Wellness Wednesday: Why You Should Lower Your Expectations

From a young age, we're encouraged to set high expectations and achieve. But this perfectionism can backfire. Learn why you should lower your expectations to achieve your goals. 

Why you should lower your expectations.

Why you should lower your expectations.

I can't hardly believe it, but Anne, Alex and I are wrapping up our very first group of Joyful Eating, Nourished Life this week. It was almost exactly a year ago when we first came up with the idea for the program. It's crazy to think back on how hard we worked to put together a comprehensive and helpful program, and now our very first group of joyful eating babies are launching out into the world!

I think one of the most beneficial parts of our program is a private facebook group for members (which you get lifetime access too btw). It gives joyful eaters access to support, not only from us dietitians, but from the other joyful eaters too. If you're having a rough day, stuck in a negative fat talk cycle, or realized eating was starting to get out of control, there's a place to share, get feedback, empathy, and advice.

Last night I was feeling a bit nostalgic after realizing it was the last week, so I spent some time reading back over the comments. It made my heart flutter with happy to re-read the big (and little!) successes. One joyful eater recently cleaned out her closet and got rid of ill fitting clothes that lowered her body image. So many shared aha moments with finally figuring out triggers for overeating or emotionally eating. They shared examples of honoring hunger/fullness cues, dropping the good food/bad food mentality, and giving themselves grace after a setback. One shared the story of slowly savoring a chocolate milkshake and stopping when she was satisfied, about 3/4s of the way through. Yes, that's right. Drinking a chocolate milkshake is a success in our program!

I also got the chance to look back and re-read comments shared when joyful eaters were struggling or feeling like a failure. When I did, there was one common theme I saw driving those feelings...

Setting unachievable expectations.

  • Expectations of being fully in touch with hunger/fullness cues two weeks in after years or decades of dieting.

  • Expectations of never emotionally eating.

  • Expectations of not feeling tempted by celebrity fad diets or weight loss ads.

  • Expectations of feeling 100% comfortable in their skin.

Do you set high expectations for yourself? I know my readers are smart, accomplished people....so I'm pretty sure the answer is a resounding yes. From a young age, we're encouraged to set the bar high and work hard to achieve those goals, first by our parents, then teachers, and professors and then as adults, our bosses, spouse, children and, well, most of society. Think of every motivational speech, commencement, and TED Talk you've ever heard. Most essentially boil down to set high standards, work hard, and don't accept anything less. Isn't that supposed to be a good thing?

Not always. While high expectations can push you to achieve amazing things, unrealistically high expectations set you up for failure. Or more likely, feeling like a failure. And when you feel like a failure, you give up.

If you're a high performing, intelligent and driven person, lowering your expectations to make them more achievable might feel a bit uncomfortable. Almost like abandoning dreams.

Lowering expectations is not the same thing as giving up. Actually, setting small, achievable expectations and consistently revisiting and revising them is the best way of actually achieving those high expectations in the long run. By lowering your expectations to make them more realistic, it creates room to fully experience the joy that comes with success. 

When I think about expectations, I think of a story told to me by my uncle when Scott and I first got engaged. It has nothing to do with intuitive eating, nutrition or food, but I think it's applicable nonetheless :)

When my uncle was working for a newspaper way back in the day, he was tasked with interviewing a couple that was celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. He asked them about their life together, how they met, growing old together. In their answers and interactions it was clear they were celebrating 75 years of love and joy.

Being recently married himself, there was one last question he couldn't help but ask.

"What's the secret to staying happily married for 75 years?"

The husband looked at his wife, smiled, then looked him straight in the eyes with a 100% serious expression and replied, "Low expectations."

😂 😂 😂

I just love this story. Actually, I wanted to share it as part of our wedding vows but I didn't think the rest of our guests would get or appreciate our off-beat humor! It convinced me that going into marriage, I should set my expectations low - to be treated with kindness and respect, and in turn, treat my husband with kindness and respect. I didn't go into marriage expecting to wake up everyday blissfully in love. By setting low expectations, it's allowed me to feel pure and complete joy when I do, and not anxious and fearful when I don't.

It's the same with your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. Don't set unrealistic expectations of perfection. Expect to have days when you aren't in touch with hunger and fullness cues. Expect to have days when you don't feel comfortable in your own skin. Expect to have days when you turn to food to deal with negative emotions. Simply expect to treat your body and yourself with kindness and respect. Commit to that simple goal and it'll give you the space to experience joy and surprise that comes with making peace with food and the self compassion to accept and move on from the bumps along the road.

Are there areas where you can see high expectations are leading to failure? How can you lower, and set more realistic expectations? 

Wellness Wednesday: The Thin Myth

Do you subscribe to the Thin Myth? The idea that life will be better after you lose weight? Todays post is a reminder that fantasy isn't always reality.

This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts, so when I learned their recent episode was about rethinking fat, I had to listen immediately. Other than a twinkie joke that was in very poor taste, I thought it was really well done. They included interviews with two authors who discussed their experience being fat, as well as a piece on a weight loss program at a Christian college which basically could have been called pray the fat away.

Sandwiched in the middle was a piece featuring Elna Baker, a writer and stand up comedian who shared her story of losing over 100 lbs. I don't want to give too much away, but I could share every detail and it wouldn't be anywhere near as heartbreaking as hearing it come from her own mouth. You can listen it here or read the jist of it here.

Her story starts as many weight loss stories do. She grew up in a larger body, and although she had been pretty content with life, she hit a place right out of college where she was struggling to find a job in the TV industry and realized that despite having lots of male friends, she had never been in a serious relationship. She saw her thinner friends get boyfriends and jobs and all the things she wanted and wondered, "is it because I'm fat?"

So, she went on a diet.

In a short period of time, she lost a lot of weight. Soon after, she got some of those things she wanted, including an intro level job at a TV show and dates with cute guys. But it wasn't all happy. Despite getting these things she wanted so deeply, she was so heartbroken and disillusioned after realizing she had been treated differently because of her size all her life.

The part that made me cry (while running outside no less..it got weird), was when she realized that although she got so many of the things she wanted, she actually felt less secure in her body. Part of it was the extra skin for which she had four excruciating surgeries to remove. She notes "I still look like a flying squirrel when I raise my arms." But the biggest source of her discomfort was the fact that she still felt like "old Elna" was the "real Elna." At one point she says she would feel more comfortable wearing a fat suit. Based off a few conversations with clients and friends, I think this is a common feeling among those who have lost a significant amount of weight. I imagine it's similar to the feeling of being a lottery winner or becoming famous. Suddenly, you have this thing that other people want. People like you and want to be around you, but is it genuine? Do they like the real you?

In the end, she wonders if she would have been happier had she never lost the weight.

"I was happy when I was overweight. I had no idea I should feel sad. I was free before. I had trained myself not to care what other people thought, and I had done a good job of it."

She had recently read Lindy West's book, Shrill. Lindy was the fat acceptance activist who opened the show. In reading her book, she realized Lindy got all the things she had wanted - an attractive husband, a highly desirable job, a book deal. She got these things after choosing to accept her body as it is, not dieting.

Essentially, every day since I became a dietitian (and many days before), I have talked to someone who wants to lose weight. Some want to lose pretty minuscule amounts. Others have more significant goals. Some say health is their motivator, others say aesthetics.

Everyone who wants to lose weight has some dream of what life will be like in their new, smaller body. Some have pretty intricate fantasies, while others are tied to the loose notion that life with just somehow be better. In reality, as someone who has been 10 pounds heavier and 10 pounds lighter than I am now, I can tell you 10 pounds doesn't change a damn thing. Having never been in a heavier body, I hesitate to comment on that. From what I know from the experiences of others, while some aspects of life may improve, it often brings a new set of issues to light. Elna's story is the perfect example. 

The thin myth is dangerous because it's why so many people get wrapped up in weight loss goals to the point where they do dangerous things to achieve it. It's why health takes a back seat to a number on the scale. Not only that but daydreaming about this thin fantasy life is a complete and total distraction from present day life, which is probably quite nice if you're actually living it, undistracted by dreams of a thinner life. When you can see weight loss for what it is, just living in a smaller body with all the good and bad of your present day life, you'll stop wasting so much time fantasizing and actually start living.

One thing that's always life changing for the better? Choosing self acceptance and making lifestyle changes that honor your health.In my practice, we put weight loss to the side and focus on nourishment, health and making peace with food. 

Are you stuck believing in the thin myth? Ask yourself what specifically do you think you'll gain by losing weight? Get as detailed as possible. Now, fact check. Are these really things you have to lose weight to achieve, or could you start to pursue them now? Be honest with yourself. What would you lose or compromise or lose by going on a diet? Is it worth it?

When you critically think about the thin myth you've been telling yourself, weight loss starts to lose it's aura of importance. Deprioritizing weight loss isn't the same thing as giving up, it's simply giving yourself the space to discover a genuinely happier and healthier life, not one in which health and happiness relies on an arbitrary number on the scale.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

What is Health at Every Size?

What is Health at Every Size?

In my practice, I embrace a philosophy called Health at Every Size. It may be something you've heard of before, but have questions about. In this post, I answer the question what is health at every size, and discuss why weight does not predict health, and why we need to move away from prescribing diets and weight loss. 

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An Exercise in Self Compassion

It’s always fascinating to me what I’m struggling with personally often parallel what my clients are going through. Perhaps it’s a case of synchronicity or maybe I’m picking up on topics weighing heavily on my mind. Either way, I often find myself immersed in a ‘theme’ from my personal to professional life.

Lately, that theme has been self compassion. If I’m not mindful about it, I can get pretty hard on myself, especially when it comes to professional success. After three months of website issues that have sucked up my free time and a slow client load with recent travel, I’ve definitely had days where the feeling of failure has been pretty overwhelming.

Seeing people beat themselves up over what they did or didn’t eat isn’t anything new, but recently it seems my clients have been struggling with it more than normal. A lot of it has to do with our recent flooding here in Columbia. The three week boil water advisory got many off their cooking game, and the nonstop dreary weather certainly hasn’t been helpful. I totally get it. I feel like curling up on the couch with a bowl of macaroni and cheese too (and probably would if I could motivate myself to go out in the rain to pick up some cheese).

Do you operate under the belief that willpower and self discipline are the key to weight loss success? If so, your self talk around food might sound a bit like an overzealous high school football coach. “What were you thinking eating those cookies Steve!?! How could you be so stupid?? If you keep messing up, we’ll never get to 130 pounds…I mean the State Championship!”

Many people are afraid that showing self compassion is the same as giving themselves unbridled permission to do it again. That forcing themselves in line with negative self talk is the only way to keep their eating in check

That’s not the case. Beating yourself up will just lead to a black hole of negativity and chip away at your self esteem. There’s even research that shows self compassion works. In one study, women were asked to participate in a ‘food tasting study’ that examined donuts, candy and other sweet treats. The women who were given a talk on self compassion and reminded that everyone eats food like this ate significantly less that those who didn’t receive the talk.

Trying to be a little nicer to yourself? Try this self compassion exercise I use with my clients next time you’re feeling guilty about something you ate. Take a close look at the eating event, and ask yourself the following questions to take a more compassionate look at the situation.

  1. PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION. Remind yourself that reaching goals requires progress, not perfection. No matter how awful you felt your slip was, there’s likely some glimmer of progress. Even noticing what’s happened or making the attempt to eat or think differently is a success. So you ate a bowl of ice cream. Maybe you used to eat it out of the container. At least this time it was portioned in a bowl. Maybe you overate French fries. Feel proud of the fact that you noticed you were eating mindlessly and made attempts to pay attention. Even if you can’t find the silver lining in that specific eating event, chances are there were other times during the day where you did make progress on other eating habits. Remember, it’s the cumulative effects of these small changes that make a difference, not one singular event.

  2. WATCH THE INTERNAL TALK. What are you telling yourself about the eating event? What words are you using? Try to catch all the negative words and stories in your head. Phrases like “I cheated” or telling yourself “I already failed so I might as well eat the rest of the cake” can only have a negative effects. Imagine a child or a friend was in your shoes. Would you repeat the things you say to yourself to them? No, because it would have a negative impact on their behavior and self esteem. So why do we talk to ourselves this way? Change your story to something more hopeful and constructive, even something as simple as “Hey, I slipped, but at least I’m trying.”

  3. ASK WHAT HAPPENED. Instead of beating yourself up in hopes of shaming yourself into submission, examine what events led up to your slip. Was it an emotional state that led you to make an impulsive decision? Or was it something physical, like hunger. Maybe there was a cue you missed, like forgetting to leave your apple and peanut butter snack on the counter. Try to find the root cause.

  4. MAKE A PLAN. More than likely, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation again. Plan for it. What could you do differently the next time? What could have prevented the slip. Or, maybe you really loved what you ate. What could you do to be able to enjoy it or other worth it splurges in the future without feeling guilty. Think of a plan and set concrete goals that will help prevent future slips.

Now, I encourage you to try this method yourself. Think back to the last time you felt regret about what or how much you ate. Try to remember everything about that event and go through these four steps. Did you learn or realize anything? If so, please share in the comments below!