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Dr. Kim: Is Self-Sabotage Controlling Your Life?

Written by: Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Kim Feinstein, RedMountain Weight Loss Behavioral Weight Loss Specialist

Do you suffer from The Sabotage Syndrome?

Have you ever gotten to a point in your weight loss journey when things are proceeding nicely, you have lost a significant amount of weight and are so close to attaining your ideal goal weight, and then “something” happens… you revert back your old eating habits. You begin to say things like, “I am good during the day, but at night I start grazing and picking, and then tell myself I will start again tomorrow.” Or, “I had a bad eating day, might as well quit.” For some, it may be a quick return to old eating behaviors, for others, it is a slow gradual reoccurrence. Then you feel so disappointed and frustrated regarding your inability to lose the weight yet again, so you decide to give up.

What about these scenarios… as your diet is going great and you are losing weight, instead of giving you flowers for your anniversary (or any other holiday), your significant other gives you a box of your favorite chocolates! Or, you have friends, coworkers, family members, etc. tempting you with food choices they know you are avoiding, while saying remarks like, “Just one bite won’t hurt you” or “You have come so far, you deserve to have just one!” “I made this, you have to try it.” or ”It is my birthday, you have to have cake!”

Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Thousands of dieters suffer from similar patterns. In my experience, I often have patients ask, “Why does this keep happening? Why can’t I just lose the weight and keep it off?” Or, “It is as if I have two minds…one that wants to lose weight, and one that won’t let me.”

I also frequently hear, “Why can’t my spouse (significant other, friend, family member, etc.) support my weight loss efforts?” “It almost seems as if people are trying to make me eat and stay fat!”

So, why are you your own worst enemy? Why do you or other’s stand in the way of your weight loss goals?

Most likely, the answer is… drum roll please…The SABOTAGE Syndrome.

What is the Sabotage Syndrome?

We use the word sabotage all of the time, but do you really know what it means? By definition, sabotage means to destroy. Therefore, when it comes to weight loss, the sabotage syndrome is any deliberate or unconscious thought, feeling, or behavior that attempts to destroy your ability to achieve your weight loss goals, which happens time and time again with each weight loss (or maintenance) attempt. There are two common forms of sabotage in weight loss: self-sabotage and assisted sabotage.

What is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage is when you destroy your own ability to achieve your weight loss goals by working toward your weight loss goal, then retracting from it. Most commonly, your own mind becomes your biggest enemy and your thoughts begin to severely affect your behaviors. For example, when you start your diet, you have a positive attitude, feel motivated, and believe “I can do this.” Over time, something happens and your belief “I can do this” is countermanded by “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard.” Or, your initial thought “I can change is overridden by “I’m unable to change.” It is this ambivalent and harmful attitude toward yourself that causes you to unconsciously do everything in your power to destroy your new healthy lifestyle.

Reasons for Self-Sabotage

Why do you work so hard to diet, lose weight, and get healthy only to destroy your own efforts? It would seem foolish that after eating healthfully and balanced for a significant period of time you would binge on a dessert or a fattening meal. Even as you are consuming the unhealthy food, you know you should not be eating it, but you just cannot stop.

There are several reasons why self-sabotage tends to linger in our lives. Most often, it is due to a lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, and/or self-belief. Negative thoughts about yourself and your ability to lose weight can undermine your weight loss efforts. The messages you give yourself through your conscious or unconscious self-talk have a powerful ability to affect your feelings, behaviors, and results.

You can also suffer from self-sabotaging behavior because you are unable to effectively manage your emotions. This is otherwise known as emotional eating. For example, you rely on food to cope with stress, anger, sadness, boredom, loneliness, and/or any other negative emotion. Interestingly, emotional eating is also triggered by positive emotions. This occurs when you eat in response to feeling happy and/or excited. For some, self-sabotage becomes the go to technique for coping with challenging situations, the hassles of daily life, major life events, or unrealistic expectations of ourselves, which we subconsciously feel we are incapable of reaching. Nevertheless, whatever emotions drive you to eat, the outcome is the same…your feelings return, and you likely bear the additional burden of guilt regarding sabotaging your weight-loss.

Another reason for self-sabotage may be because you have a (conscious or unconscious) fear of being deprived. I hear this all of the time from patients. For example, you are hosting a birthday celebration and serving ice cream and cake. You really want to stick to your meal plan, but watching everyone else eat the goodies makes you feel left out and deprived. So, what do you do? Sabotage! You either indulge with your guests, or wait for them to leave and sneak into the kitchen and binge on the cake and/or ice cream.

Additionally, fearing failure may cause you to self-sabotage. This usually occurs because you see failure “the worst thing in the world” or as evidence of how inadequate you (subconsciously) believe you are.

Regardless of your reasons for self-sabotage, if you do not stop it, you will continue living a life full of disappointments, regrets, and unfulfilled expectations.

9 Signs you are Self-Sabotaging

  1. Negative thinker – Focusing only on the negative and ignoring the positive (ex. I lost 3 pound BUT I still have 25 to go.)
  2. Fear of failure (ex. “I’m going to fail.”)
  3. Closet Eater – Eating in secret
  4. Negative self-talker – Beating yourself up (ex. “I am fat, ugly, not good enough, etc.”)
  5. The saint or sinner mentality – Expecting perfection {ex. “I have to eat perfectly otherwise I’ve failed, so might as well eat what ever I want the rest of the day.”)
  6. Emotional Eater – (ex. “I am so stressed out, I need to eat _______ (sweets, chips, pizza, etc.”)
  7. Focusing on the past – doom and gloom (self-defeating behaviors) (ex. “I have never been able to lose weight and keep it off, so I won’t be able to do it this time.”)
  8. The Chicken Little syndrome – the sky is falling! (ex. “I have so much weight to lose, I’m never going to be able to do it.”)
  9. The Excuse Factory – Making excuses for not eating healthy or exercising (ex. “I’m too tired, busy, or stressed out.” It’s too hard!” “It is my birthday, so I must have cake.” “My aunt made it, so I have to eat it.” “I have a slow metabolism, I’ll never lose weight.”)

“Stop self-sabotaging. Learn to identify these behaviors before they destroy your efforts. You are in control of your weight loss success.” – Dr. Suzanne Bentz, D.O., Owner & Medical Director of RedMountain Weight Loss.