One of the most common questions I receive from readers and clients is about self-sabotage:
“How do you stick to a healthy diet?” they ask.
To be honest, it can be a real challenge for many people. I personally struggled with self-sabotage a lot: I bounced back and forth between being “good” and “bad” for decades. Finally, in my early 20s, I settled into a smooth, happy, and balanced routine for my diet.
How did I do it?
How do I help other women do it?
Here are the most effective steps I have found to stop self-sabotaging your diet, and to finally be loyal to a healthy, intuitive life:
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 1. Purge your pantry
Environment is critical to success.
Imagine how much easier it is, for example, to avoid a doughnut when you are out in the woods, versus sitting at a Krispy Kreme. There’s no contest. It is easier to be “good” in the woods, where you just can’t get one.
You don’t even think about it.
And even if you do, you let the thought go more easily, because you just can’t get one.
The more free your environment is of toxic, addictive foods, the easier it is for you to avoid them.
So clean out your pantry. Get rid of the “treats.” Go on. Throw them out. Donate them to food shelters.
Go out and do this, then come back here.
Steer a wide, clear path away from snack aisles in the grocery store.
Stay away from restaurants you know influence you to make unhealthy choices.
(And, come to think of it, friends who influence you that way, too.)
Now obviously these things cannot be perfect – but you can do a pretty good job if you try.
If you have a husband at home or roommates who choose not to eat well, see if you can partition your food away from theirs, and condition yourself to avoid their cabinets as much as possible.
You can help even more by cleaning up your home. Maybe add some plants, or some of your favorite art. The more spiritually nourishing your home is, the less you will be tempted to let trashy food invade it.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 2. Make choices, not rules
This point is incredibly important, perhaps the most important of all.
In the above point I cautioned you about environment. This is a very important thing – it is helpful to set up your environment for success. Make your environment as conducive to positive, nourishing change as possible.
But you cannot do this as an excuse to punish and restrict yourself.
I cannot tell you how many women I know will completely clear out their homes, tidy them up, meditate a lot, stare into empty cupboards, and pretend that they aren’t starving.
This isn’t what I want you to do, when I say “clean your house, avoid ‘bad’ foods, purge your pantry.”
No. I mean that it is helpful to have them out of sight, which helps keep them out of mind, but it does not do to forbid yourself from ever having them again.
Making militant, hard-and-fast rules is the wrong way to stop self-sabotaging. I know that may sound counter-intuitive at first, but hear me out.
The more strict your rules are, the more you will feel deprived of all of your favorite treats.
This is a real thing that happens to people I work with all of the time.
Even if do not consciously obsess over the foods you have eliminated from your diet, there is a good chance that a part of you, deep down, feels restricted, and trapped, and is just dying to binge on some Twinkies or Ho Hos ASAP.
This is why the best thing you can do for your healthy diet loyalty is to make guidelines, not rules. Choices, not punishments.
When you eat healthy foods, choose them. Don’t make yourself. Remind yourself of all the reasons you want to be healthy (discussed below), and choose health. It’s okay when you choose something less-than-healthy. It really, really, really is.
Less-than-healthy will not kill you once. It will not even kill you twice, or a thousand times. Your body is resilient. It can deal with some choices that aren’t perfect 100% of the time.
In fact, I would argue even that you should choose “unhealthy” foods from time to time, because it satisfies mental needs and gives you freedom, power, and control.
Just make sure it’s the choice you make, not the rule.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 3. Develop commitment to health
The more committed you are to your health, the easier it will be to eat well.
There is a very clear relationship between diet and the way that you feel on a daily basis:
your energy, your mood, your vitality… all of these things depend on the quality of the food you eat.
And any symptoms you may suffer, like headaches, chronic pain, lethargy, infertility, or bad skin… will in all likelihood be alleviated the healthier you become.
It may not happen immediately, of course, but with nourishment, some experimentation, and patience, you may see some fabulous improvements to the quality of your life.
And then – you end up choosing healthy food rather than forcing it on yourself, because you know and have experienced first hand just how awesome a healthy diet makes you feel.
If you have tried to eat healthfully but did not stick to it long enough to see results – or if you have never tried – then now is the time! The more data you can gather about the positive effects you experience due to your healthy diet, the easier and easier it will be to stick to it.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 4: Develop commitment to future health and others
One of the most powerful motivators I personally use to be loyal to my healthy diet is The Future.
Sure, on a day to day basis, I might not notice a significant difference in my symptoms or wellness due to what I eat.
But, I also know, without a doubt, that my current diet will affect my future health.
The better I eat now, the less chance there is that I will develop heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or, most importantly for me, Alzheimer’s disease, when I age.
I never want to lose my mind (again). I will do everything I can to prevent it – including eating as well as possible (without being obsessive) today.
I also know that the healthier I am in my future life, the less chance there is that I will put a strain on people I love by being ill or dying young. That would absolutely destroy my parents.
If I had to call my mother and tell her I had heart disease, or diabetes, or cancer, that would absolutely crush her.
If I eat well, there is also lessof a chance that people I love, like my siblings and my future children, will have to take care of me as I age. It is very, very important to me that I take care of the people around me.
Because I care about my future and the people in my life, I consistently choose a healthier life today.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 5: Develop a backbone about your health
Sometimes women come to me and say “I really do want to change, and I am loyal to my health!
“But what?” I ask.
“But my friends pressure me to eat French fries.”
Well. You can eat the French fries or not, I won’t judge you either way. I think either choice is fine so long as you make it consciously.
But if you want to say “no,” but are afraid, it is time for you to develop a backbone.
Think deeply about your commitments, and why you are making them. List each reason in your head. Marshall your defenses. When it comes time to say no, remember them. If the situation calls for it, explain yourself to your friends, firmly yet gently. Thank them for their consideration and love… but them you just have to ‘do you’ right now.
Just remember to focus on yourself and what you want. Your friends will respect you if you tell them you are making a choice for your own sake.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 6: Practice saying “no”
The more you say “no” to both yourself and your friends, the easier it gets.
Sometimes the act of “no” seems so scary that we never do it. But it really isn’t all that bad… you just have to try it out first and see.
If you’re at a work meeting and they’ve got bagels, just say “I already ate.”
If you’re at a party and you must try the cake, just say “I don’t think that would sit with me well right now.”
If you’re at a mixer and you want to have some chocolate but know that if you start you won’t be able to stop, remind yourself how terrible it is to feel the addictive pull of sugar, and just write it off, “no” before the thought of eating it even crosses your mind.
Practice saying “no” to both yourself and your friends, and I promise that you’ll find it isn’t nearly as hard as it seems, and it gets even easier with time.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 7: Practice saying “yes”
Much as I gave you a pep talk for saying “no,” in the point above, it is equally important to sometimes say “yes.”
“Yes,” means that you are in control. “Yes” means that you are making choices. “Yes” means that you have thought about it and know the consequences, and are choosing to eat something off your “good list” for whatever reason.
The point is that you do so freely and as a woman in control of food – not the other way around. You choose the times when you want to say no, and the times when you think it’s reasonable and safe enough for you to say “yes.”
Food isn’t scary. It doesn’t control you. Practice sometimes saying “yes” to a food that is not ideal, and I think you will find that you can still be loyal to your healthy diet.
In fact, you will probably find it even easier, because you are making healthy choices, rather than forcing yourself to follow strict rules.
Stop self-sabotaging your diet 8: Practice patience and forgiveness
Perhaps the most important aspect of any person’s diet is forgiveness.
You don’t have to be “perfect.”
You don’t have to be “on point” all the time.
You don’t have to meet a certain macronutrient ratio or calorie count.
Instead, you can peacefully approximate really good most of the time, and be perfectly healthy and happy.
Life is hard and bumpy. To expect perfection is to set yourself up for failure. Perfection in this case is stupid anyway – there really isn’t such a thing, to eat a “perfect” diet.
The best you can do is your best, and do so knowing that life will throw your curveballs. Instead of punishing yourself after a “bad” meal, simply say “okay, that happened” and move on, continuing as you normally would.
Don’t slave over the elliptical. Don’t starve yourself. Those things will make it harder in the long run.
Instead, use each day as an opportunity to learn something about yourself (why did you eat a jar a peanut butter?) and grow into a more fully-aware and self-possessed person. Investigate your relationship with food. Figure out why it is the way it is. Forgive yourself for that, and for whatever behaviors may result.
Then move forward and smile. It’s a new day, and you have some great choices to make.
It is very easy to self-sabotage a healthy diet.
From fast-food advertisements to bagels in the board room, to children’s birthday cakes and cereral in the cupboard, temptations abound. It’s super easy to go off of the rails.
That’s really okay. The only way it is truly “off the rails” is if you stay knocked off.
If you let one, two, three, or a hundred “bad choices” throw you off your game, then you will be off your game.
But you don’t have to. You don’t have to stay knocked off. Simply get back up and keep walking.
Every meal is a new one, and a new opportunity, in which you can choose what you want to eat.
Choosing the healthiest option is an awesome idea, but perfection isn’t necessary.
Knowing and internalizing these things can help you tremendously when you try to be loyal to a healthy diet.
Remember that you and your body are on a team, it’s you guys against the world!
So that’s it for my tips on how to avoid self-sabotage! You can read some awesome tips about how to love yourself in the self-love editions of The Paleo Women Podcast How to Love Your Body Part I and Part II.
Another super great resource for self-love, loyalty to a healthy diet, and empowered health is my book Sexy by Nature, which you can find on Amazon at this link.
And if you are looking to stop self-sabotaging your diet while trying to lose weight, I couldn’t recommend my own weight loss program for women, Weight Loss Unlocked, which uses psychological healing to help with weight loss as much as it does physiological. Check it out at this link here.