Is This Surprising Source of Self-Sabotage Holding You Back?

How many times have you attempted to lose weight, followed a sensible plan and had some success, only to find that within a short period the weight loss halts or those lost pounds start creeping back up? Despite being highly motivated and set on finally taking off the excess pounds for good, at some point you slipped into self-sabotaging behaviors, and you just can't seem to stop them now.

Enter the little voice in your head: "I knew I couldn't do this. Why do I even try? I am such a loser."

It's a struggle that's all too common when it comes to weight loss. Many dieters face this cycle over and over again; it's the reason "yo-yo dieting" and "roller coaster weight loss" are common media terms. But, despite diet programs working to convince you that you just chose the wrong plan, weight-loss programs are not the problem—faulty mental programming is the problem.

Your logical, conscious mind knows exactly what you need to do and why you want to be successful, but your subconscious mind is feeding you sabotaging messages. That quiet whispering in your ear convincing you to bail on your workout or give up on healthy eating is sure to hinder your weight loss. If, however, you can learn to recognize that voice for what it is and understand how to turn it off, those sabotaging behaviors go away and you can be on your way to permanent weight-loss success.

It's All in Your Head

When it comes to your mindset, there are two options: fixed or growth. A fixed mindset is when we believe that our ability and situations are prefixed, stable and unchangeable. It is just the way things are, just the way we are. We are either good at something or not; we have that talent or we don't. Effort is useless because things are fixed in a certain manner.

With a growth mindset, though, we believe that with effort, perseverance, education, and trial and error, we can eventually figure out what we need to do to move forward with any endeavor we attempt.

The problem with approaching weight loss with a fixed mindset is that it is attached to some profoundly ingrained and limiting beliefs. Our beliefs determine our actions, and when we strongly believe something, we will do whatever we have to do to prove ourselves right—even if that means sabotaging what we think we want.

What are some of the most common fixed mindsets when it comes to weight loss? Do any of these feel familiar?

Weight loss is really difficult.
When I try to lose weight, I feel hungry all the time.
I don't have time to commit to a diet and exercise plan.
I can never keep off the weight, even when I do lose a few pounds.
Everyone in my family is fat. It's impossible for me to get thin.
I hate vegetables; I'm a meat and potatoes person.
Eating healthy is boring. I will miss my favorite foods.
I can't finish a meal without having something sweet at the end.
Whenever I feel stressed, the only thing that calms me down is chocolate.
I'm too busy to exercise in the morning, and I'm too tired in the afternoon.
I was a clumsy, non-athletic kid. Exercise is not for me.

I've heard variations of these themes from almost every weight-loss client with whom I've worked. Each and every statement reveals faulty mental programming, and each and every statement can be amended. Holding onto those beliefs limits our ability to grow and change, so learning how to reset your mind is crucial. The sooner you learn to recognize your fixed mindset and limiting beliefs and stop them from stopping you, the sooner success will be yours for the taking. <pagebreak>

Start with Self-Compassion

It is important to recognize the origins of limiting beliefs and why they are so difficult to eliminate. Many of these beliefs are ingrained from childhood. You may have heard similar statements from your parents ("Dieting is so hard") or been told things about yourself ("You're not good at sports; you are the artistic type"). The more you listened to those type of statements, the greater your belief became that they are fact.

Limiting beliefs are also emotional, not logical. They originate from the limbic system, which is the area in our brain responsible for emotions. Fearful memories are formed here, as well, which could activate our flight-or-fight response if you sense a threat. Thus, if you believe you are clumsy and non-athletic, the thought of going to the gym where you'll feel uncomfortable or embarrassed feels threatening. As such, your brain will try to convince you to avoid it at all costs.

Even when you try to use logic to talk yourself out of those self-sabotaging thoughts, your emotions usually win out. Why? Because the limbic system processes thoughts lightning fast, faster than your rational brain. The barrage of negative thoughts is coming at you more quickly than your logical mind can dispute them and calm you down.

So don't despair. Be kind and forgiving to yourself for past failures. There are ways to break through a limiting beliefs and open up to the growth mindset that is necessary for permanent sustained weight loss.

Become Aware of Your Thoughts

When you notice limiting beliefs cropping up, stop and write them down. Listen carefully to the chatter in your mind and write down every single one on paper. If you struggle to identify these statements, you may want to ask some trusted family or friends to point out to you when they hear you say something that is fixed.

If you are struggling to uncover your limiting beliefs, try filling in the answer to these two statements:

    I want to lose weight, but _______________.
    Weight loss is really challenging for me because _______________.

Question the Validity of Your Thoughts

Now it's time to go back and read your list. For each statement, ask yourself, "Is this fact or an assumption?" Often, people assume something to be true without ever testing to verify or dispute.

Is every single family member overweight, or are a few of your relatives leading healthy lifestyles that allow them to manage their weight? Does chocolate really reduce the stress, or just temporarily numb your feelings? Might a walk outside help calm you down instead? Do you really have a slow metabolism? Have you ever talked about this concern with your physician?

By reevaluating some of your assumed beliefs, you can start to see the areas in which improvement can be made with determination and perseverance. <pagebreak>

Do Your Homework

If you find that some statements are met with an answer of "I don't know", seek out information that either supports or disputes your preconceived beliefs about health. For instance, how much do genes actually impact weight loss? One of my favorite expressions is, "Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger." By doing some research, you might find that you've made excuses for your health that are easy to amend with a few lifestyle tweaks.

Commit to One Small Step

With research in hand, test your assumptions by promising yourself that you will experiment to find out if what you thought was true is actually a fact. If you think you cannot end a meal without eating something sweet, swap your regular cookies for an herbal tea for one week and see how you feel. You may have disastrous memories of being uncoordinated or bad at school sports, but did you enjoy biking or swimming as a kid? Perhaps that activity is the one that can pull you out of your exercise slump!

We often limit ourselves by what we believe we are capable of achieving, so taking some time to reexamine those self-imposed limits might lead to some discoveries that could lead you right into a healthy lifestyle habit. Run a few short-term experiments to test your assumptions, giving yourself permission to go back to the way things should they not work out favorably.

Flip-Flop Your Thoughts

Rather than telling yourself "I'm going on a diet, and I must accept that I am going to feel hungry all the time", try telling yourself, "I am going to fill up on healthy, wholesome foods and I am going to feel great!" These simple swaps can help trick your brain into believing in your goals long enough for you to see real changes in your life.

Stop allowing non-productive thoughts and beliefs to stand in your way of achieving your happy, healthy life. Open your mind to explore new ways of thinking, and open your heart to be compassionate to and patient with yourself. Change is uncomfortable, but becoming comfortable and saying goodbye to the fixed mindset for good with propel you toward the future that you desire. Remember that the constraints you are feeling are self-induced—you put them there and only you can remove them.