You probably know the drill – you have the best intentions, a good, workable plan for fitness, you’ve done the shopping for healthy food. You’re on track for a while, and it feels good. Then, maybe slowly, maybe quickly…you start sliding backwards. Almost unconsciously, you find yourself taking shortcuts – just a few here or there, an indulgent meal out with friends, a milkshake as a celebration, skipping a workout…and before you know it, you’re back where you started.
Did you stop wanting a healthy lifestyle? Probably not. So what happened?
Why Do We Sabotage Ourselves?
You’re the only one who can really uncover the reasons you sabotage yourself. But here are some of the more common patterns I’ve seen:
Also known as Black and White thinking – you’re either on a diet or you’re completely indulgent. You’re training for a marathon or you’re a couch potato. You tend to focus on whether or not you lost weight this week or you improved your time – and you might be likely to give up if you didn’t.
The trick is not to make each week a win/lose proposition. You have to focus on the long haul. Maybe you didn’t lose your expected 2 lbs. this week, but you’ve lost weight overall. Maybe you’re stuck at lifting a certain weight, but it’s 25 lbs. more than you could lift when you started. Keep your focus on the big picture, and the idea that this is a lifestyle you’re committed to, not a contest where you have to keep beating your personal best.
Food is more than just food
Food represents so many things – it’s how many of us received love and comfort from our families. Our best times growing up often revolve around food. When was the last time you went to a celebration and there was no food? It’s completely woven into our social fabric.
It’s also cheap and easily available – so why not reach for it when we’re craving some good feelings? It’s probably the easiest, quickest way we have to treat ourselves.
The association between food and celebration won’t ever be completely severed, but you can take some action stop it from derailing you.
Make healthy food more easily available than unhealthy food. This takes some work, because you may have to plan and cook. Write down a list of healthy foods that you really do enjoy, and make it a priority to have those on hand all the time.
Make dates with friends for walks or exercise time where food isn’t the center of the activity.
Plan ahead for celebrations, decide before going what you’ll eat, and stick to it. At the same time, remind yourself that you can have a good time without eating everything. Get up and play games, dance, pay attention to the activities that don’t involve food or alcohol.
You’re too indulgent
You’ve lost 5 lbs, so you’re going to go ahead and order those garlic fries. You’ve done really well with your fitness plan this week, so you’re going to take a day off.
If that’s all it is, no problem. If you really can jump back on the bandwagon the next day, fine. Give yourself a break.
But for many of us, those small decisions are the beginning of the end. If you’re trying to start a healthy habit and get rid of an unhealthy one, you’ve really got to keep doing it. You have to train your brain to not even question it. This is sort of the flip-side to #1 – it’s not really that we’re perfectionistic, it’s almost like we’re not perfectionistic enough. Eh, one cookie’s not going to hurt my diet. So true – but the effort you have to put in to get your brain back on track might.
People who have quit smoking know that if they even have one cigarette, it’ll be over, and they’ll be smokers again. Some people who have had alcohol problems can eventually become social drinkers without a problem, but most decide to stay completely away from it.
If this is you, you’re going to have to muscle up what discipline you have and be committed to whatever habit you’re trying to change. Reward yourself in a way that doesn’t involve food or skipping workouts, because you know that falling off the wagon is the start of your downfall.
Also, start small. It’s overwhelming to change everything at once. Follow the Sisterhood’s Year of Small Changes Plan and just tackle one habit at a time.
If you’re tempted to stray, think to yourself, “This is just my brain trying to get me back into old habits. It’s easier to keep myself on track today than to drag myself back up to the track tomorrow.”
You don’t think you deserve it
This is a tough one. You might be over-identified with being heavy, and be afraid of the life you would have if you were fit. You may wonder if people will accept the “new” you. You may be used to blending into the background, and worry that there might be new expectations if you change.
You really have to look closely at your beliefs about yourself and your life, and recognize them as beliefs instead of truths. It’s great if you can identify who or what gave you that belief, and recognize how you’ve been accepting those beliefs as truths. You also have to consciously challenge the beliefs.
Tell yourself that you don’t know what will happen if you change your lifestyle, but you have faith in yourself that you will be able to handle whatever does happen.
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list. If you find yourself sabotaging yourself over and over again, or if you realize you’re doing it in more than one area of your life, consider consulting a therapist. That’s what we do – we help people clear out the cobwebs of old beliefs and patterns to live the life they really want to live.