February 04, 2010

Self-Sabotage: We Have Met The Enemy....And It Is Us

Have you ever gotten to a point in your weight loss journey when things are chugging along nicely, you’ve passed a few important goals and should be coming down the stretch for your ideal weight in the not too distant future? And then suddenly you revert back to the behavior that got you into this mess in the first place. Frustrated at your seeming inability to close the deal – yet again! – you throw in the towel and go back to living a life well beneath your capabilities. Why does this keep happening? Why aren’t you proceeding toward your goal anymore instead of backing away from it? Don’t you want to accomplish this more than practically any other thing in your life right now?

"...and please help me stop chasing my tail. Amen."
Photo: snuzzy

Anybody who’s ever fallen into self-sabotage mode will tell you, usually through tears and not for the first time, that getting fit is what they really, really want. And yet every time they get close to their goal, they fall apart. You have all the information and resources that you need but you just can’t seem to finish what you started. How can you really want (or need!) to do something so desperately and yet get in the way of your own progress just when things are going well?

Getting your head and your body on the same page is not as easy as it sounds. There are daunting statistics about how few people really succeed at losing weight so clearly, getting your whole body geared up for the same mission is vital and not something a lot of us have mastered.

If you’re like me and have Googled “self-sabotage” (that’s a lousy picture of me, too, by the way), you probably wound up with a real mish-mash of information. There are a lot of lead-ins to products people are trying to sell you: hypnosis, past life regressions, dealing with addictions, seminars that “will change your life”, and so on. Some of the articles skim the topic but for me, I needed to find something that dug deeper. I know I do this and I need to learn WHY if I’m ever going to navigate my way through this successfully. Telling me I fear failure or fear success is only scratching the surface. I have a hunch there are a few more layers to it than that.

I bought a great book entitled, Fattitudes, by Jeffrey Wilbert and Norean Wilbert, and if anyone else is struggling to overcome self-sabotaging behavior, then this might be the book that will shed some light as to why you do what you do. The emotional baggage many of us carry but haven’t truly faced and resolved seems to be at the heart of this self-sabotaging behavior. We’ve been given all kinds of reasons why we should lose weight but could there actually be a part of our subconscious that thinks the status quo is just fine, thank you very much? As crazy as it sounds, could there possibly be a payoff for staying fat?

Think about it: If we start succeeding, will those closest to us resent us for it and start to distance themselves from us? Could we live a fulfilling life without our closest friends and families – even though they don’t have our best interests at heart, as evidenced by their reaction to your success? Or are we afraid that if we succeed on such a grand scale, more will be required of us and maybe, just maybe, we feel we don’t really have what it takes to keep up that kind of pace? Or have we failed as this fitness thing so often that we’re afraid this latest effort will simply be another notch in the loser belt? We keep insisting that we want to change our lives but what other things we will be inviting into our lives when we do change? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

These reasons for your behavior are not going to be crystal clear and easily accessible – you’re going to have to dig for them. There are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself and answer honestly. And then you have to take those answers and look at them with fresh eyes to figure out why you have been blocking your own success. Everyone’s story and background are different but what seems to be a common denominator for emotional eaters is that for some reason you made others and their feelings and expectations of you trump your own and you have carried that into your adult life. You have adapted your station in life to where they think you belong. You may have grown up in chaotic, neglectful or abusive circumstances and adapted a certain way of coping in order to deal with your situation. Overeating may well have become one of those coping mechanisms instead of you developing healthier, more basic ways of dealing. This book offers some wonderfully illuminating examples of why people do what they do in terms of pursuing weight loss. Maybe you’ll read about someone with a very similar experience to yours: the emotional eating, the self-worth issues, the people-pleasing behaviors. And hopefully you’ll figure out how all those experiences got mixed up into undermining our best selves.

The second part of the book offers suggestions of how to right this wrongheadedness through a series of questionnaires and exercises. It tries to help dissect your issues and teach you how to accept the ideas of worthiness and deserving and self-care such that they will fit more comfortably in your vocabulary from now on. Yogi Berra was right (even if he was referring to baseball – it still applies here): This game is “ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Do any of you feel that you’re self-sabotaging your efforts to get fit? Why do you think that is and what are you doing to try to correct it?


  1. As a seasoned yo-yo dieter, this the BIG question, isn't it? Why undo all that work and go back to being fat and out of shape?

    Personally, I have a bit (no, a lot!)of "then what?" feeling when I am close to or at goal. I seem to flounder when I don't have a direction. Going up and going down - I know what that feels like. Moving FORWARD in a new direction? Feels very unfamiliar.

    I know all of this fiddling around with weight is a distraction from what is going on underneath. I am ready to start digging (archeological!) and get on with REAL living!

    (I'm going to look for that book!)

  2. I agree with Debbie, when I take my eye off the ball, that's when I get in trouble. One book I have really enjoyed is Martha Beck's "4-Day Win"...it too has exercises and she is extremely funny and helps you get a sense of humor about your foibles. I don't really blame other people, though, for my weight issues. They are entirely of my own making. But I may give this book a look-see.

  3. This is a really great post with some very eye opening points for many of us. My self sabatoge seems to be more in real life vs. exercise life. Thx for this!

  4. I'm scribbling down "Fattitudes" right now. Since I'm just about six weeks into my latest Get Healthy crusade (which is longer than any of my previous Get Healthy crusades have ever lasted), I'm going to need all the help I can get.

    Also, past life regression? Seriously? Like, I was fat in other lives?!

  5. Oh Gigi - once again a kindred spirit. YES! This is me. I will have to check out that book. I mention some of the same things today about living authentically. I think it perhaps is anger that comes out as self-sabotage. Their is a tribute Cranky Fitness in my post today too. I will miss this part of my morning ritual but I will continue on my journey.
    While I look like several of the reasons given, I think the biggest one is more will be expected of me, and once again I will lose who I am.
    AWESOME post!

  6. I think that this is delving into the whole issue of maintenance where there is no direction and no goal. It's going to be this way forever and there will be no smaller sizes or comments from people about how you have lost weight, etc. I feel that you have to be in it for yourself. I guess that's the self worth issue of the book. You have to chose health for yourself, because you are worth it.

  7. One problem I have is that I don't want to dig up all of that ugly, messy, internal stuff that is truly hindering me.

    I want the dirty work to be over with already, and real life is just not like that.

  8. I self-sabotage and relate to the "Think about it" paragraph. Lots to ponder.

  9. I may be fooling myself, but I THINK my conscious and unconscious goals are pretty much in alignment, at least as far as health, fitness and weight loss.

    It's mainly laziness that gets in my way, which is a simpler, easier battle to fight. (Not that I always win).

    Sure hope all of you who self sabotage get the success and happiness you all deserve! Must be so frustrating.

  10. My biggest reason for getting to the point that the status quo is okay is that I realize getting to and maintaining my "ideal" figure is a lifetime if self-denial and resisting temptations. I mean, obviously when I get there I can't go around scarfing funfetti cookies and cake every day. And the idea of a lifetime of resisting funfetti cake is just too daunting.

    But then again, now it's winter and I can stay bundled up in coats instead of wandering around in a bikini. Also, I get grumpy in the winter, so I'm sure my attitude will change come summer.

  11. I'm with Crabby on this one. I've done lots of soul searching. I'm not an emotional eater (much), my family and friends give great support...I'm just busy and lazy. The more I implement a schedule and planning, the better I do. If I just "wing it" I indubitably start sliding.

  12. Every single time I do this...every stinkin time! It does have a payoff...why else would we do it! And, finding out what that payout is...more difficult than one would guess. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction for a little bit of help!

  13. I've been struggling a lot lately with my people-pleasing tendencies and it's something that finally (at 33) want to move beyond.

    I was adopted which I'm realizing has led to a host of issues I'd ignored and I'm trying to figure myself out. Going to the gym helps a lot but for some reason I just want to go to the gym aso I can tell people that I went and feel good about going but not actually push myself to get healthy. I want to eat well 75% of the time and eat pizza the rest of the time. It's like a fricking seesaw over here!

    That book sounds like it could help people on so many levels! I'm going to try and get that from the library.

    Thank you so much!

  14. Sometimes all it takes is one bad ovr indulgent meal to throw you off track for weeks.

  15. I don’t comment on blogs but this time I really felt a need to put what I was thinking down so please excuse me if I ramble; in a way this is therapeutic. I'm so glad I ran into this post as I too am the quintessential yo-yo dieter. “Born” a fat child and growing into a fat teenager and ultimately a fat adult. It was only around the time I entered varsity that I started getting into exercise (realised I enjoyed it and the benefits it reaped), eating less and started losing weight. My weight loss was by no means healthy. It involved (and still involves) a lot of crash-dieting, binging then making myself throw up, starving myself for weeks on end, exercising obsessively for months on end then quitting suddenly. You get the picture. Anyway, I was my lowest weight ever in varsity but I was still so miserable. I felt empty, lonely, awkward, sad, the usual self-absorbed “woe is me” feelings. When I started working professionally in my early twenties I gained at least half of the weight I had managed to lose before and since then I've entered the same cycle of losing and gaining, losing only to throw in the towel and gain again. I'm constantly on a diet, thinking about going on a diet or on the brink of starting yet another diet. My mind is constantly reeling with thoughts about how I'll be a much happier, successful, fashionable, confident, interesting, attractive person if I was thinner. I've pretty much blamed my weight for anything and everything that hasn't gone right in my life, all the opportunities I’ve turned down, all the hiding I do. I've always felt that deep down inside I'm a really confident and beautiful person but my weight is blocking me from that. Anyway, long story short after reading your post I asked myself that question, "why is it that just as I’m about to really get into that weight loss territory where things almost shift and change, where it really matters; I somehow sabotage my attempts and give up?” I ultimately revert back to my old habits and once again beat myself (with a kind of self-satisfied, “I knew you couldn’t do it”) and retreating into my fat shell, on the fringes of society and refusing to engage in social activities, meet new people, take a risk and listen to my heart. Reading this post has kind of allowed me to (in some way) scratch the surface into the 'why?' All my life I have defined myself by my appearance. In my case, my appearance was thus defined by weight. My weight has been in some way been a security blanket. I've used it as a crutch and a scapegoat when I’ve felt people are criticising me, when I've felt ignored, when I didn't have any success with the opposite sex etc. etc. Without the weight, who/what will have to blame??? Losing the weight will mean I will have to start pointing the finger elsewhere, more specifically at myself and the core of me. All the things that define me as person outside of the physical will have to come into question and I think that’s what scares me. I will have to face true reality when, for the past 26 years, I’ve let my reality be defined by my weight. Scary. Now, where to from here? Sorry for the long post.

  16. A very powerful post and lots of thought-provoking comments here.

    Without getting too personal, I'll just say that without the archeological digging (love that description!) weight-loss attempts are doomed. Yet the self-examination can uncover some very painful realisations and memories, so it's understandable if people don't want to go there.

  17. I used to self-sabotage my goals for fitness. And I wouldn't know it until I was deep into the whole thing. Now, I still self-sabotage. But I catch myself before things get too bad. Or when it's just starting. I'd say I'm learning and facing my issues.

  18. Don't many of us grow accustomed to the "big" person we are and have a tough time letting go? I mean, that's who we ARE and HAVE BEEN for most of our lives (in many cases). It's not an easy thing to leave. Even though we want out of it, it IS what we know. Familiarity is usually far more comfortable than change. I'm talking about those of us who do great, then hit the "plateau" (not a natural one, but one [when you look more closely] you've created) at a certain size/weight: what happened? Your mind isn't allowing you to progress, as you always see yourself a certain way.

    I remember many years ago going to a weight loss center (phen-fen, anyone?) and they had a special mirror that they had us look in each time we were weighed and it was about 15 pounds less than we really looked in real life. I thought I looked virtually anorexic in that distorted mirror! Why? Because my body image is SO DISTORTED from years of this crap. If a "normal" viewer saw it, they'd see in the mirror I was still a woman who needed to lose a whole lotta weight. But, to me, the "special mirror" looked freaky, as if I was far too thin. Our self-perceptions from way back when are messing with our minds and we need to let them GO!

    We can do this!

  19. I have yet self-sabotaged myself yet again and I've hit rock bottom because I don't know how to fix it. Like mentioned in the article, I Googled "self-sabotage " and I found myself here. I'm going to give the book mentioned a shot. I have nothing to lose but maybe these last 10 pounds.
    Thank you for your article! Although it is over 2 years old, I found value in it today.
    Thank you for giving me hope.

  20. This post really hit the nail on the head. I can't weight myself. If I lose a pound. I will almost immediately begin to do the things that keep me fat. Only once in the past 10 years have I been successful at keeping any weight off. (around 10 pounds in 2008) I recently gained back five pounds. I need to lose about 90-100 pounds. I know how to lose weight. I just keep repeating the same pattern. I'm going to sit down and really do some soul searching and see what has to be done to change this pattern of self-sabotage. thank you for the post.


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