Have you ever felt that you were sabotaging your own efforts to eat well or diet? Perhaps you have been told that you “self-sabotage” or get in your own way when trying to lose weight or adopt a new healthy lifestyle.

I hear this concept of self-sabotage a lot from the diet industry and from my clients who have dieted. But is it as simple as it seems? Are we merely being “silly” and lack willpower to get the body and health we have been told we want or need? I do not think so.

I really dislike this blamatory approach to food control. It passes the buck and points the finger toward the person being a problem instead of the many problems with diets and food restriction. It puts the onus all on the person to ignore biology, be stronger than deeply ingrained psychology and rise above normal human needs.

Wanting to eat delicious foods and wanting to feel full and satisfied are normal, human needs. Being told it should be easy to ignore these human needs is just a big lie sold to us buy the diet industry (or as Deb Burgard, PhD calls it, the weight cycling industry). Calling it “self-sabotage” is way for the diet industry to blame us for not being able to successfully starve ourselves (either of energy or of satisfying foods).

I prefer the word- human needs. Our human needs get in the way of us harming ourselves by dieting.

Our human limits – both biological and mental- are there to help keep us healthy and safe. The fact that our body wants to get enough food, on a regular basis is a way for it to protect us and keep us alive. We get hungry and are unable to ignore the hunger because the body wants us to eat- no matter what size we are. If we do not eat enough of a macronutrient, it will encourage us to seek it out and eat as much of it as possible. If we don’t get reliable, adequate food, if will encourage us to ignore our other responsibilities and focus on finding food. These are some of the biological needs we have as humans.

If we don’t meet our needs for yummy, satisfying foods met on a regular basis, our mind will push us to find and eat all the delicious foods it can. It will make it hard for us to stop when we are full. The need for satisfying, delicious, comforting food is part of our mental needs around food and eating.

When our human needs for food and satisfaction with food are not met, here are a few side effects:

  • Not being able to stop eating when feeling full
  • thinking of food all the time
  • binging
  • feeling out of control with food
  • eating in secret
  • feeling crushing guilt for eating a forbidden food
  • rebelling against food rules
  • thinking “what the heck, I have ruined it! Why should I stop now?”

So many people blame themselves for these behaviors rather than understanding that these are symptoms of dieting, and restricting food (or limiting other human needs).

I know that blaming ourselves for the lack of weight loss or inability to keep the weight off can feel more comfortable than the idea that the diet will always fail us. Please know that the empowerment that comes from knowing that you (and your appetite) are not the problem can be worth the effort to walk away from dieting. The pursuit of self-induced famine is the real problem, not your body size or food, and this realization can help us move past the fantasies promised to us with weight loss.

So, no, I do not think self-sabotage is appropriate when we talk about trying to diet and end up eating beyond fullness, or eating a large portion of our favorite food. I think it is normal human needs that get in the way of us harming ourselves by not eating enough.

Have you been told you self sabotage your healthy eating efforts?