How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Diet

Looking at the simple math behind it, losing weight should be easy. If “calories out” is greater than “calories in,” the numbers will add up, and the pounds will fall off. So why do things rarely run so smoothly in real life?

In many cases, self-sabotage is the unfortunate answer. When it comes to losing weight, people often prove to be their own worst enemies. A simple “I’ve earned a treat” can turn into a week of binge eating in the blink of an eye, and the older you get, the easier it is to undo weeks or months of progress with a short stint of regrettable decision-making.

In other cases, staying motivated is the hardest thing. Self-sabotage can strike this way, too: you may start to question your underlying reasons for wanting to lose weight or let other negative thought patterns take hold. Before long, you could find yourself convinced that you’re doomed to fail, so there’s no point in even trying.

Overcoming these mental barriers isn’t easy. The first step is to recognize them when they happen and understand them for what they are. Only then can you prepare the kind of healthy, productive, and effective mental response that will help you overcome them.

These tips and tricks can help you find and stick with the winning mindset you’ll need to reach your goals.

Be Realistic

One common source of self-sabotage comes from starting with overly ambitious thinking or wildly unrealistic goals. These include things like:

On the one hand, it’s great to have this much motivation to lose weight, and your energy levels will be high when you first get started. On the other hand, attempting to achieve unrealistic goals is bound to lead to failure, which leads to disappointment, which can spiral into a negative psychological cycle very easily.

Furthermore, if your weight loss goals aren’t realistic in the first place, you’ll be far more likely to adopt unproven or even dangerous dieting methods as you try to achieve them. Not only does this compromise your short-term health, but it also vastly increases the likelihood that you will just end up regaining all the weight you lost. Crash diets aren’t sustainable, and the results they generate often disappear quickly once you return to reality.

Instead, set realistic goals and identify realistic ways to achieve them. For example, you might not be able to lose 25 pounds in a month, but you could more realistically lose ten if you really worked hard. Similarly, you might not stick with two hours of gym time a day starting at 6 a.m., but it would be much more manageable to start walking or biking to work on sunny days instead of driving.

The great thing about smaller goals is that they are easier to achieve, giving you positive reinforcement and something to build on. Put yourself in a position to succeed instead of a position to fail. This could prove decisive in the ongoing battle against self-sabotage.

Break Bad Habits Slowly

Another source of self-sabotage comes from impractical expectations. This is especially true if you’ve been inactive and not eating well for a long time, or maybe even your entire life, but you also expect yourself to wake up one morning and suddenly flip a switch. No more unhealthy foods, no more idle snacking, no more laying around all day. Instead, you’re going to eat a balanced diet, eliminate junk food, and work out 90 minutes every day.

Such a dramatic turnaround may be possible, but it’s rarely feasible. As the old saying goes, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you haven’t already set a precedent indicating such a massive lifestyle turn is something you can manage, you may be setting the bar a little too high a little too quickly.

Instead, make changes incrementally. One proven approach is to identify a list of changes you want to make, either to your diet or activity routine. Then, implement one change per week, starting with the easiest one. If all goes well, you’ll be living a much healthier lifestyle a month or two down the road, and you won’t really feel like you had to sacrifice all that much to get there.

Is Something Scaring You?

As psychologists know, underlying fears are often, at the root of self-sabotaging behavior. People undermine their own progress and their own best interests because at the root of it, something scares them.

Specific to weight loss, some common scenarios include:

These are just a few examples. The list of possible psychological fears goes on and on. You can empower yourself to move past this barrier by recognizing that it’s happening, coming to grips with the reasons it’s happening, then reasserting your reasons for wanting to forge ahead.

Slay Your Psychological Demons

Building off the last point: you’ll do yourself a huge favor and put yourself in a position to take a major step forward if you develop the tools to overcome negative or toxic thinking patterns. The following method was developed by a hugely successful weight loss professional specializing in helping clients with the psychological side of things.

It unfolds over three steps:

  1. Write down five reasons you think your life would be worse if you achieved your weight loss goals.
  2. Poke a hole in each of the reasons you listed in step one, demonstrating to yourself that your fears are unfounded.
  3. Write down five reasons you think your life would be better if you achieved your weight loss goals.

This approach works because it forces you to articulate, face, and rationalize your fears, then replaces them with more positive ways of thinking. Keep your list of five positive outcomes on hand so you can refer back to it if self-doubt or self-sabotage starts to creep back in.

Take a Structured Approach

Structure is a powerful weapon against self-sabotage. It allows you to drown out the mental noise by simply falling back on an established routine. Here are some easy ways to take a structured approach to weight loss:

Winning the battle of the bulge certainly requires physical discipline, but the mental aspect of it is even more important. Empower yourself by building up your psychological toolkit so you’re more readily able to respond to the inevitable challenges and setbacks you’ll face along the way.