"I exercised this morning, so I’ve earned this pizza." "I’m stressed out after a rough day, and chocolate helps me relax." "I can treat myself. It’s the weekend, and I ate healthy all week."
In the 10 years I’ve been coaching people on how to lose weight, I’ve heard countless clients say, "I’d be able to lose weight if only I were able to stop self-sabotaging." And they’re right.
Many people sabotage their weight loss goals. I’m going to help you recognize self-sabotaging when you see it, understand why you might be doing it, and figure out how to overcome it.
Are You a Self-Sabotager?
See if either of these sounds like you:
-You’re careful for a while, lose some weight, and improve your fitness… then gradually revert back to your old ways.
-You know exactly what to do, but can’t seem to do it. You feel like you could write a diet book with everything you know about weight loss. But you don't act on it.
The truth is, there’s a huge difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. It’s easy to hop from one diet to the next without ever sticking with anything. Success (or lack thereof) comes down to our mindset, psychology, and habits.
No diet that is solely based on the food you eat will help you figure out why you gained weight in the first place. A diet won't fix emotional, mindless, stress-induced eating, and it won't fix habitual, compulsive binge-eating. Basically, a diet won't get to the root cause of why you overeat.
People often think a fear of failure is holding them back. I frequently hear, "I don't want this to be yet another failed diet attempt." But surprisingly, it's a fear of success that holds people back the most. The best diet won't matter—no matter how determined you might feel—if a part of you wants to destroy progress toward your goals.
Self-Sabotage Happens When You’re Scared of Success
Why would you be scared of success? Well, if you're successful, any number of fears could be realized. For instance, you won't have food as a way to temporarily escape or quiet your mind at work or home. Or you'll have to deal with uncomfortable feelings such as self-doubt, regret, disappointment, or fear (because you're not suppressing them with food).
Maybe you'll lose the "Once I lose the weight I will finally..." safety blanket that protects you from taking action on an intimidating (but ultimately rewarding) prospect.
These are real psychological roadblocks, but nothing that can’t be overcome. To break from a pattern of self-sabotage, you need to get to the root of why you’re sabotaging yourself. I frequently use the exercise below, which often leads to breakthroughs.
The MyBodyTutor Self-Sabotage Worksheet
We fall off track because a part of us isn't sure that the goal we're working toward is going to make our lives better. This causes inner conflict, and when there's inner conflict, we do the easiest thing of all: nothing.
I’ve presented this simple worksheet to many clients, and I’ve found that it helps determine what’s really holding them back.
1. List five reasons you believe your life will be worse off when you achieve your goal.
These are some real answers I’ve received from clients.
-I don’t feel like it’s possible, so why bother trying. Nothing works long-term, and failing in front of everyone multiple times is embarrassing.
-My boyfriend loves beer; I want to go to breweries with him and drink beers without worrying about calories or carbs.
-I'm scared of dating. I know if I lose the weight, I'll have no excuse not to get out there.
-I'm worried I’ll never being able to eat my favorite foods again and I'll always feel deprived.
-I don’t want to exercise for hours every day.
These reasons all have one thing in common: Our powerful subconscious minds believe that rationalizing ourselves out of weight loss will protect us. But once we identify the real reasons that we’re holding ourselves back, we can begin to counter them.
2. Challenge your fears.
Question your reasons and poke holes in their logic so you can remove their power.
I don’t feel like it’s possible, so why bother trying. Nothing works long-term, and failing in front of everyone multiple times is embarrassing.
Is it really true that nothing works long-term? You’ve seen other people accomplish weight-loss goals, and you’re just as capable as they are. Perhaps what you've tried wasn't sustainable. You’re worth taking another shot. Besides, our desire to lose weight and improve our health doesn't fade; we just tend to either realize our goals or rationalize them away when achieving them gets challenging. And if we're honest, "everyone" usually comes down to just a few people, anyway.
My boyfriend loves beer; I want to go to breweries with him and drink beers without worrying about calories or carbs.
You can still go to breweries with him. However, there has to be a balance between living for today and living for tomorrow. One solution is to be selective of what, where, and when you indulge. Try this: Ask yourself, Will I remember this beer in two weeks? If so, go for it. If not, skip it.
I'm scared of dating. I know if I lose the weight, I'll have no excuse not to get out there.
What about dating are you scared of? Is it the possibility of rejection? Are you scared all romantic partners will be like your last one? Are you scared to be vulnerable? This can be hard stuff to think about, but try to be as specific as possible.
I'm worried that I’ll never being able to eat my favorite foods again and I'll always feel deprived.
Any program that demands you give up your favorite foods is ridiculous. Deprivation is not sustainable. You can enjoy your favorite foods while losing weight. We teach our clients how to be fit and happy, not fit and miserable. If you don’t enjoy your life as you’re losing weight, you’ll never be able to sustain your weight loss.
I don’t want to exercise for hours every day.
You don't have to! Eighty percent of weight loss is diet. It's about what, why, and how we eat. This is why you see people working their butts off in the gym month after month—even with a trainer—looking no different. It’s what you do between exercise that makes all the difference.
Now that you’ve challenged your fears, you can counter them with how you believe your life will be better if you do lose weight.
3. List five reasons you believe your life will be better once you achieve your goal.
Here are some examples I’ve gotten from clients:
-I’ll be healthier and reduce my chances of getting preventable diseases.
-I’ll have more energy for myself and my family.
-I’ll feel happy to be in photos instead of hiding away from the camera.
-I’ll be a good role model for my children so they don’t repeat my negative food behaviors.
-I will finally stop worrying about my weight.
Until we identify and deal with the reasons we fear success, we'll never be successful. A lack of knowledge about what’s good for us is rarely the real problem in this day and age. Instead, we tend to suffer from a lack of consistent action... and that usually comes down to what's going on between our ears.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that solves the lack of consistency faced by chronic dieters. Sign up for his free newsletter and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.