This is Part 3 in a 10-Part Series on Common Obstacles to Losing Weight and Getting Fit.
Part 3 of our series looks at two rather insidious weight loss and fitness saboteurs. The first has to do with a distorted way of thinking that’s almost guaranteed to set you up for failure. Therapists often refer to this flawed pattern as “all-or-nothing” thinking. The second frequent obstacle involves beating yourself up whenever you slip, which often leads to emotional eating as a result. These two saboteurs frequently go together, since individuals who demand perfection of themselves typically find it very difficult to forgive themselves whenever they mess up.
4 ~ You’re prone to “all-or-nothing” thinking
If you “cheat” and have a bite of cake at your friend’s birthday bash do you berate yourself and binge for the rest of the week (or month!) since you “messed up”? Do you consider yourself a failure if you miss a workout or go 5 grams over your “allowed” carbs for the day? Do you frequently regard yourself as being either “on” or “off” your diet?
If any of those scenarios sounds like you, then you’re probably prone to “all-or-nothing” thinking. Also known as “black or white” thinking, this way of looking at things is anything but healthy or constructive. It’s destructive because it sets you up for impossible scenarios that demand unwavering perfection. Here’s the deal: You’re human, which means you are not perfect and never will be.
And that’s okay!
You don’t have to do everything perfectly in order to successfully lose weight and reach your fitness goals. In fact, the sooner you accept the fact that you’re not going to do it perfectly, the better. Doing so will make it easier for you to take mistakes / slips / falters / screw-ups (whatever you want to call them) in stride, keep them in proper perspective, and get right back on the diet / fitness horse – so to speak.
What really matters is what you tell yourself when you slip up – and just as importantly – what you do next.
- Pay close attention to your self-talk, particularly whenever you slip up or falter. Rather than mentally scolding yourself (e.g. saying to yourself, “I’m such a failure!”), think about what you’d say to your best friend in that moment. Unless you’re the worst friend ever, you certainly wouldn’t berate your friend, harshly stating, “You’re such a loser!” More than likely, you’d be kind and compassionate, offering encouragement such as, “Hey, it’s okay; brush yourself off and get back in the game. Look at all the progress you’ve already made!” Make it a habit to talk to yourself in the same way – with kindness, compassion, and encouragement.
- Give yourself credit for every success – no matter how small. Even better, keep a daily journal and write down at least 5 successes each day. Those successes can include being compassionate with yourself and “dusting yourself off” when you falter. Success builds upon success; keeping track of your daily successes will help keep those occasional slip-ups in perspective.
5 ~ You respond to slip ups with self-contempt, guilt trips, and emotional eating
This subtle but very common weight loss saboteur often goes hand-in-hand with an all-or-nothing mindset. It’s typically driven by two things – 1) an unrealistic expectation of perfection on your part and 2) excess guilt that stem from an inability to forgive yourself.
If you’re like most dieters, you start your diet all fired up and eager to tackle your weight issues once and for all. For the first few days – maybe even the first few weeks if you’re exceptionally disciplined – you stick closely to your diet, monitoring everything you eat with a watchful eye. But then life happens – your boss yells at you, you have a flat tire on the drive home from work causing you to miss your workout. And to top it all off, your favorite TV show is interrupted by some political debate – which interests you about as much as watching paint dry.
Before you know it, that dark chocolate bar that’s been lurking in the deep dark recesses of the kitchen pantry is calling your name… You have a bite…then two…and suddenly you’re overwhelmed with guilt and self-loathing as the (false) realization sets in that you’ve JUST. BLOWN. YOUR. DIET!!! Of course, at that point you “clearly” have no other choice than to eat the whole 4 ounce bar (and the other two as well)!
The quirky rationalization swirling in your guilt-ridden (and now sugar-addled) brain is that if you’re going to blow it, you might as well blow it big and revel in the (short-lived) bliss of chocolatey goodness to offset the painful emotions elicited by your monumental failure.
(You do see the lack of logic here, right? ☺)
While one bite of forbidden fruit purportedly changed the course of mankind for all eternity, this is hardly the same thing. Eating a couple bites of chocolate is not a federal offense. No one died. No one got hurt. Your friends and family aren’t going to turn their backs on you in shame and disgust. You aren’t even going to hell. And, perhaps best of all, you’re not going to be ten pounds heavier tomorrow just because you slipped up today.
- Focus on the big picture. If you find yourself dwelling on each mistake you make, take a mental step back and look at all the progress you’ve made. Occasional slips are going to happen, but they’re not going to derail your efforts – unless you allow them to by viewing them as a major disaster and, as such, an excuse to binge or give up altogether.
- Keep a log a food log that includes your emotions. Doing this will enable you to identify emotional eating patterns. Make a list of healthy ways to soothe painful emotions that don’t involve food.
- Practice the art of forgiving yourself. If you’re like most people, you’re probably much harder on yourself than anyone else. Learning to forgive yourself for diet slips and cheats will help you learn to forgive yourself in other, bigger areas of your life as well.
- Give yourself permission to enjoy the slip – and then get right back on track. Often, the emotional eating that ensues when you slip up is really a way of punishing yourself. When you do find yourself slipping, take a moment to say to yourself, “Well, if I’m going to have these two bites of chocolate, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy them!” Giving yourself that permission will make it easier to stop (after two bites) and alleviate the need to punish yourself.