Our diet failures seem to be a tired story. Something brings our attention to our weight, or perhaps it has been bothering us for some time. It may be affecting our mental health and finally, we decide to make a change. We research the best diet, read all we can about losing weight, join a gym, and maybe even hire a trainer. But somewhere along the way, we quit.
According to one study, while the percentage of people trying to lose weight rose dramatically in the years 2015-2016, the national average body mass index (BMI) and weight for Americans also increased, now tipping the scale at just under obesity level.
“Where weight-loss efforts are increasing, we can expect a decreasing trend of obesity, but it is not decreasing,” -explains Lu Qi, director of the Tulane University Obesity Research Center in New Orleans.
Diet Failures are to be Expected
While there can be a litany of reasons as to why we are not succeeding at weight loss – from more unhealthy foods available than ever before to less access to gym (especially now) – what we can take away is that when it comes to weight loss, failures are more common than we’d like to admit.
It seems that to get to the other side of weight loss, we have to get through the failures first. And to do that, we have to learn to deal with failures in a way that moves us forward instead of sending us spiraling backwards down the weight loss climb, only to start from the bottom – or even further back.
Put Diet Failures in Context
Failures, for most of us, sound like something bad. They are to be prevented, avoided, and shoved safely out of consciousness. The problem with this approach is that it ignores a simple fact – failures are bound to occur. They occur in all walks of life, from learning a new career or starting a new business to learning how to roller skate.
Diet failures are essential information. They indicate something we are not doing correctly. And since no one is perfect, this is very important. If we don’t know what we are not doing correctly, we also don’t know how we are doing correctly.
If you think about it, if all we ever heard was, “You are doing great” we wouldn’t learn much, and we also wouldn’t do much different. On the other hand, if we fall, like when we are roller skating, we can probably ascertain why we fell, and try to avoid it next time. The result is that we will learn to skate better.
Diet Failures Give us Answers
Failures are like small directions along the road toward success. They tell us, “Don’t go this way, go that way.” They are needed to tell us how we can improve. When we fail at dieting and eat something we know we shouldn’t or we skip a couple of days or even weeks of workouts, or we simply lose motivation, we have to stop and ask ourselves why.
When we can understand the underlying causes for our decisions, we can work with ourselves better so that we don’t have to try to white knuckle our way to success. The more we know about why we sometimes don’t want to stay with our diet plans the better prepared we can be when we feel like quitting.
Make Setbacks Survivable
Failures can feel like a total loss. They can also feel permanent. But what we have to remember is that failures are not character. Character is what we do after we fail. It is whether we decide to get up and try again.
There are six ways we can think about failures…
- We can take them personally and assume they are our fault.
- We can see them as pervasive, and let them bleed into all parts of our lives.
- See them as permanent.
- We can see them as not our fault, but simply part of the process.
- We can compartmentalize them and keep them from affecting all parts of our lives.
- And we can see them as temporary, and able to be overcome.
It is when we think of failures as permanent that they become the most damaging. We see them as fixed features of our lives that cannot be changed. When we see them this way, it is obvious why we might not put much effort into recovering from them – because we don’t see them as changeable.
Failures are survivable. Especially when it comes to dieting, we can always start again. We can recommit, get back to the gym, start that running program and again, and decide that we do not need to make failures something that keeps us down permanently.
What You Can Learn from Diet Failures
If failures are information, the question becomes: What can we learn from them? Think of it this way – there is no one right way to do most things, and certainly not losing weight. Some people will swear by a ketogenic program, others will tell you that Crossfit will melt the pounds away, and others still will say that avoiding these ten foods is the key to weight loss.
The reality is that if we had the key, we wouldn’t all still be trying so hard to lose weight. Weight loss is essentially like navigating a desert trying to find water with a blindfold on. There are no directions, no roadmap, and no guarantees. All we have is our desire to get there, and the information that is right in front of us. The ground is either dry or it is wet.
When it comes to weight loss, what we can do is make use of our failures. Maybe we decided to commit to a program that simply was too rigid and we found ourselves rebelling. Maybe we have trouble really seeing ourselves as an athletic person, and we are going to have to change our self-concept. Or perhaps too many people told us we wouldn’t be successful and we are going to have to find more supportive friends.
We can learn from our failures when we start asking… “Why did they happen?“
Adapt, Adapt, Adapt
Daniel Gilbert, the author of Stumbling On Happiness makes a great case for why we are just not good at predicting our future selves. We simply don’t know just what will make us happy and what won’t. What we do is adapt to what we have.
In one of his experiments, he asks people to rate a series of paintings in terms of preference. Then he tells them that, for their participation, they can have one of the two paintings that they rated either as second or third choice. So, people choose their second choice. But when Gilbert brings them back into the lab and asks them to rate the paintings again, now the one they own, they rate higher.
The point is that we can learn to adapt. We can take the information we learn from failures and use it to inform our new approach. For example, let’s say that we started with a diet program that asked us to avoid a lot of foods. We felt confined, sort of like being in diet jail. So, we broke out and swore off that approach. And we gained weight.
What Does Not Work
What we now know is that approach does not work. When we feel confined, we rebel. So, with this in mind, we know our next attempt should not be so rigid. It should allow us the flexibility to feel like we have some choice in the matter. We can eat some foods that might not be the best for us and then we can go the extra mile (maybe literally) with our exercise. Another thing we can do is an intermittent fast the next day and get our calories back down. We can also eat a few very small meals. There are a lot of ways we can adjust.
Adapting on the fly is what allows us to adjust our approach based on what is happening day to day. This is critical because not all days are the same, and we are not the same day to day. But that is okay, because when we can see failures as part of the process of learning, we can keep ourselves from making them feel permanent and instead use the information they offer to adapt and make our approach – and the outcome – better.
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