Maintaining motivation and making the best food choices is key to reaching weight loss targets and achieving the health and happiness you deserve. However, many dieters end up sabotaging their own progress. Let’s uncover the ways your mind and food choices can damage your chances of success. Learn how to prevent self-sabotage and crucially how to get right back on track.
The Ego and Change
Inside your head is a complex biomechanics machine that we call the brain, which processes information and makes decisions. Unfortunately, it is also a little bit crazy (not just yours ALL of ours!). When we understand that our brain, more specifically our subconscious and ego, often makes decisions which are NOT in our best interests it is easier to spot patterns of sabotage and behavior which don’t support us to achieve our goals.
One of the main ‘programs’ of our ego is to maintain the status quo – that is to keep things exactly as they are. So, even if we are unhappy being overweight, the ego would prefer we maintain old patterns of using food as comfort, emotional eating and habitual eating. It simply knows no other way and always takes the easiest option – the path of least resistance. Change causes stress, emotional pain, etc… and your ego is trying to avoid that.
We fear our own failure and own success in equal measure – as it means moving into the unknown – the result is patterns of sabotaging our own best interests. Think about your own behaviors – is there anything you are doing which is undoing your best efforts? Don’t you wonder why it’s so hard to just to the things that would all you to change? If you ever find yourself ‘discussing’ in your own head whether you should or shouldn’t eat something then it is likely that you are about to sabotage yourself! We rarely need to debate the merits of eating an apple, so if you find yourself in deep mental conversation about ‘treating yourself’ to just one bar of chocolate, tub of ice-cream, pack of cookies, or worse, than it is likely you are being driven by your ego, emotions and habits and not genuine needs. (i.e. hunger).
Learning what triggers YOU to sabotage your progress is fundamental to making changes, writing a food journal can really help with this, especially when you write down what happens just before you go off the rails. Seek out professional help for a therapist, pastor or counselor if you need to.
Alcohol and Addiction
Many foods and drinks are addictive – this can be addictive physically or addictive mentally. Studies has been done showing that sugar may be just as addictive as cocaine or heroin. Does that shock you? It may help you understand why it can be difficult, or virtually impossible, to stop when you have started eating something containing sugar, like ice-cream or alcohol.
Refined sugar stimulates primitive parts of our brains which get over-excited and it goes into overdrive producing neurotransmitters which feel good (specifically dopamine). Our biochemistry has evolved very little for thousands of years and we were not designed to live with the modern food excess. Fruits and natural sugars are different as they contain fiber and proportionally less sugar – this means you get full and the body recognizes you have just eaten and with a variety of hormonal changes curbs the appetite.
Almost all processed and refined foods are packed with sugar (disguised with deceptive labelling and nearly one hundred different names). To make matters worse they also add addictive chemicals, substances like monosodium glutamate or MSG (which also has forty different names) to increase what is technically known as ‘repeat appeal’. Refined flours also act very much like sugar on the body, making them, yep you guessed it, potentially addictive too – this is why bread is so ‘tasty’. Unfortunately your addiction is hugely profitable for the multibillion dollar food industry. When we can’t stop eating or craving certain foods, that’s good for business.
Alcohol also plays havoc with your appetite control mechanisms and your capacity to make sensible decisions – it is also associated with weight gain and obesity. Alcoholic drinks often contain a lot of sugar and mess with your mind physically and psychologically. If you are serious about improving your health and losing weight, you could consider alcohol and sugar abstinence to help you maintain control until you have reached a maintenance phase. Consuming addictive foods takes away your power to decide, just like with illegal street drugs the best advice is “just say no!”.
Snacking and Hunger
Keeping your energy levels and appetite stable is another key to weight loss success. When we run out of energy our capacity to make healthful food choices is reduced. When we feel hungry, rushed or tired it is difficult to consider the long term impact of our food choices as both the brain and body are looking for immediate solutions and we grab what we can. Having a plentiful supply of healthy snacks which you genuinely enjoy and having some sense of what “eating healthy” is for you is crucial to staying in control. Taking the time to plan and prepare a selection of fresh and dried snacks which you can carry on you at all times will help you feel safe in a world with addiction on every street corner.
Emotions and Stress
When we experience dips in our emotions or stressful events it drains us of our energy and we naturally try and restore the balance with food. Unfortunately, if we resort to habitual comforting foods we get into a vicious circle as scientists have uncovered a strong link between processed foods, depression and anxiety. (i.e. Emotional Eating)
Look for alternative ways to calm your emotions and unwind. Herbals teas can offer a safe method to naturally calm an anxious or stressed out mind. Deep breaths are another way of calming negative emotions – when you bring more oxygen into the body you get more clarity and perspective on a difficult situation. Mindfulness practices and meditation are also effective mechanisms for calming the mind. More active practices such as kick-boxing and pillow punching also have their place in releasing pent up emotions.
Take your time to investigate the myriad of ways, other than food, that can be used to help you cope with your own feelings. Find out what is right for you to support you to overcome habitual patterns of turning to food for comfort. Spot the patterns of your emotional reactions and find ways which nourish your needs that don’t sabotage your success.
Binging and Guilt
If you do succumb to the temptation of forbidden foods you may find yourself entering a binge crisis. This is caused primarily by the addictive nature of the foods (not many people binge on lettuce!) but also by the guilt. Our guilt actively suppresses our rational decision making and instead of stopping the non-supportive behavior we continue, and finish the box/packet/tub/entire fridge!
Once you have come back to your right mind, after the food is all gone or maybe the next day, let go of the guilt. Let go of the mistake and remember your successes. One mistake will be easily recovered. The guilt for making the mistake is, however, damaging to your progress and emotional wellbeing. Let it go. We all make mistakes, get back on your journey to better health, recommit to what you want for yourself and why you deserve the best body possible.
Summary of Success
Spot your patterns and plan your defense strategy. How can you support yourself better and prevent sabotage before it happens? Remind yourself of your progress; visualize success; stay away from addictive foods and if you do make a mistake just let it go. You can achieve your wildest dreams if you believe in yourself and plan for success.