4 Strategies to Stop Sabotaging Your Diet

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Sabotaging your diet means you want to lose weight, but in the moment, you want something else more, like a cookie!

When it comes to sabotaging your diet, identifying what triggers the beginning of the slippery slope of self-sabotage, is critical.

Me with my dog in our backyard

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While I’ve been consistently eating clean and avoiding binges for the past 7 months, I had a set back this week! One harmless bowl of “banana pudding” turned into a feast of me standing at my counter devouring cookies and whipped cream!

WHY would I start on this slippery slope after all the hard work I’ve put in this year?

1) Identify the self sabotaging diet trigger:

This story is all too common for me: My diet is on point. I feel strong, lean, proud of my ability to stay disciplined and consistent. I like the food I’m eating, I don’t feel deprived, I have great energy, and I know my plan is working.

Until, one tiny impulsive decision begins a slippery slope into self- sabotage.

I shared yesterday in my weekly email that I noticed this happening on Monday! (get my weekly emails here!). In the past, this slip up would lead to days, weeks, or even months of indulging and feeling out of control.

Now, I was able to identify the beginning of the slippery slope, before I fell off the mountain.

What happened this week? I started doing some recipe experimenting for healthy banana cream pie ideas. I combined bananas, sugar free banana pudding mix, yogurt, and vanilla. All ingredients I eat on a regular basis without a problem.

But, the combination for the ‘crustless banana cream pie‘ was SO delicious that I was craving a second bowl!  So I ate the second bowl.

Eating highly palatable foods, no matter how much self discipline you have, can trigger overeating, or being unable to stop. This was my trigger on Monday.

Knowing a second bowl would not be more satisfying than the first, I should have just stopped. The Joy of Half a cookie is a book that was pivotal for me in realizing this. There is a diminishing return in seconds and thirds of a food. The most joy comes from the first bite or two, so it’s not necessary to KEEP eating!

Then, for the sake of the photograph for the blog, I decided to garnish the banana cream pie with Nilla wafers and Whipped cream. After polishing off both bowls of banana cream pie, I found myself deep into the box of Nilla wafers. Then, I started squirting the whipped cream on each cookie and eating them one by one.

After my impulsive food fest, I told myself, “You already ate more than you planned for today, so you might as well eat all the foods you have been trying to avoid.” So, I ate a chewy, Sunbelt Lemon granola bar (with white chocolate chips!). And then, I ate a second granola bar! I officially landed myself in, “what the hell eating“.

After two bowls of banana cream pie, 25 Nilla wafers, 2 granola bars, and at least 1 cup of whipped cream, I knew the the slippery slope had begun. I identified the trigger. I saw it for what it was and what it had the potential to become.

I didn’t over think it. I consciously decided I wasn’t going to let a few granola bars and Nilla wafers end my chosen diet and undo all the progress I’ve made to get on stage in a bikini!

So, I walked away! I got out of the kitchen. I got back on track the same day! I never told myself, I’ll start over tomorrow. I didn’t let the justification or excuses extend the sabotage. I just got back on track by the next meal!

Some of the triggers for sabotaging your diet might include:

  • Highly palatable foods that make it impossible to stop (usually processed foods, including healthy foods like roasted nuts, or other salted, or sweet foods.
  • Visual triggers on Pinterest or Instagram! I have a habit of scrolling the hashtag #cookiesofinstagram, and suddenly find myself CRAVING cookies!
  • Lingering in the pantry after a meal. Just hovering around at the pantry or fridge after a meal can put food ideas in your mind that you’l want to satisfy.
  • Picking up a food that has a history of being a trigger for you, even if it’s pretzels, fruit snacks or granola bars. There are no good or bad foods, but there are definitely foods that lead to overeating. You have to decide what these are for you! Here’s a list of my 15 foods that lead to overeating.

2) Acknowledge WHY you self sabotage

Awareness is key! The trigger alone is usually the first unconscious step. But, the reason you KEEP eating is usually something bigger.

Knowing why you aren’t sticking with your plan, and looking at it from an objective place, is sometimes enough for you to walk away from overeating.

Your reasons why you self sabotage are likely to change in different seasons of your life. So revisit this often, and every time it comes up.

The important thing is to reflect each time and identify the current reasons for doing it. No need to over think it. Just have a conversation with yourself and get curious!

When you slip up in a moment of weakness, hopefully you can just move on. But, if the behavior persists for days, weeks or even months, it’s time to investigate some possible reasons you are self sabotaging.

Possible reasons you might self sabotage your diet include:

These are a few reasons I’ve noticed come up for me. Let me know if any resonate with you.

  • Boredom with the process. Quite simply, you are just bored by the idea of eating healthy or eating the same boring meals day after day. You rather sabotage or obstruct your ability to continue with the diet, because it’s boring and you want more adventure in your food. This quote from Atomic Habits, by James Clear is so appropriate for giving up on your diet! “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom!” How many times have you abandoned a goal because you got bored of the process!?
  • You are listening to too much conflicting information. Dietary advice and success stories are abundant online! I know when I hear what someone did to lose weight, I want to jump ship and try something new. I may be looking for reasons my current plan won’t work for me, so I can abandon it and try a different diet.
  • Taking it up a level and restricting more“. When there is an impending deadline for you to look a certain way, it might make you change your program to an unsustainable level! Trying to “fast track” your progress to get to your goals, usually backfires. Extra restricting for a day or two, is commonly followed by a full out binge.
  • Fear of actually getting results. This might be the most common reason, even though it logically doesn’t make sense at all. It’s just our brains way of getting in our way. You might subconsciously think that if you get to your goal weight, you have to show up differently in the world and it scares you. WebMd suggests, “You think other people will be jealous if you lose weight, and they may stop hanging out with you. You believe that people will notice you more if you take action, and you’re not confident you’ll know how to respond.”
  • The desire to feel normal and eat what you want. When we think “everyone else gets to eat anything they want and it’s not fair”, we try to get out of a diet, even when it’s working for you.

3) Practices for anti-sabotaging behavior

Resist the first impulsive ‘cheat food’

The first bite you put in your mouth of something impulsive, is the beginning of the slippery slope. One cheat food leads to another, and leads to another.

The best solution for this behavior is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

When you have an impulse to eat a second bowl of ice cream, or grab a granola bar out of the pantry even though you just finished eating, and you DON’T give in, you are practicing self control. Not allowing the impulse, leads to making it easier to not indulge the next time.

The more times you can count that you don’t indulge in the impulse, the stronger you will get.

You reinforce the habit or behavior when you give in.

Notice how many times you have an impulse to eat something. I bet it’s a lot. We don’t realize how compulsive it is and how easy it is to just reach for that food unconsciously.

It’s not that food is bad, or you can’t eat something. So, Stop. Think. Ask yourself if you can wait till the next meal. Let yourself have the granola bar or bowl of ice cream, but make sure it happens during meal time, intentionally!

Delay the impulse long enough to eat that food with intention.

Identify your excuses & justifications

What do you tell yourself to make it OK to start on that first bite? A common thing I’ll do is, declare it a cheat day! I’ll tell myself, “I’ve been good for at least 6 days, it’s time for a cheat day anyway!”

Here’s some of my excuses and justifications related to my ‘cheat day’ rationale:

  • Everyone says you shouldn’t restrict yourself.
  • Everyone needs a cheat days.
  • Even the most seasoned physique athletes have cheat days.
  • It’s actually HEALTHIER to have a cheat day.
  • Eating whatever I want will help “reset my hormones”.
  • One bite won’t matter.
  • My body needs a break from dieting.

The truth is, we need boundaries. Having and practicing self control and self master is actually a good thing. It will manifest in so many other areas of your life. Unless you have an eating disorder, it’s actually a good thing to practice restraint around food.

4) Get back on track and make a plan

Finally, you’ve made yourself aware of what you are doing, what triggered your sabotaging episode, and why you kept overeating.

Now, it’s time to make a plan to stop overeating, even if it’s to stop mid-binge!. Also, make a plan to avoid the next trigger.

  • The most important thing to tell yourself is one screw up doesn’t justify a binge. One screw up does not mean your diet has to end.
  • Avoid the Hell with it trap! This is a trap. Our brains want us to say this to give us permission to keep overeating!
  • Set up your environment for success. No lingering at the pantry or fridge after a meal. No grabbing “just one” Nilla wafer. Set a bright line for yourself that you don’t cross, and take the decision making out of the equation. If you aren’t someone that eats Nilla wafers, you don’t eat Nilla wafers.
  • Take the possible trigger foods out of your house, or out of sight. Make a plan for what you’ll do when you find yourself elbow deep in a box of Nilla wafers (or your trigger food). Maybe the plan is you never have that food in your house. Maybe the plan is you will give the rest of the box to your neighbor or kids. Get it out of sight, and out of mind.
  • Commit to adding the food you binged on to your food tracker (or MyFitnessPal). I actually did this with my Nilla wafers and whipped cream. I had to face the consequences. It actually took drama and emotion out of it, and really see objectively what I was eating or doing. I told myself I could keep eating, as long as I was accountable to my tracker for it.
  • Change your self talk. I’ve mentioned many times about trigger foods here, but you can change your self talk around that. Telling yourself that Nilla wafers is a trigger food, absolutely reinforces it. You can also rewrite your talk to say, I can have 8 Nilla wafers and then walk away.
  • Remember your goals. Your current meal doesn’t need to be the most exciting part of your life. Get out there and live your life.

I’d love to hear from you! What do you do to avoid self-sabotage, stop overeating mid-binge, and get back on track?

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  1. I don’t have any friends or family who have an interest in fitness and nutrition, so it’s very helpful for you to be so personal, vulnerable, and SPECIFIC with your struggles because I definitely relate. I have maintained my weight my whole adult life with occasional overeating, but not too often. Never tracked calories and occasional exercise. Now that I am trying to go into a fat loss stage and have increased my exercise and lowered calories, I find myself bingeing more often, about 2-3 times a week now and am probably adding an extra 700- up to 2,000 those days and sabotoging any loss on the scale. I try justifying it in many ways, but usually the “well, I can still build muscle in a surplus”, and “I will get serious 16 weeks before my goal date”…. The “tomorrow” excuse definitely lets me get away with today’s cravings. I am new to dieting though, and I wonder if it’s my body fighting so hard to lose fat? (I am 5’3 118 lbs and have been this way for 17 years.) Or is it just mental, where I just don’t want to FEEL deprived? Thanks for your encouragement. I love your food plan more than any I’ve seen, your honesty, and your heart to help other people to get to the lean lifestyle that we are working for.

    1. AnnMarie! thanks so much for reaching out and sharing your goals and your struggles! I TOTALLY have said those same things, “I’m building muscle in this surplus!” haha. Our brains DEFINITELY don’t want us to lose weight, especially when there isn’t much to lose.
      Are you losing weight to compete? If so, where and when?!?

  2. A viewpoint from a different perspective… I live with a compulsive overeater. He’s been on many drastic diets and lost 200 lbs. twice. He went back up again, and a few months ago, almost crippled by aching joints and nearing 400 lbs., again, he concluded that if he didn’t do anything about his weight, he would end up in a wheelchair soon. (I believe it because he’s turning 70 this year.) He is extremely fortunate to not be saddled with diabetes, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol.

    So he started a new, sustainable, plan – not a crash diet – basically a zero sugar and limited carbs plan (no calorie counting or starvation, but healthy vegetables, very limited fruit and generous good-quality proteins). I do 100% of the cooking. I prepare everything from scratch (even make my own broth to avoid the sugar in commercial broths) and I’m VERY supportive and careful of what I prepare for us. Except for my limited indulgences (a multi-grain bagel for breakfast and a pasta dinner once a week – and I always make sure he has a suitable alternative for his plan so I prepare 2 meals when that happens), I eat pretty much whatever he’s eating. I don’t bring anything in the house we shouldn’t be having – no pop, chips, cookies or any junk foods).

    Overall, he is doing very well – he lost over 75 lbs. since last summer. Today, I had to watch, helpless, when he ordered bags of chocolate-covered raisins, sesame sticks, etc. Obviously, it’s not my job to control his behaviour. He says he bought them “because he’s upset.” There’s nothing I can do about his emotional eating – it’s an issue he has to resolve for himself and it has nothing to do with me). I tried to remind him of his long-term goal and asked him if it was worth sabotaging it with these snacks, but that just ended up with him yelling at me to mind my own business. I’ve seen this “slippery slope” a few times before and I dread where it’s leading him.

    Indirectly, it does impact me, and our relationship. We don’t do stuff together anymore because of his aching joints, we don’t go out together (because he hates being in public), and things that used to bring us joy, I had to replace with solo activities. Thankfully, I have my own support system and my job that keep me sane!

    I can work through a lot of frustration, but watching the man I love self-destruct like this is disheartening.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! He’s so lucky to have you. I can’t imagine the challenge of your situation, and watching your loved one do things that don’t serve him for his best health.
      Bless you, good luck, and take care of yourself!

  3. Thank you very much this gave me the answer to my question, why do I self-sabotage my diet, answer because I desire to feel normal and eat what I want. I have been on a diet since I was 14 I am now 61 and recently had great success on WW loosing 30 kilos then Covid came, and I was out of work for four months and I just sat on the lounge eating and watching movies. When life got back to normal, we went on holidays and the weight just kept piling on and I can’t get back my mindset that I had and now 20 kilos heavier I am frustrated but having read your article I now understand that I don’t want to diet, I am fed up with going without. It’s time to have a chat with myself and come from a place of compassion rather than a critical parent! Thanks for your advice.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this with me Clare! It caused me to re-read the post (I wrote it so long ago!). I’m glad you found some motivation in it. Let me know how things are going and check in often!

  4. After a 1000 calorie binge I just went on, I started googling “ why do I self sabotage my diet”. This article came up. This is exactly what I needed to read! I spent the last year losing 50lbs! I haven’t lost any weight in the last 2 months and I’ve noticed my cheat days have increased, ive been tracking my food less and less and now binges! I’ve come to realize, boredom is my worst enemy! Also, this article made me realize I do have trigger foods in my house. Granola bars is the trigger! This article came at a desperate time for me. I hope the opening of my eyes will put me back in the right path.

    1. Tina! I’m so glad you reached out. I wrote this so long ago, that I had to go back and read it.  I’m honestly suprised at myself for admitting all the things I did in this article! haha! But, it was so good for ME to read again as well!! Thanks for commenting on it.Granola bars are the BEST!! Especially the Sunbelt brand! I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!!

      1. Thank you Amy. I am in this self sabotage rut right now. There is chocolate in the house and 1 leads to 2 leads to+. I’ve been arguing with myself to just plan for it in my day or to just leave it out b/c it may turn into more than I’ve planned! Your article was filled w/ helpful advice. I’m enjoying your blog!

        1. Thanks for the feedback Julie! It’s definitely a huge undertaking in talking to yourself and reflecting on why we do what we do.  But the more you practice, the easier it gets!
          Good luck and let me know how you’re doing.
          Amy Roskelley

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