top of page

Do you self-sabotage your diet?

by Nicola Rose

Many people sabotage their weight loss goals. This article is designed to help you recognise self-sabotaging, understand why you do it and work out how to overcome it. “I exercised this morning, so I’ve earned this bar of chocolate.” Sound familiar? Or are you very careful for a while, lose some weight and improve your fitness… then you gradually go back to your old habits. You know exactly what to do, but you just can’t seem to be able to do it, you could write a diet book with everything you know about weight loss, but you don’t act on it.

The truth is, there’s a huge difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. It’s easy to change from one diet to the next without ever actually sticking to a plan. Success (or lack of it) comes down to our own mind-set, psychology and habits. A diet will never establish the root cause of why we overeat or address emotional, stress induced or mindless eating. Following a diet that is too strict and not sustainable in the long term can also encourage episodes of binge / comfort eating.

Often people think a fear of failure is holding them back, but paradoxically, it can be a fear of success that holds them back the most. Following a healthy eating plan won't work in the long term (no matter how determined you might feel) if a part of you wants to destroy progress toward your goals.

Self-Sabotage can happen when you are scared of success, but why would you be scared of succeeding? This is because, if you are successful, any number of underlying fears could be realised. For instance, if you use food for comfort and to dampen emotions, you will no longer be able to use food as a temporary way to feel better. You will have to find other ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom (because you’re not trying to suppress them with food anymore).

Often people think that once they lose weight their problems will go away believing weight is the cause of their issues. However, this tends not to be the case for most problems and losing weight can also create more issues. Relationship dynamics with friends, relatives and spouses can change and jealousy and insecurities can arise.

If you have ever had the thought “Once I lose weight I will finally...” the safety blanket that protected you from taking action on an intimidating (but ultimately rewarding) prospect has been taken away and this can cause self-doubt and anxiety. These are real psychological issues, but they can be overcome. To break from a pattern of self-sabotage, you need to understand why you are sabotaging yourself.

Sometimes we are not truly convinced that the goal we are working towards is actually going to make our lives better. This causes inner conflict because making and keeping up changes is extremely difficult and new behaviours and habits have got to become established. If new issues are developing because of the changes made, we can then begin to justify to ourselves that it is ok to go back to old behaviours and habits as these are familiar and comforting. Try asking yourself these questions to establish what is really holding you back.

1. List as many reasons as you can as to why you believe your life will be worse when you achieve your goal. (e.g. I'm worried I’ll never be able to eat my favourite foods again and I’ll always feel deprived and miserable).

Our powerful subconscious minds believe that rationalising ourselves out of maintaining weight loss will protect us. However, once we identify the real reasons that we hold ourselves back, we can begin to address and counter them.

2. Write a list of your fears then challenge them. Question your fears and test the logic by examining the evidence. Thoughts are not always true or helpful so learn to recognise the destructive ones, banish them and remove their power. e.g. I don’t feel that it’s possible, so why bother trying. Nothing works long-term and failing again is embarrassing.

Is it really true nothing works long-term? Other people control their weight – you are just as capable as they are. Perhaps your past efforts were not realistic and sustainable. Re-examine your goals and formulate a realistic and sustainable plan, which includes treats and food you enjoy. Most importantly remember that we all have bad days, hungry days and days where we may eat too much. It is absolutely vital to accept that we have done this and then move on without feeling guilt as this negative emotion can begin the cycle of emotional eating.

3. List reasons you believe your life will be better once you achieve your goal. (e.g. I will be healthier and reduce my chances of getting preventable diseases).

Until we identify and deal with the reasons we fear success, we will never achieve it, so use the questions to learn more about your own particular fears. Remember that developing an understanding of ourselves, and recognising why we react to problems in a certain way can take much soul searching, honesty and time. Moving forward can be slow progress but will be rewarding in the long term.

Nicola Rose DipCH BSc (Hons) RNutr is a fully Registered Nutritionist and Clinical Hypnotherapist. She worked for a specialist NHS weight management service for many years. If you have any questions on this article or require a personal trainer please email Nicola at


bottom of page