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Self-sabotage is quite simply the act of undermining your own success when it comes to weight loss. It’s a hugely frustrating behaviour and from your feedback it is one of the biggest issues that men face when it comes to getting healthier.
Some of the classic self-sabotage situations for men are:
- Having a bad day on your diet and then turning that into a bad week, or month. “Well, I’ve messed up now, I may as well have a beer.”
- Setting unrealistic goals. “I’m not going to have a beer until 2025 and I’m going to do 1,000 press ups a day.”
- Looking at how far you’ve got to go, not how far you’ve come. “Yeah, I’ve lost 10lbs, but I still need to lose 100lbs.”
- Putting yourself in harm’s way. “I’ll come to the pub, but I’ll just have a mineral water. Or maybe a half…”
Dietician Heather Osborn says that in her work she sees this pattern of behaviour all the time. “The classic is when you see people being good all week and then going off track at the weekend with alcohol and takeaways. They know that it’s not helping them achieve their goals but they keep that unhelpful behaviour going.”
For Osborn the key is that self-sabotage only happens when someone gets disconnected from their goals and motivation. “Once you start to lose your motivation and go off track the question is how you bring yourself back on track. We do a lot of work helping people to isolate why they’re making that change and how they can stay in touch with their motivation.”
So if you’re reading this and nodding that self-sabotage is something that plagues your efforts to get healthy, how can you beat it?
1: Check in with your motivation on a regular basis and in lots of different ways
“There are so many ways you can help yourself with motivation,” says Osborn. “The classics are writing a list of why you want to lose weight and attaching it to something that you want to do – for some guys it’s playing with their children in the park, or it could be something to do with sports.”
Don’t just rely on the scales as your only form of measurement. Take progress photos. Sometimes a bad week on the scales can be enough to see you ditch the diet, but if you also notice how a shirt buttons up better, or how many chins you’ve got rid of then it can help to offset the bad feelings. Keep that list of why you want to lose weight and check in on a regular basis. Keep updating it and showing yourself why these healthy choices are still relevant to you.
2: Set yourself up to succeed
“Make sure your environment is set up for success,” Osborn says. “That can be simple things like if you know you’re going to want to go and exercise, make sure that your gym clothes are easily accessible. Don’t have the unhealthy foods in the house, or if they are that they’re tucked away and they’re harder to get to. Plan ahead. Do a food plan for the week and ensure that you’re building in treats in a sustainable way.”
For anyone who enjoys a drink this can be a great piece of advice. Rather than throwing yourself into the deep end of the pub and crossing your fingers that you won’t have 10 pints. It can be good to plan to be the designated driver sometimes and then specify the time and place you’ll enjoy a glass of wine, rather than just picking up a bottle and hoping your motivation kicks in at some point.
3: Revisit where you were
“Longer term motivation can sometimes be harder to keep going. That’s why often having things like photos of how someone was previously can be really beneficial. Sometimes, you know, even just, like a food and mood diary, which states what I was eating and how I was feeling can be a great idea.”
For anyone who hasn’t done a food and mood diary (PDF download here) it can be a useful exercise. It simply means logging your food and stating how you feel and what the outcome was. Often it doesn’t take long to find that there’s a correlation between the bad things that you’re eating or drinking and the low mood. For many people these diaries are a way of seeing that emotional eating is a big part of their problem.
4: Think long term
“Long term sustainable change is what you should be aiming for when you make a change. There’s a tendency with men to think in terms of 12 weeks. That can lead to a bit of a white-knuckle situation where men make severe changes over a shorter period of time, which then drop off because they’re too much to carry on and make people feel miserable.”
The simplest advice with regard to long-term change is to take a look at your current healthy eating and ask yourself it it’s something that you’d be happy to carry on with after 12 weeks is up. If not it might be that you’re pushing too hard, or not making choices that are both healthy but enjoyable. Man cannot live by lettuce alone.
5: Watch your own behaviour and know your triggers
“If you’re feeling that you’ve maybe gone off track with something you’re trying to do and you’re not doing so well, that can then make people feel low and sometimes that’s when this sort of binging and company thing can start. And I think that can often play quite a lot large part in self-sabotage,” explains Osborn.
It’s often helpful to think about how you would behave in other spheres of life to give you some comparison for your behaviour when it comes to eating and drinking. For instance, if you were on a project at work and you had a few bad days, would you consign the whole thing to the bin and trash yourself? It seems unlikely. So why apply that behaviour to your health?
Finally, be aware that there can be a temptation with weight loss to swing by your old behaviours. Perhaps you find yourself wandering past a favourite pub, or cruising the sweet aisles in the supermarket. Sometimes we do this to show ourselves how much we’ve changed. But be warned, this can be like seeing how close to the whirlpool you can swim before you escape. Better to steer clear and celebrate the healthy, positive choices you’ve opted for in your new approach.