Why is it so ridiculously hard to lose a stone in weight? Part 3 of 3

Part 3: Because of unconscious self-sabotage

You’ve made a decision to lose weight and chosen what approach you’re going to use. If you’ve chosen Appetite Retraining, you’ll have worked out which Unhelpful Eating Habits you need to change and familiarised yourself with the Appetite Pendulum.

You start well. The enthusiasm of a fresh start with an approach that makes sense boosts your confidence and you’re feeling optimistic.

But somehow, inexplicably, frustratingly and depressingly, a few weeks in, you find yourself doing exactly what you didn’t want to do. Snacking when you didn’t mean to, piling enough food onto your plate for two, or going back for seconds.

It feels like you are 2 different people. The disciplined one who can keep on track and the devil-may-care one who can’t be bothered with all the effort. And unfortunately the disciplined one seems to have quit.

If this is you, don’t despair

For a start, you are in very good company. Oprah Winfrey is one of the smartest, most successful people on TV and she openly talks about her struggles with losing weight and gaining it again.  You, me, Oprah; we all encounter hurdles when we try and change something as fundamental as how we eat. Hurdles put there by the subconscious part of our mind.

Each of us can overcome our hurdles when we understand what they are and what specifically we need to do to get over them. And overcoming each weight loss hurdle doesn’t only allow our body to shed pounds. It allows us to discover strengths and abilities we didn’t know we had.

It’s wonderful to step into our strength in a gentle, compassionate way.  It benefits everyone when a good person can draw on their power to change themselves and their relationship to the world.

Understand your own self-sabotage:

The first step is to understand what it is that is getting in your way. To understand your own hurdles to permanent weight loss, take a look at this list of types of self-sabotage and see which apply to you:

  • Ambivalence

Ambivalence is about holding two conflicting but true positions or feelings at the same time.  Such as wanting to lose weight and not really being that bothered. Too much ambivalence leads to problems maintaining motivation.

Changing how we eat takes effort and focus. You’ve really got to want to achieve your goal if you’re going to put in the work to get there.  Before you start you need to really engage with the bigger picture of your goal and what it will look and feel like to achieve it.

  • Lack of willpower

At each point in the day when you’re faced with a choice between doing the old well-worn habit and the new way of eating, you need enough energy to take the more effortful step (the new way). At that moment, you need to focus right in on the minute detail of your new action sequence.

  • Lack of self-belief

As you make each small step towards your goal, using your awareness of why you’re doing this and focusing on the detail of how to take each step, you simply have to take yourself along with you.  As your physical shape starts to change, you’ve got to learn how to feel OK with it.  Common pitfalls with self-belief, which can send you running to the biscuit tin, are:

“I don’t deserve to lose weight”

“It doesn’t feel safe for me to lose weight”

“I won’t feel like me if I lose weight”


  • Pressure from others around eating

When people close to you put pressure on you around food and eating a whole other source of stress piles in on your attempts to change, and makes it harder to succeed.

  • When you find yourself under pressure from others to eat more, the issue you are confronted with is separateness and autonomy. Others may want you to put food into your mouth to help them feel better. If you don’t respond to this pressure by eating, their own lack of self-control may be exposed.
  • When you find that someone close to you wants you to lose weight, this can be out of concern for your health, but all too often it is because they have their own issues around size and weight. A partner who does this may be wanting you to get thin because they feel that your size somehow reflects on them negatively. Or the issue may be one of them wanting to control you.
  • The pressure might be less overt from the other person and more about feeling a strong sense of competition, for instance with a sibling. Sibling rivalry is as old and as dangerous as Cain and Abel and as recent and newsworthy as Liam and Noel Gallagher.


How to deal with self-sabotage

The second step is to spot when self-sabotage starts to kick in, and deal with it there and then.  Sign up for my weekly newsletter which includes articles and tips about overcoming saboteurs, and have a look around www.theappetitedoctor.co.uk for more information.  To get you going, here are brief tips on how to deal with each type of saboteur:

  • Dealing with ambivalence:

If you’ve got mixed feelings about whether you want to lose weight, you’ll need to strengthen your connection to the part that does want to lose weight. Visualizing your goal state – what you’ll look like in your favourite outfit or being able to do better at sport – every day and as vividly as you can, is a way to do this.

  • Addressing lack of willpower

To be able to do the new thing rather than the old well-worn habit, you need a plan.  Including what you’ll do immediately after you’ve done the new thing.  With eating differently, it really helps to be able to move on to something else after eating to shift your attention long enough for increasing feelings of fullness to register which make it easier not to think of food.

  • Increasing Self-Belief

When it feels alien or strange to successfully lose weight and change your shape, imagine that you are in a clothes shop which stocks styles which are totally different from anything you would usually wear.  Imagine that you try on outfits which you’ve never worn and that although one outfit looks great it feels really weird to see yourself in it.  Visualize yourself walking out of the shop in the outfit, and notice how self-conscious you feel. Other people react differently to you, some positively some not so positively.  Losing weight is a bit like this.  Weird, probably nice-weird but in some ways not-so-nice weird.  Go gently with getting used to it and talk to people you trust about any doubts you have about your new shape.

  • Resisting pressure from others to eat, or not eat

When you change, your relationships with other people may change a bit.  Relating to another person is like ballroom dancing.  The two of you move in harmony as long as you do the same dance you’ve always done.  But if one of you changes something, the dance changes.  The other person has to change to keep the dance going.  And that person may not understand what’s happening.

If the change is small and the other person can deal with it, that’s straightforward. But if the other person wants you to get thinner or stay larger, it may cause friction with them as you start to change.  In this case you may need to weigh up whether the weight loss is worth the conflict. And either way, you may need support from someone who does believe in what you’re trying to do, to help you work out how to deal with conflict or friction with others.

Your first step

Understanding that self-sabotage is a part of normal psychology itself is helpful.

Look at the list of 4 types of self-sabotage above and see which resonates with you most. To begin with, just notice when it’s happening and use the tips above to experiment with doing something different.


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