You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Usually that means success is so critical that failing will cause something catastrophic to happen – so it’s best not to even think about failing.
But mindful eating isn’t one of those things. The world will not end if you eat mindlessly.
What do I mean, then, when I say you can’t fail at mindful eating?
First, it helps to consider how failure is defined. When I checked online, I found a few ways of considering it:
Not being successful at achieving a goal
Not doing what’s expected
Not functioning correctly
These all seem to have a very black and white focus. Either a goal is met, or it’s not. Or perhaps you might have a machine or program that doesn’t do what it’s designed for.
But if you look at these one by one, you’ll see how this simply doesn’t apply for mindful eating.
1: Mindful eating is not a goal – it’s a journey
Success and failure are two sides of having a goal. And you either get there, or you don’t.
Diets operate this way. With diets, you don’t get partial credit. You only get a pass/fail grade – and all too often, it’s a fail.
Mindful eating isn’t like that. It’s not about suddenly getting to a point where you’ve “arrived” somewhere… and then you just stop.
Instead, it’s part of your life’s journey. It keeps going as long as you’re alive.
Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash
That might sound alarming, but it’s not if you think of like a companion or friend. Or other parts of you that are with you all the way. After all, your stomach, veins, skin, spirit will be with you the whole way, too. But that’s not scary. That’s comforting, to know you have something to rely on.
Mindful eating is the same way. It will be you with for the ups and downs, the sprints and rest stops, no matter what meandering path you take. It’s always there for you.
2: Mindful eating is about curiosity, not expectations
You can’t fail at something if you don’t have any expectations.
I think this is where a lot people get tripped up. Maybe including you.
You might feel like you need to set expectations for yourself because otherwise you won’t even try to eat mindfully. You can get so used to the diet mentality of “should” that you feel almost naked without that.
But mindful eating doesn’t expect you to eat certain things or be a certain way.
Rather, it’s about being curious.
Imagine being a kid again. As a baby or toddler, you probably tried to eat anything you could get your hands on – literally! You didn’t expect it to be like anything particular, not at first. You were just curious.
You might have asked yourself questions like, does this taste good? Do I like how it feels in my mouth? Does it make me sleepy or sick or gassy or energized?
That’s all it is. Being open and curious and paying attention.
Of course, it can be helpful to learn from that, and maybe adjust later on if you find something that doesn’t agree with you.
But it’s not a requirement or expectation. If you’re not curious, if you’re not paying attention, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
It just means you weren’t being mindful right then. When you’re ready to get back to it, you can always revisit that moment with the mindset of trying to figure out what happened. Or you can just move forward.
3: Mindful eating can’t be broken
We’ve all had the experience of something breaking on us, and because of that, it fails at doing what it’s supposed to. It could be trivial, like a watch band breaking. Or it could be much more serious, like your car brakes failing to stop your car. (For your stake, I hope that one is hypothetical!)
These are items designed with a specific purpose, and you can say they failed because they no longer achieve that purpose. And sometimes it’s impossible to fix, like a shattered glass.
But mindful eating doesn’t work that way. it’s not a machine or a program. It doesn’t follow a straight patch, like if you do X then Y happens.
Of course, you might want it to be that way. You might wish mindful eating was something so straightforward that you can follow easy steps and voila! You get the same result every time.
But mindful eating is about your relationship to food and yourself. And I don’t know about you, but none of my relationships are ever that simple.
At the same time, this means you can’t break mindful eating like you can a car or computer. Okay, you can get out of the habit, maybe forget what it means to be mindful.
But it’s still there, waiting for you when you’re ready. You can always re-learn how to eat mindfully.
What to remember when you feel like you’ve failed
You might be thinking that’s all well and good – but you still feel like you’ve failed at mindful eating. Or maybe you’re afraid to try because you’re worried you’ll fail.
If so, consider these questions.
Do you have specific, time-bound goals for mindful eating? And if so, consider why you have them. What are they doing for you? Why do you need to achieve it by a specific time? And more importantly, can you move away from the goals and focus on the journey?
Do you expect things to go a certain way? What would it be like to let go of that? Instead, could you imagine being like a little kid, curious and open to learning?
Do you feel like you’ve “broken” something – ruined your one shot at mindful eating? If you do, remember that mindful eating is very forgiving. It won’t judge you, and you can’t do anything that will break it.
I hope this has helped reframe some of this for you. If you’ve run into this, and you’re willing to share your story, I’d be interested to hear about it.
And remember, no matter where you are on the mindful eating journey, you haven’t failed.