Overcoming Self-Sabotage: Your Guide to Successful Weight Loss

Toni Goldswain
Nutrition Expert
April 2, 2024
5 Minutes

Have you ever felt like you're constantly fighting against yourself when it comes to weight loss? You're not alone. Self-sabotage can sneak into our lives in various forms, from setting unrealistic goals to negative self-talk and emotional eating. But understanding why we sabotage our weight loss efforts is the first step towards overcoming it.

What is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage isn't just about cheating on your diet; it's a complex pattern of behavior that stems from various underlying factors. It often arises from a lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, or difficulty managing emotions. Negative thoughts and habits can undermine our efforts to achieve our weight loss goals, making it challenging to sustain progress.

Why Does it Happen?

There are many reasons why we engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. Whether it's comparing ourselves to others, fearing failure, or using food to cope with stress, these patterns can derail our progress and leave us feeling stuck. But it doesn't have to be this way. By understanding our triggers and learning healthier coping mechanisms, we can break free from self-sabotage and achieve lasting results.

Ways You Might be Self-Sabotaging

Self-sabotage can manifest in various ways, from negative self-talk to emotional eating and unrealistic expectations. By identifying these patterns and addressing the underlying issues, we can begin to break free from self-sabotage and create a healthier relationship with food and our bodies.

- Negative Thinker: "I lost 5 kg BUT I still have 25 kg to go"

- Fear of Failure: “I can't do this".

- Closet Eater: eating in secret when no one can see

- Negative Self-Talk: “I am fat and ugly”

- The Saint or Sinner: “I have to eat perfectly otherwise I’ve failed, so might as well eat whatever I want the rest of the day"

- Emotional Eater: “I am so stressed out, I need to eat (sweets, chips, pizza) because it makes me feel better"

- Focusing on the Past: “I have never been able to lose weight and keep it off, nothing ever works"

- The Sky is Falling Syndrome: “I have so much weight to lose, I’m never going to be able to do it"

- The Excuse Factory: “I’m too tired, busy, or stressed out/I'm going on holiday soon/it's my birthday so I must have cake/but someone gave it to me"

- Wearing Blinkers: things you aren't paying attention to. That glass of Shiraz every night? Witching Hour once the kids have gone to bed and you raid the pantry for their sweets? A coffee shop coffee every morning?

- Rushing: we've seen those ads that promise rapid weight loss at an unrealistic rate, which can make us feel like anything less isn’t worth the effort, but rushing weight loss can lead to unsustainable behavior patterns that are easily broken. Weight loss takes time, so be patient with yourself and don’t rush the process.

- Self-Deprivation: you decide you have to eat healthy, 100% of the time, or else you’re failing. You vow you will never touch chocolate cake again, but get to a party and have three slices. You are hosting a party and serving ice cream and cake. You really want to stick to your meal plan, but watching everyone else eat the goodies makes you feel left out and deprived. So, what do you do? Sabotage! You either over-indulge with your guests, or wait for them to leave and sneak into the kitchen and binge on the cake and/or ice cream. Completely depriving ourselves of foods we enjoy causes an increased desire for those foods.

- Comparison: we're all on a unique journey with unique bodies, so comparing ourselves to others isn't helpful. Comparison can distract you from your own progress.

- Lack of Sleep: sleep deprivation can cause us to look for instant gratification - we're tired, we want an energy boost, we think of chocolate, we want it NOW!

- You're a 'Foodie': code for being a hedonic eater - eating for pleasure. This isn't binging a packet of chips which you're not crazy about. It's usually super indulgent foods that you really enjoy. The "positive effect" of this kind of sabotage is joy! But food can't be your only source of joy.

- Food Stress: stress is a huge psychological block to weight loss, because it tells your body that you're under threat, and your body tries to protect you by clinging onto fat to reserve energy. Try to decrease the amount of stress in your life.

- War on Waste: if you're not willing to waste a little bit of food sometimes, you're not honouring your hunger and satiety cues. Leave the Clean Plate Club. Stop finishing your children's lunchbox scraps. Rather than over-eating at restaurants, ask for a doggie bag. Collect food leftovers and hand them out to homeless people.

- Wasting your Willpower: no amount of will power will reduce your body's natural response to caloric restriction. So rather than focusing on trying to undereat, focus on your psychology. Develop the skill of emotional tolerance - feel edgy emotions without being swept away by them. Make peace with uncomfortable emotions.

- Scale Obsessed: weighing yourself too often is messing with your head. Weighing yourself daily causes you to fixate on body image and damages your self-esteem. It is normal for your weight to go up and down. Put the scale away until your monthly progress check-in and FOCUS ON THE JOURNEY.

- Treating weight loss like a punishment: will only lead to resentment. You're having a stand-off with the bread basket, or dreaming of the dessert options. You're wondering why everyone else can eat what they want and you can't. Food is a necessity, but the bread basket and the dessert? They're not. So the next time you have these thoughts, ask yourself whether you're REALLY depriving yourself of a necessity and if you don't change your habits, what will you actually be depriving yourself of? A healthier, happier life.

How to Overcome It

Overcoming self-sabotage requires a combination of self-awareness, self-compassion, and practical strategies. By challenging negative thought patterns, setting realistic goals, and practicing self-care, we can cultivate a mindset that supports our weight loss journey rather than hinder it.

Identify fears: Running late, feeling tired, cold, fear of embarrassment, fear of judgment, fear of change in relationships, fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of success.

Question reasons: Determine if fears are reasonable or irrational.

Weakness and embarrassment: Fear of appearing weak or embarrassing oneself.

Uncertainty in the gym: Fear of not knowing how to start or what to do.

Fear of judgment: Concern about being judged for fitness level or picking up weights.

Fear of change in relationships: Worries about how changing eating habits might affect friendships or relationships.

Belief in failure: Doubt about long-term success, fear of putting in effort and not succeeding.

Coping with failure: Anxiety about how to cope with failure and feelings of inadequacy.

Fear of taking action: Procrastination, overthinking, and avoidance due to

fear of failure.

Fear of success: Concern about losing food as a coping mechanism, facing uncomfortable emotions without it, and maintaining success.

"Once I've lost the weight" mentality: Using weight loss as an excuse to delay taking action on other activities.

Facing fears: Recognizing and acknowledging fears as the first step to overcoming them.

Avoid drastic plans: Unrealistic goals like working out for two hours every day or losing a significant amount of weight in a short time frame are unlikely to succeed.

Take small steps: Focus on making gradual progress towards realistic goals, even if it takes longer than desired. Set smaller, achievable goals along the way.

Examples of small goals:

Add an extra day of exercise to your week and stick to it for a month.

Increase water intake by adding an extra glass of water to your daily routine.

Improve sleep habits by going to bed 5 minutes earlier each night until reaching 8 hours of sleep.

Participate in an official event to provide motivation and a goal to work towards.

Limit sugary foods to specific days planned in advance, such as Saturdays, and practice this consistently.

Overcoming challenges:

Neutralize fears and thoughts by avoiding the "what if" mentality.

Focus on the present moment and acknowledge your current state of health, friendliness, and effort towards your goals.

Celebrate small victories and reward yourself with non-food treats to reinforce positive behaviors.

An Exercise - Step by Step

To overcome self-sabotage, it's essential to identify our triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms. By examining our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we can gain insight into our patterns and make positive changes that support our well-being.

An Analogy: Weight Loss Journey

Weight loss is like going on a road trip. One of the first things you have to do is work out where you want to go - your goal. Then you have to work out why. Very few people just get in a car and drive for the sake of it. After that, you should tell someone of your plans and where you're going. This is usually because you're excited, but also so you have assistance if you run into trouble along the way.

Before you leave, you'll check your car and make sure it's safe to drive. You'll make sure you have a plan for food and a full tank of petrol. You'll probably make a playlist. You look at a map to plan your stops along the way, especially the stops for a break. If you know the key milestones you have to aim for along your route, you're more likely to get to your destination. You set your GPS for the FIRST milestone, not for the end destination. If you only focus on the destination, you'll miss out on the sights along the way. You might miss fuel stations and food stores, or take a wrong turn. You'd have to turn around to retrace your route, which will just make you tired and frustrated. By only focusing on your end destination, you might miss warning lights on the dash, or be unaware of how empty your petrol tank is. You might be at one of the stops longer than you'd planned, but you'll leave there having learnt new things or gained a new experience.

How enjoyable will the journey be if you’re stuck behind the wheel, teeth gritted, never taking time to enjoy the ride? How much harder is it to keep driving to your destination, if you’re miserable, angry and resentful along the way? How hard is it for the rest of your family who are along for the ride? Your weight loss journey is the same. You need to have room to enjoy life. You need to let go of perfectionism and make room and time for some of your favourite things - just not all the time.


Self-sabotage can be a significant barrier to weight loss success, but it's not insurmountable. By understanding our triggers, challenging negative thought patterns, and practicing self-compassion, we can break free from self-sabotage and create a healthier, happier life. Remember, progress is not always linear, and setbacks are a natural part of the journey. Be kind to yourself, stay focused on your goals, and celebrate your achievements along the way. With determination and perseverance, you can overcome self-sabotage and achieve the lasting change you desire.

our recent blogs