourself. Even if that feels like the absolute definitive truth, I want you to ask yourself, Okay, why didn't I go to the grocery store?

So maybe it didn't work because I hate grocery shopping every other day, and this plan required me to. Maybe it didn't work because it was a difficult week at work and there wasn't time to go to the grocery store. Maybe it didn't work because given your schedule and the children that you have to pick up after work, it just isn't practical to stop at the grocery store in the evening.

You see where I'm headed? I want you to really think about from an open, curious, compassionate place, Okay, Really, why didn't this work? Maybe it didn't work because you don't like chicken and the plan called for chicken. I want you to give yourself full permission to just brainstorm any possible wacky and, and or rational reason that it didn't work. You could have fun with this actually. This can be really fun if you've been really buttoned up. If you have been really locked down in the idea that this is, you know, failure is always your fault and, and you've just failed and it can't possibly be anything else. It's your job to work the plan. Have fun with this.

It, it's a brain dump. There are no right answers. Just write down everything and there are no wrong answers, but everything you know, or think about why this plan didn't work. It could be cathartic, it could be a great release. You, you might be, you might surprise yourself with some of the things that you write and you might also learn some things. So that's step one. Step one is just the writing down. It is brainstorming or dumping all the stuff out of your brain, emptying it out, putting it on paper so you can look at it.

Step two is where you take a deep breath and you just check in with yourself. You make sure you are in that place of compassion and curiosity. So you, you want to learn something, not use what you just wrote down as a bunch of weapons to beat yourself with, right? So conjure up that compassion and the curiosity, and then take a look at what you wrote on that list.

Given what you've written down, what can you see now about these failures in air quotes that maybe you couldn't see in the moment? What are there patterns that you see? Are you somebody who tries things that don't fit in the time that you have? Maybe you are somebody who has picked plans that revolve around a lot of food prep and you hate cooking.

Or maybe you are somebody who seems to attract advice from other people and this advice has come from other people. And then you find yourself trying things that actually when you step back and you take a look at it, don't have a chance in hell of working for you. They just don't fit you. So take a step back. This is step two. Use your compassion. Use the smarts that you have and take a look at what you wrote and see what can you see about these failures? What is important information here about what didn't work? And let's start calling this what didn't work instead of a failure, let's stop personalizing it in step two and simply call it things you know about plans or procedures or strategies that just didn't work for you. 

Spend some time letting this stuff percolate. Maybe go for a walk or read through the list and, and leave it alone for half a day or something like that. But give your, give yourself some time to stew with this stuff in that place of compassion. And when you have, I want you to write something down again. This time I want you to write down a list of learnings. What I have learned from what didn't work. For this list, you may or may not have I statements. That’s okay, but I want you again to really edit for self blaming, judgmental I statements. This is not about judgment, this is about learning and collecting data. 

So for instance, on your list, you might have as a client of mine has, you know, no more salary sticks. Or you might have, I need simple. Or maybe you'll write down I need a plan that allows for the travel that I'm doing all the time that allows me to eat in airports. I need a plan that doesn't require me to pack my lunch every day. What do you need? What do you want? What do you prefer? What have you learned from looking at the things that didn't work for you in the past? Didn’t work for you. You hear the difference? That's it's, it's important. The plans didn't work for you. What do you know about yourself when you look at the plan? Why did the plan not work for you? 

Now, I gave you some examples of taking a look at that information and making some statements about what you might discover that you do need, that you didn't have. That might happen. Or you may look at the things that didn't work out, and it may start out as a more negative list, right? I, I can't do this, I can't do that. I hate that. I don't want to plan that has a cheat day. I don't want to plan that is too rigid. I don't want to count points. Right? You might have a list of all the things you don't want. That is okay. You know how we learn what we do like. Oftentimes by, by weeding out the stuff that is not a fit for us. You know, it is much easier for our brain to discover the negative stuff.

So do not be alarmed. Do not feel negative. Do not judge yourself. Re remember, this is compassion and curiosity. Don't get upset if what you find yourself writing is a bunch of, I don't want, that’s perfectly okay. And in fact, it can be really, really helpful.

There's one more thing I want to say about this step. If you have been listening to this podcast or following me for a while, this will not be the first time that you hear me say that we always eat and overeat for a reason. There is always a reason that you are eating, even if it's in a way that you don't want to be eating. And just because you aren't hungry does not mean there isn't something going on that is giving food that power in that moment in your life.

As you look at the things that didn't work for you in the past, sometimes it's strategic things that didn't work for you. Sometimes it is the actual makeup of the plan that you were trying to use, but I also want you to think about what might have been missing from that plan. Because sometimes, quite often actually, a plan to change your eating didn't work because it didn't address your real life situation. It didn't address your hidden hungers. It didn't address the fact that you were sleep deprived. And it didn't give you an opportunity to get more rest. Right? Be curious about what it was that you were trying to do and how it might not have given you what you needed. Maybe it didn't address some things that you needed. It didn't take into account the reasons that you were overeating. Don't get caught up in having to know how you will get those things. That's not what the step is about. This step is simply about noticing why something didn't work for you, why it was not a fit. 

Okay. Take a deep breath because step three is kind of a big one, and it's so important. Take another deep breath. All right. This is the place where you get honest with yourself. You ask yourself, is there anything that you want to or need to forgive yourself for? Is there anything you need to let yourself off the hook for? Is there anything you need to let go of? Is there any emotional weight, guilt, or shame or frustration with yourself about eating or about what you've been telling yourself you should do, or you have to do or you need to do? Related to your eating that you just need to put down, that you just need to stop carrying. Are there things that you are telling yourself that might be contributing to making things harder? 

Guilt or shame or frustration with yourself will always make things harder. So this is the place to look at the things that you're telling yourself that are leading to those feelings of guilt or shame or frustration. What are the thoughts that you have? What are the beliefs that you have? They often have the word should in them, and they're often reinforced by repeating them over and over and over to yourself and, and maybe even having names that you call yourself related to those things inside your head, right? So this is the time to look for those things and get compassionate and honest about, you know, these are the, these are more things that I need to put down. These things are not helping me. These are places where forgiveness would be helpful. Remember, we are noticing things. We are collecting data. You do not have to do all this stuff, but I don't want you to do this in your head.

So again, write down what are some things I need to let go of? What do I need to forgive? What is it that I am ready to stop carrying around? This is a really important step, and it has the potential to create a lot of relief and really allow you to let go of some emotional baggage. Maybe not all at once. This may be over time, but as you start noticing the things that you are ready to release and, and the beliefs that you are ready to release and let go of. You, it becomes easier. You're, you're already engaged in the process. You start the process, your brain will start working on it. You will start working on it. Over time. It is much more likely to happen than if you don't take the time to ask yourself this question.

One of the things that doesn't serve any of us, and that so many of us do, especially when it comes to this whole area, is, you know, one of the things that does not service at all is living in the past. Endlessly re revisiting things that feel like mistakes or remember failures, right? And so this is the place where you can start looking at letting go of that. Looking forward instead of looking backward and using this process of learning from what hasn't worked and relabeling failures into things that didn't work for me. This is a whole process that can help you let go of that baggage of the past. 

Guilt and self blame and frustration are usually about the past. So this is the place where you can take this, turn it into helpful information and put all this energy that is going into the past, put that, put that whole load of stuff down, it is going to feel so much better.

Okay, so step one was making a list not in your head of what didn't work. Either in general, what hasn't, has never worked or what didn't work this last specific time. But making a list of what didn't work. Step two is looking back with compassion and curiosity and asking yourself what you can see now. What can you, what can you learn? What have you discovered? What can you see about things that didn't work and what could they tell you? Maybe some things that you can see now that you weren't able to see in the moment. Perhaps because your judgment was clouded by guilt and self blame, and that myth that it was all your fault and you just needed to work harder and somehow have more motivation and energy. Right. Okay. And then step three is taking a look at what you need to put down. What do you need to let go of? What are you ready to move on from, even if you're not exactly sure how to do it? 

And then step four is, that's the fun part. And again, this may come instantaneously. You may already know the answer to this or you may want to spend some time thinking about it. But given what you have discovered, given what you have learned from what hasn't worked for you in the past. What would you like to try now? What? Listen to the words. What would you like to try now? What sounds like a good idea? What sounds like it might be interesting? What sounds like it might work better?

Avoid the use of should here. If it starts with, Well, I should do this, and your energy does just what my voice did, that's probably not your next move. Okay? But what would you like to try? What would you like to experiment with? What would you like to play with? This is not a place for perfectionism. This is not a place for, Oh, I see now that I always have to. It's not a place for forever decisions.

Take what you learned and then pick a thing or two. Make it doable. Don't make it overwhelming and all encompassing. But what is something you would like to play with? What is something you have discovered about yourself that tells you what things need to look like so that they're more likely to work better for you?

Maybe you need more structure. Maybe you need less structure. Maybe you need some morning time to plan out your day. Maybe you've discovered that you get too hungry after lunch and you want to experiment with having a snack so you're not ravenous when you, you know, walk in the door after work. Don't make it too big, don't make it overwhelming, and don't get all perfectionistic with yourself looking for the right thing to pick to do. This is a process. You're going to rinse and repeat this process as you try things. As you learn more about what works for you, as you learn more about the kind of relationship with food that lights you up instead of depresses you or weighs you down or just makes you miserable. The key thing that I really want you to see is how if you use these steps, if you take these four steps as imperfectly as you could possibly take them, you are still breaking that vicious cycle of failing.

Seeing it as a failure, blaming yourself, getting frustrated, telling yourself you need to start over. Telling yourself you need to work harder. Working harder, pushing harder, getting the same result or lack of results, feeling frustrated, feeling less confident, feeling less motivated. By using these four steps, you break open that cycle.

You take something that didn't work for you, you learn from it. You get better at letting go of the self blame. You start to forgive yourself. You start to ask that question, is there stuff I've been blaming myself for or telling myself or putting on myself that maybe I'd like to put down? And you start thinking about, hey, what would work better for me? What fits me better? What does my plan need to look like? You may have heard me say that the very first pillar that we cover in Your Missing Peace is embracing your power. Taking your power back. Deflating the power that food has in your life. And owning your own power, creating a plan that works for you. This what I'm talking about in this episode, this is a taste of that. This is where you break open a vicious cycle that was all about giving food the power, and was all about taking away your confidence and your sense of effectiveness. Using these four steps to get your power back. 

So that's what I have for you today. This is what you do when the thing you were trying to do didn't work.

Take these steps, play with them and see what happens. 

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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