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  • Nora Gallagher

Self Sabotage: How we do it, why we do it and how to stop.

There are several different types of self sabotage that people can sometimes run into after making some initial progress. Becoming aware of these acts of sabotage can help prevent you from falling into your own trap. Also, as we approach the holiday season, it is particularly important to address this issue since these tendencies have a way of really taking over this time of year. In this article I’ve identified four of the most common ways people subconsciously get in the way of their own path to success. 


The first is Self Talk.  Your inner voice and personal mindset carry more weight than you probably realize. When you bring up history and old thought patterns, it can be self fulfilling. For example, when you say “Ugh, here I go again...” or “I failed in the past at this, I won’t be able to do it now” you are giving yourself permission to fail again. 


If you recognize yourself doing this, try switching your mindset to stay focused on the present and leaving the past in the past. Remind yourself that progress is not always going to be linear and that having good days AND bad days (or bad moments) IS NORMAL. When you choose to focus on the positive choices you have made you are shifting your mindset. Having the ability to self correct and continue to move forward is the ultimate goal but reminding yourself how you have failed in the past will not allow you to do this. 


The second is Rewards. It is VERY common to use food as a way to reward ourselves, even when people begin to lose weight, despite it being counterintuitive, it is very common to use food as a reward. 

Rewarding yourself with food can be tricky to navigate, as everyone deserves a treat from time to time, but watch yourself when you say / think the phrase “I deserve…” because sometimes this can lead to sabotage. If, for example, you just accomplished a goal and want to celebrate, think ahead about what that treat will look like. The first question you ask yourself should be, can this reward be something other than food? If the answer is absolutely not, try to choose a food/drink you have control over. For example, if you know you have a weakness for cookies and you truly cannot eat just one, choose something else so you do not end up eating an entire box of cookies. When you are aware of what your “trigger foods” are, or foods that you typically binge on, it helps to plan ahead. When you have a plan in place, you can enjoy your treat without feeling guilty because you over indulged. 


Another example of food being used as a reward is when we use it during our transition or break times. Sometimes it is easy to fall into a pattern where you are grabbing a snack in between certain activities throughout the day. For example, if you worked on a project for two hours and need a break, it’s common to reward yourself with a snack, when in reality all you really needed was some fresh air and a stretch. It’s important to remain mindful of your choices and not simply pop a snack in your mouth simply out of routine.


The third bucket is Perfectionist Sabotage. Perfectionist sabotage is allowing one small mistake to ruin your whole day. For example, if you were to eat a piece of Halloween candy and then say to yourself “well, today is ruined now, might as well eat whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow”. The very important thing to keep in mind here is that one piece of Halloween candy is not sabotage, the following 10 are. What you need to be able to tell yourself is to stop, regroup and instead of focusing on the candy you just ate, focus on the meal or snack right after the candy and you will be ahead of the game. 


The fourth bucket can sometimes be referred to as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hide eating. Which, as the name suggests, implies two completely different eating habits during either the day and night or the week and weekend. 

Day / Night: Often people fall into the trap of trying to be “good” during the day but at night have an uncontrollable hunger. If you can relate, the important question to ask yourself is - Am I really being good during the day? Just because you may not be grazing or snacking during the day does not always imply you have “good” eating habits. In fact, it can mean the opposite. Most of the time when people are finding it hard to control themselves at night it means their body has not gotten enough nutrients during the day and their body is looking for MORE. A great solution for this problem is to make sure you eat a well rounded breakfast that includes some protein. Afterwards, either in your head or on paper, map out the rest of your day with WHAT you will be eating and WHEN. This will put you more in control of ensuring you are getting the nutrients you need and by planning WHEN you eat you will prevent your blood sugar from dropping and your cravings to take over your decision making. 

There is a huge emotional component to eating as it provides COMFORT. As the day goes on and you get more tired, decisions become harder. Not many people complain of being bingey at breakfast time. So having a plan in place elminates the need for your brain to have to make a decision when its tired and craving comfort. You have already made that decision for yourself earlier in the day. 

Weekend eating: It’s natural to eat differently on weekends / holidays. There is no reason you need to eat the exact same way all week. If you have a treat or some indulgence planned for the weekend that is fantastic. The problem is when guilt arrives or when you go too far.  A good way to stay ahead of yourself is to pre-think your weekend and choose what you will allow yourself to indulge in and what you will not. For example, if you know you will be at a party where there will be wine and cake and tons of treats, choose which one you will indulge in and provide parameters. When you leave the party focus on the control you had in sticking to your choice. When things don't feel impulsive and out of control there is less guilt. But always remind yourself that a little indulgence on the weekends is not only normal, but encouraged!


In conclusion, it is in our nature to be attracted to things that make us immediately feel good and it's a lot harder to constantly think long term, how is this choice going to affect me once the initial dopamine rush wears off. What you can do to put yourself more in control of your choices is to try and recognize your patterns, allow yourself to have a treat and allow yourself to NOT be perfect. If you make the majority of your choices based on what can ultimately lead you in a better direction you will be less frustrated and more at ease. Perhaps a silver lining of what may be a very unprecedented holiday season for some, is that this year may allow you to disrupt habits that have been created in the past. As long as you remain in control of your choices you will always be ahead of the game. 




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