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Is Fear of Failure Paralyzing You from Pursuing Healthy Eating Changes after 60?

By Cassie Christopher September 20, 2023 Health and Fitness

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, implement healthy eating changes, or move your body more, then you’ve probably also failed at each of those tasks. And don’t misread my tone: I say that without any judgement or expectation that you would fit back into your premenopausal clothes or only eat salads.

Women often tell me, with mild embarrassment, that they can’t believe they are still dealing with these same healthy eating habit issues after decades of struggle.

And yet, the most common fear holding these same women back from feeling good in their bodies and knowing they are doing everything within their control for their health is fear of failure.

How Diets and Exercise Plans Make You Feel Like a Failure

Believe it or not, the very same plans you are committing to in order to reach your goals may be making you see yourself as a failure.

The “Before and After” Effect

It starts before you even commit to a particular program.

You see the before and after photos, and another woman’s “after” becomes your measure of success. When your tummy bulge doesn’t disassemble into abs like someone else’s, you feel like a failure.

This feels even worse if you were the after photo at some point in your life.

I’ve noticed women often expect they can just go right back into old habits. If you’ve tried this, then you know it doesn’t work without having to do the hard work of fitting these old healthy habits into your current reality.

Gaining weight after losing some, getting out of your exercise habit, or sliding back into using food to cope with your emotions after feeling like you’ve arrived at “after” can make you feel like a failure.

The Thought Pattern That Is Sabotaging Your Progress

Another major reason you may feel like a failure is all-or-nothing thinking.

Besides killing your motivation to change, all or nothing thinking makes you feel like you are failing even when things are going well.

It is essentially the belief that if you are not following your new plan perfectly, then you are failing.

With lists of foods not to eat, permission for “cheat days” and rigid rules, diets fuel all-or-nothing thinking. This way of thinking is underscored especially if you notice weight gain, pain or other negative feedback when you deviate from your plan.

It starts to make sense why you would hesitate to try something new if every imperfect action (of which there are guaranteed to be many) results in feeling like a failure.

Are You Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop?

A member of my Stress Less Weight Mastery community recently shared that she was feeling better than she had in a long time from her self-care routine, but that feeling was tinged with dread, because she was just waiting for something to go wrong.

This state of anxiety and vigilance for something bad to happen is a common trauma response that may be causing your fear of failure.

My question to this woman, that may be helpful for you if you are in a similar space, is this: Do you trust yourself to get the help you need when you are struggling?

If you do, then you don’t have to be afraid something bad will happen. You can accept that there will be challenges but that you will take them in stride.

What If Your Pursuit of Wellbeing Is a Journey and There Is No “Arriving”?

The idea that you can fail at adding more healthy habits into your life is flawed. It assumes that there is a destination to arrive at, perfect health to attain.

The reality is we are all on a journey towards greater wellbeing, greater connection with ourselves, others, God, the universe. It’s all one big journey, and healing your relationship with food is one part of the journey.

It’s normal to have seasons where we lean into self-care and seasons where we lose the thread.

Yet, each time you come back to caring for your body and your wellbeing, it’s that much easier to integrate new habits because you have your previous experience.

Overcoming Fear by Finding Joy and Meaning in the Journey

When I am in a season where I am frustrated that I have not “arrived” at my goal, I commit to daily writing out an affirmation that has served me well: There is joy and meaning in the journey.

This affirmation, which I have lent to many clients struggling with being present to their own journeys, gives me permission to enjoy the journey and stop focusing on “arriving” at perfect eating habits.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you suffered from the “before and after” effect? Is all-or-nothing thinking keeping you from living the life you want to lead? Can you see how viewing healthy habits as a journey rather than a destination can help you make progress?

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Slow and steady wins the race! Be patient with weight loss and it will happen eventually if you eat the right foods and MOVE. I view my body as a “chemistry lab” now and it is fun to see that cutting back or eliminating sugars from my diet totally does make the scale number work its way downward.

The Author

Cassie Christopher is a Masters-trained Registered Dietitian who helps women in midlife and beyond create a supportive relationship with food, their bodies, and health so they can eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy. You can get immediate help when you're experiencing a craving by downloading Cassie's Cravings Busting audio guide.

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