One of the most common questions I receive from readers and clients, especially during the holidays, is about self-sabotage:
How do you stick to a weight loss plan?
I can’t tell you how many women I have worked with who continually went up and down with their weight, but could never stabilize at a healthy one.
They might not have known it at the time, but they were all sabotaging themselves in one way or another.
Fortunately, when we sit down and talk, and when I give them some feedback, we normally figure out where the sabotaging is coming from, and how to stop it.
Here are the most effective tips I have found to stop self-sabotaging your weight loss journey:
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 1. Purge your pantry
Environment is critical to success. Imagine how much easier it is, for example, to avoid a doughnut when you are out in the woods, versus sitting at a Krispy Kreme. There’s no contest. It’s easier in the woods, where you just can’t get one.
So design your environment for success. What are the foods you are most successful with? Stock your pantry with those. Which ones tend to make you overeat, or feel addictive, or otherwise sluggish and unwell? Get rid of those.
There are more toxic, addictive foods out there in the world than I could possibly count. And every single one of them is designed to make you addicted to it. Literally – this is their entire purpose. They are meant to make you addicted, so that you will buy more, and the companies that make them will make more money.
Keep these foods away from yourself as much as possible. You don’t need to write them off completely of course, but choose to be in healthier environments whenever possible.
This means your home should be as full of nourishing foods as possible. If your husband or other people in your home like to eat crap, try and see if you can partition your food away from theirs.
This also means you should avoid restaurants that tempt you to make less-than-healthy choices, and that you may way to stay away from the snack bowl at work or at parties. You don’t have to, but it makes it a whole lot easier to be loyal to your plans if you aren’t being beckoned at from every angle. Which brings us to….
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 2. Make choices, not rules
The number one mistake I see women make when they want to lose weight is setting rules.
“I will eat 1800 calories a day.”
“I will run every day.”
“I will only eat three times a day and never before 7pm.”
This is a bad idea. Why? There are a few important reasons. One is that if you set rules, and you break them, you may find yourself unduly hard on yourself. This happens to a lot of women. If you break the rules, then you end up punishing yourself in order to “make up for it.” If I ever ate a big dinner back in the old days, for example, I would have to do a 45 minute sprint workout before bed to make up for it.
I’d get bonus points if I did another one in the morning, all without eating.
Another important reason is that your body is subject to fluctuations. Some days you may be more tired than others. It isn’t necessarily healthy to force yourself to work out if your body is already exhausted. I would in fact recommend that you not work out unless you have bountiful energy for it.
Some days you may be hungrier than others. If you set a rule for how many calories you are going to eat, but you end up needing more without letting yourself actually have it, then you may become over-hungry.
When you get “over-hungry” – your body builds up powerful cravings. This sort of feeling will make you overeat, almost necessarily. It is nearly impossible to resist. Once you overeat, you may then wish to punish yourself for it and make yourself undereat. Then you will overeat again, because your has been starved and will build up more powerful cravings.
This cycle can last for decades, and for many women (myself included) it has.
The way to avoid this is to not set rules.
You can set guidelines.
You can set recommendations.
You can set goals.
But do not hold your body to a standard without change. It deserves to be sleepy, to be hungry, to be cared for. The more you listen to your body in the journey instead of trying to be the dictator in charge, the better it will go in the long-run. You need your body on your side, you really, really do.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 3. Set a rough plan and stick to it
So you don’t need rules.
But you do need a plan.
Once you set a plan – which should include at least 50-100 grams of protein a day, 100 grams of carbohydrates, and 30 grams of fat (I discuss calories and macronutrients at length in my program Weight Loss Unlocked) – stick to it for at least two weeks.
Allow yourself to relax into your routine and for your body to catch up to it.
Of course, please be flexible on this plan! If you feel like you need to eat more, eat more!
But in general, you want to be as consistent as possible, so that you can witness what sort of changes the plan is having on your body, and make decisions about what to do from there.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 4. Monitor and experiment gently
As you are sticking to your plan, pay attention. What is working for you? What feels good? What are you skeptical of – what might need some tweaking or more work?
Now, don’t overhaul everything at once!
But experiment gently. Change one or two things at a time that you think could help. Perhaps another sweet potato at dinner? Perhaps making sure you have protein in all three of your meals? Maybe exercise would work better for you in the morning than at night?
The better you watch what is happening in your body, the better you learn what your body needs and doesn’t need to lose weight well. So watch your body, and listen, and learn.
Then you can tweak what you are doing, and arrive at a better place in your journey peacefully and lovingly.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 5. Have faith
Once you pick a plan, and you start gently monitoring and tweaking it, try and sit back and relax with a little bit of faith in it!
When you are on a paleo diet with enough carbs, fat, and protein, and you eat well and exercise well, and when you pay attention to your body and what it needs, you can trust that you are doing the right thing.
Of course, you may have some underlying health issues that need addressing, but that is all a part of your plan and your faith in the plan. Seriously. It is all a part of it.
Sit back, relax, and trust in the process, with all of your patience and tweaking at the ready.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 6. Do not ever weigh yourself
Here is the problem with weighing or measuring yourself while you are losing weight:
If you weigh yourself and you weight too much, you will feel defeated and will overeat.
If you weigh yourself and you have achieved weight loss, you will feel elated and will overeat.
In either case, you have paid too much attention to your body. Our ideas about bodies in American culture today are wrapped up in food. You will, inevitably, think more about food, and maybe change what you are doing on your plan, when you weigh or measure.
This is a huge roadblock for a lot of women I meet. It doesn’t have to be. You can be free, and you can lose weight by vaguely keeping track of the way that you feel in your clothes. You don’t have to be a slave to the scale or the measuring tape.
Trust in your process is crucial for avoiding this kind of sabotage. Trust the plan you have made, and you won’t have to nitpick numbers (that are probably wrong anyway). You won’t have to be ruled by the scale. You can be free to eat and to lose weight the way that you choose, without obsessing over your waist measurement or the calorie count for the day.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 7. Concentrate on Who You Are
This tip may go without saying, but it is super important.
The more that you think about who you are as a person, as opposed to the way that you look, the more in control you will be of the whole process.
When you are secure in your values, in your personality, in your relationships and your career and your life, then you are more satisfied with everything. You don’t need to lose weight as badly as you might if you didn’t love yourself, if you thought the way that you looked meant everything. All you really need is yourself.
Weight loss is very, very hard when you want it so bad. This is true for a lot of important things in life, like romance, for example. In both of these cases, the harder you run for it, and the more crucial it seems for your happiness, the more and more it slips out of your fingers.
The alternative is to stop chasing weight loss. Stop obsessing over it. Stop letting it rule you. Instead, if you can increase your comfort with yourself – with who you are – you can make weight loss a side project. It will be an addendum to who you are, but not the whole thing.
Then you can do so light-heartedly, and more easily, without risk of stress or nervous breakdowns or obsessive sabotaging behaviors.
Stop self-sabotaging weight loss 8. Learn your feeling of fullness and get cozy
A lot of women have a hard time determining when they are hungry or full. They have dieted so much throughout their lives that their hunger and satiation signals have gone haywire. It may seem impossible to get them back.
I know exactly what this feels like. This was a huge problem for me for a long time, and it remains something that is…. well, it’s a bit of a challenge, but only a small one. Nowadays I have a feel for “hungry” and “full” better than I have in my whole life, but I still think my “full” signal is a lot more faint than it is for other people.
That’s okay. I’m okay with that. And you can be, too.
You can learn what “fullness” feels like again by eating slowly. It takes a little while for hunger signals to spread from the gut all the way up to your brain, so give yourself time. Sometimes I like to eat in small servings, and I just keep adding more servings throughout my meal until it feels like it’s been “enough.” This also helps with any psychological hang-ups you might have about restriction, because it assures you always that you can have more if you want it.
After doing this for a couple years I have developed a good, strong sense for my hunger signals, and I no longer need to rely on eating so slowly all of the time, much as I do enjoy it.
Patience is an absolute must for becoming acquainted with hunger and fullness – you just have to sit and listen, over time, for a long time. And be okay when you don’t do it “right.” And relax, and let the signals come to you. They will, I promise.
How to stop self-sabotaging weight loss 9. Don’t listen to your friends
One thing that I can promise you is that your friends don’t like very much is change.
They don’t want you to change your habits.
They don’t want you to look any different.
I mean, they might say that they do. And they might think that they believe it, too.
But deep down, all human beings resist change. This will make your friends subconsciously egg you on to eat unhealthy food (come on it’s just one fry!), or try to convince you that you don’t need to lose weight.
It is of course entirely possible that you actually don’t need to lose weight. And they are right that it really is just one French fry.
But you don’t have to let their resistance rule you.
Develop as much loyalty to yourself as you can, and practice standing up to your friends. Be prepared for when they might accidentally try to sabotage you, and respond in a manner appropriate to your friendship.
You can have a serious talk if you want. Or you can scold whoever’s put you down. Or you can laugh it off. Whatever works for you two – do it. Be loyal to yourself, and be wary of friends who might throw wrenches into your plans, unintentionally or not.
How to stop self-sabotaging your weight loss 10. Stop judging others
The more we judge others, the more we judge ourselves.
This is a fact. We get sucked into cycles of fear and judgment. We train our eyes to be critical. That’s a real thing.
But we also have the power to untrain our eyes from those critical behaviors, and to become more loving and accepting of others.
This is what I do: I go to a crowded place, like a dance club, or a bar, or a park. And I look around at people. And I affirm them. I look for their beauty, whether it’s in their movement or their biceps or their eyes. I look at thin bodies, at big bodies, and at everything inbetween. And I find them beautiful.
Then, when I look at myself in the mirror later in the day, I end up finding myself pretty nice to look at, too.
And when I do that, I stop panicking about weight loss, about my skin quality, or anything else.
This is an excellent way not only to prevent obsessive, judgmental behaviors and self-sabotage, but also to become a more loving, more peaceful human being all around.
Couldn’t recommend it more highly. 🙂
So Tip #10 brings me to the end of my list for how to stop self-sabotaging your weight loss efforts!
If you want to read more about both the psychology and the biology of weight loss for women and how to do it healthfully and fast, you can check out my program for weight loss – Weight Loss Unlocked!
And what do you think about the list? Do you love it, hate it? What works for you? I would love love love to hear what you have to say in the comments!
And also, important, this whole post has been about weight loss! Perhaps you’re interested in a different kind of self-sabotage? For more specifically on how to stop self-sabotaging your diet, check out this post: How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Diet.
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