Self-sabotage is common and happens to people from all walks of life -celebrities as well as us "regular folks." Just think about how over 80% of people who make New Year's resolutions in January are unable to keep them by February. Self-sabotage is not uncommon also in those who struggle with food addiction, emotional eating or binge eating.
Self-sabotage can be defined as the undermining yourself or your own plans or goals.
Self-sabotage can be conscious or unconscious. For example, when you find yourself going through the drive through and pretending you're ordering for two, even when you promised yourself you wouldn't do that anymore - that's self-sabotage. An example of unconscious sabotage is "forgetting" a date you made to work out with your personal trainer or your exercise partner or suddenly being too busy at work to go. Self-sabotage can take a toll on all areas of your life - career, health, relationships and more.
Many people with food addiction, emotional eating or binge eating can also tend to be perfectionistic or too hard on themselves, which can be a form of self-sabotage. The belief you need to be perfect no matter what, often leaves you feeling "you're not good enough." A fear of making mistakes can lead to procrastination and self-sabotage.
A history of trauma can lead to feelings of being unsafe, making you feel you don't deserve to succeed or to have good things in life.
Sometimes behaviors, especially around food, may have developed as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions or situations when you were younger. These are called "adaptive" behaviors because they help us "adapt" to uncomfortable situations - whether it be childhood trauma, moving to a new neighborhood or being bullied, for example. When these behaviors extend into our adult lives, they can cause behaviors such as binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating. Being neglected as a child can lead to low self-esteem and cause us to sabotage relationships or make ourselves feel unattractive to avoid being vulnerable or getting hurt. Being in a bigger body can feel safer for many trauma survivors.
It's common for self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors to surface when we approach something we truly desire.
For many, many people, the desire to be free from unwanted behaviors, obsessive thoughts about food and body dissatisfaction is a true, heartfelt desire. That is what makes it so much harder to accept when self-sabotaging behaviors keep popping up. "Why can't I succeed in this one area of my life?" is the question I'm often asked by my patients with binge eating, food addiction or emotional eating. Each of these mini-failures can deplete your confidence, followed by more behaviors to cope with the pain of failure.
What gets rewarded, gets repeated.
If self-sabotage is so bad for us, so painful, why does it get repeated. I love the saying above because it's true that we don't keep doing something if we're not getting something from it. I'm sure this seems contradictory to you and I understand! However, if you look deeper, you may find that your behaviors do provide something - comfort, a reward, an escape, a way to rebel or a void. To stop the behaviors, it's important to identify the root cause and heal that.
Here are ways you can begin to put an end to self-sabotage around food and body image issues:
- Start becoming aware of your emotions. Only 1 in 3 people can identify what they're feeling. When you don't know what you are feeling, you may just have a sense of "discomfort" and then quickly numb that sense with food without recognizing that your emotions may be trying to tell you something. Maybe an emotion is telling you you're angry at your partner and you should let your partner know. Or you may be feeling tired, which by the way, is not the same as being hungry 😋
- Journal about your emotions and how they impact your eating behaviors. This will begin to give you evidence of how you use food - to numb, to escape, to rebel, etc. With this information and more emotional awareness, you can begin to find other ways to fill the void or to find relaxation or to find escapes that don't involve food.
- Think about the messages you were given or that were implied as you were growing up. Maybe you were neglected as a kid and grew up never feeling you were flawed or unworthy. Or you had a very critical parent who made you feel nothing was good enough unless it was perfect! Once you realize this, you can ask yourself if you can help your younger self let go of that unhealthy belief and find another more affirming belief to take it's place.
- Set up structures in your life, at work, etc. to interrupt or avoid self-sabotage. For example, when I'm reaching for the stars in my career and I have a big meeting coming up, I put on 3 alarms to make sure I don't "accidentally forget." Do the same for making sure you eat regularly to reduce risk of binging, for example. Set an alarm for meals.
Self-sabotage doesn't have to make you feel ashamed or guilty. It can be seen as a messenger, telling you it's time for healing. It can be a call to action!
All the best,
PS - If you're ready to answer that call to action, the call to healing, we have an Anchor Program starting very soon. Schedule a free consult to see if you might be a fit for the program.