21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #14: Anticipate your self-sabotage

One of the most effective and psychology-study proven techniques, with habit change, is think through how you normally sabotage your efforts. Anticipate the obstacles, and create ‘if… then…’ scenarios.

Food psychology coach Laura Lloyd talks you through a skill that’ll make the difference between following a diet like a sheep to try to lose weight in the long-term, and becoming the thinking-it-through mind ninja that’ll make your lifestyle approach to weight management a lifelong reality.

If only setting a weight loss goal were enough.

To decide to go for it. To give it a whirl. Maybe, with weight loss or ending overeating, you even have some learned ideas (some helpful, some less so) about things you think you ‘should’ do to create that result.

And let’s assume your list of actions was pretty decent – any of the things that are on the 21 micro habits list are good ones – eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, and go into the day armed with a plan for starters.

Then, it would just be a case of repeatedly and consistently doing what’s on the to-do list until you get to your best natural weight, or have calm self-control around food, or find it easy enough to stop when you’re satisfied.

And providing the things on our action list are all things we like doing, and want to continue doing, we can sustain these new habits and behaviours for the rest of our life.

This is how weight loss through habit change turns to maintenance, which rarely happens with a diet.

But the problem is, once you start taking the actions, your brain does gymnastics.

Ah, Brain. Bless.

She just wants to seek pleasure, avoid discomfort, and make life as easy as possible – which means doing (and THINKING) whatever she’s always done, whatever is habit, whatever is tried and tested (and has the added reward of food at the end of it).

She’ll try to drag you – beg you, reason with you, intellectualise you, panic you, wheedle you – back to your comfort zone, the moment you pop your toe over the threshold of your new way of life.

Here’s are the five types of thought that sabotage your attempts to lose weight or overcome overeating. You brain will derail you…

1. By creating excuses that make eating right now, regardless of your prior intentions, completely legit.

  • “But it’s healthy”, to allow you to have seconds when you aren’t even hungry (as someone who grew up in a health-food household and overate ‘substitute’ food her whole damn life, that’s been a big one for me).
  • “It’s Friday.”
  • “I didn’t have lunch earlier so it’s OK to overeat right now.”
  • “I need something else to take the deliciously tormenting taste of this dessert away.”
  • “I’m menopausal so I’m bound to gain weight.”
  • “My whole family has a weight problem, so I won’t even try.”
  • “I’ll just have one.”
  • “I just want it.”

2. By justifying why you should follow moment-to-moment urges.

  • “I deserve it.”
  • “Mum shouldn’t have said that to me.”
  • “It’s on my plan, so I’m allowed to eat it regardless of whether I’m hungry.”
  • “I need it.”
  • “I might get hungry later otherwise.”
  • “It’s a waste to leave some.”

3. By undermining your momentum – principally with self-doubt.

  • “This’ll be really difficult, going to a restaurant” (Whenever we think something is difficult, or impossible, we are basically doubting our capability to manage it).
  • “This just doesn’t work for people like me.”
  • “It’s going to be really gruelling trying to stop at the end of the meal.”

4. By beating you over the head with your own mistakes.

  • “I’ll never figure this out.”
  • “I’m broken. Other people are OK, but I’m screwed.”
  • “I was doing so well, now I’ve lost all my gains.”
  • “Now I’m back to square one.”
  • “I feel gross, so gross.”

5. By making you into a victim where you lose the strength and the will to take responsible action.

  • “Oh, God. Now I’m totally out of control.”
  • “I’m a chocoholic.”
  • “I don’t know how to get back on track.”
  • “I’m so tired.”
  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “Why did they have to bring cake into the house?”

And when your brain does start its antics, you’d better be ready to see those thoughts for what they are: neurological junk floating around your unconscious, that aren’t helpful.

You’d better have some better thoughts ready, or be ready to intervene in those mental processes.

Which is a lot of the work we do in coaching.

Working the skills of mind management, and installing new helpful empowering sudpersexy brilliant thoughts into your brain, (I love hypnotherapy to accelerate this part of the process in a totally uplifting way).

A snippet from my story:

I have this whopping big excuse for eating when I’m not hungry my whole long-legged life. And it goes, “but it’s healthy”.

Without blaming my upbringing – because I’d rather have had the super-nutritious whole food organic start in life than a malnourished one – I’d be missing out a part of the story if I didn’t tell you what a sugar-free life I had as a kid.

So, while other people were snapping open their lunchboxes and busting out their 54321 bar, I was pouring tepid pineapple juice from my flask, and looking forward to a dried banana that looked like a small dog’s turd, after I’d slowly slowly masticated my way through a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth peanut butter and homemade wholemeal bread sandwich.

My mum likes her food quite plain. She cooked very simply.

These days, I love to go and eat her suppers – she really does put organic food into wonderful fresh combinations that are full of natural flavour.

But as a kid, brown rice and stir fried vegetables, with a pan of aduki beans and the offer of some drizzled tahini on the side, didn’t really light my fire.

So, I think I learned to enjoy quantity to get satisfied, rather than savouring flavours.

That habit stayed with me and echoed up the decades – only really weeded out in my 40s – habitually eating until my belly felt properly stuffed and I was ready to go hibernate.

Mum also did a lot of ‘healthy alternatives’.

She made malty flapjacks for our packed lunches.

Made crumble with wholemeal bread flour and hunza apricots. Made chocolate cake that barely made it over the line between savoury and sweet and was on the dry side to boot (though she makes a cracking fruit cake these days, so all is forgiven).

I didn’t put on massively much weight overeating. I put on around 20lb extra since having my kids, perhaps not enough to create a pair of ultra-compelling ‘before and after’ pictures.

And that was because I was stuffing myself on ‘healthy’ substitutes all the darn time.

I may have overcome binge eating, but I still had this overeating echo of riding roughshod over my natural satisfaction signals again and again.

But let me tell you, it doesn’t feel good to be stuffing down huge bowls of hot tinned peaches the whole time, only stopping when you feel like a run is out of the question.

Or making freaky ‘mixes’ of cocoa, avocados, maple syrup and bananas, then eating it like it’s ‘free’ food.

It feels gross comfort eating and eating emotionally and overeating, even if there’s no weight issue in the mix.

It feels imbalanced. It feels like there’s a war going on between who you’d like to be, and who you end up being to yourself. It feels like being out of control, and that’s scary.

And that all changes when I unpick this one big story I’m telling myself: but it’s healthy. This big fat excuse. This sneaky little persuader that lets me off doing the nuanced work of sensing into my fullness gradually, listening to myself instead of my dietish rules of what I’m allowed, or not allowed.

These days, I tell myself “… which is irrelevant”, on the end of that thought. “But it’s healthy… which is irrelevant”, I say to myself.

Because what’s really relevant is my agreement with myself not to eat when I’m not actually hungry.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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Yes please!

Just a little side note from me:

Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.

It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.

I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.

As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.

Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.

Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.

But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!

It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:

Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?

Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?

Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?

Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?

Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.

Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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