We’ve all done it. We start the week with great intentions to eat healthy and by the weekend we’re wondering what the heck happened?? We make a plan to lose weight, eat less sugar and start taking care of ourselves. But somewhere along the way we end up sabotaging the very thing we said we want. Why do we do it?
Why We Sabotage
The main reason is the habit part of our brain, the part that wants us to expend as little energy as possible, not do anything hard and always seek immediate pleasure…is constantly at work. It wants to protect us from anything uncomfortable, bless its little brain heart. It means well…and by all means we NEED that little guy for our survival.
But this primitive part of our brain doesn’t know the difference between doing something uncomfortable that could hurt you and doing something uncomfortable that could HEAL you. All it knows is this is different than what you’re used to, and different is unknown, and unknown is SCARY.
All it knows is the dopamine rewards it was used to getting daily from sugar and high carb foods aren’t coming in as often and it wants them back. It slams the brakes on and feeds us all sorts of thoughts and excuses and justifications to get us to turn around and go back to the cave where we know what to expect and we’re nice and warm and safe and the same.
Even if we aren’t happy there.
So what to do?
First, just understanding that this is NORMAL and totally to be expected is helpful. Nothing has gone wrong when you feel like part of you is fighting against the very goal you’ve set for yourself. Because it is.
Your higher brain that has dreams and goals and makes plans to take you there is fighting for the steering wheel with the lower brain who wants you to stay right where you are and do what you’ve always done and never change anything.
But that’s totally okay. Just because your lower brain is trying to run the show doesn’t mean it has to. Your higher brain always has the power to override whatever sabotaging suggestions your primitive brain throws at you. And the more you practice, the easier this gets.
The first step is to become aware of some of the things you may not be aware of that contribute to craving sugar and high-carb foods and overeating. Once you become aware of your personal saboteurs, you’ll have more power to catch them ahead of time and make a decision with your higher brain instead of your “what-sounds-good-in-the-moment” brain.
Six Common Saboteurs
Though each of us will have unique ways our brain will try to derail us, here are six of the most common ways we sabotage ourselves without even realizing it…and some simple strategies to combat each one before it starts:
1. Not nourishing our bodies
This is the biggest way we sabotage our health because not only are we not giving our body what she truly needs, but in doing so we end up craving and eating the foods that deplete our health. It’s a cycle that many of us have fallen into.
One way this can happen is we don’t eat when we’re hungry because we’re “busy”. Going without food for a while is fine and even good for us as it allows the body to tap into our fat reserves for energy. But when we wait until we’re light-headed and “starving”, all we want is to go for high-carb foods…whatever is going to give us that glucose fix the fastest! And usually that is something out of a box, a bag or a drive-through.
The best way to combat this is to listen to your body. When you feel the sensations of physical hunger, make time to feed yourself. When you are just hungry, instead of “I’m dying!” hungry, you’re much more able to make food choices from your higher brain who remembers and cares about your goals.
Another way we sabotage ourselves is going for the high-carb foods on our plate first instead the healthiest ones. Your brain will always want to dive into the carbs first because that’s what gives it the quickest form of energy. But vegetables and protein and healthy fats are where your real and lasting energy comes from! So eat your vegetables and/or salad FIRST. All of it!
Your meal should be at least HALF veggies for optimal health. Your body needs these healthy carbs and fiber and nutrition the most, so fill up on these first. If you save them for last (like we all did when we were kids and umm…yesterday), you’ll be full and won’t want to eat them! When you’re the most hungry, is when they’ll taste the best. Your appetite is the strongest when you start to eat and you’ll be able to finish your greens before moving on to the rest of your meal.
Eat your protein next and have a small portion of starchy carbs last (if you want to have them at all). This will be easier to do because you’ll have filled up with all the good stuff first!
Not including the “good stuff” in your meals (meaning greens, protein, fiber and fat) is a huge way we sabotage ourselves. When we don’t eat nutrient dense food at meal time, the body is lacking in nutrition and sends out hunger signals asking for more food, even if you’re “full”. Your body doesn’t really need more food, it needs nutrients. Telling you to eat more is the only way it hopes to get it.
The more whole and healthy your food is, the more quickly you will feel full. Why? Because your body has been FED, not just filled. There’s a difference. We can fill the tank with empty foods without fueling our body. When you focus on FUEL…what your body needs to feel energized and healthy and strong, you won’t need as much food!
2. Not drinking enough water
Dehydration can be masked as hunger. Among other symptoms such as headaches and dizziness, dehydration can make you feel light headed, tired and weak. It makes sense your body will crave sugar when feeling these things. Our body will tell us we’re hungry and send cravings for food, when really we just need water.
Making sure you stay hydrated throughout the day with plenty of water will help you have less cravings and want to eat less often. Most people need to drink roughly half their body weight in pounds in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that would be 75 ounces of water a day, or 9 cups. If you’re physically active, you can bump that up to even twice as much.
3. Not getting enough sleep
Sometimes we can’t help this when we have little ones up in the night or other things beyond our control. But when we push ourselves to stay up late and cut our sleeping time short, we pay for it the next day with cravings! When we’re tired we crave glucose in the form of sugar or carbs. Getting at least 7 hours of rest (8-9 is optimal) will help give you the natural energy your body and brain need to function well throughout the day. For a deeper look into this, check out my article “When you’re tired and Craving Carbs” here.
4. Not planning ahead
When you don’t make a plan for yourself, plan to fail! We want to eat healthy but sabotage ourselves by not having healthy food or snacks available when we’re hungry! Such as buying a bunch of vegetables with the intention to make a huge salad we can eat throughout the week, then letting them die a slow death in the crisper while we eat the kid’s leftover mac-n-cheese because it’s easier than making a salad when we’re hungry.
The strategy to overcome this is to make sure you always have the healthy staples you need to stay on track in your house, your fridge, at work and when traveling! Set aside time to wash and cut your veggies and make a big, beautiful salad that’s ready to go when hunger calls. Have easy proteins and healthy fats like avocados, raw nuts and seeds, tuna, chicken, antibiotic & hormone free deli meats, etc. ready to go so there’s no excuses to stand in front of the fridge wondering “what to eat” and grabbing a box of Ritz when you can’t see anything.
5. Saying YES at the store
Here’s one that I struggled with a ton, and sometimes still do! Buying large amounts of trigger food with the justifying thought “I’ll just have one, the rest is for the family.” Or, “I’ll just keep these around for special occasions.”
This sneaky thinking leads to buying a dozen donuts instead of just your favorite one. Buying your favorite bag of cookies…you know, the ones you’ve repeatedly ended up binging on for most of your life…and telling yourself it’s for the kids and you’re not going to have any. Buying a whole bag of Snicker Minis because it’s “on sale” instead of buying one candy bar. Putting the party size bag of your favorite chips in the cart instead of buying ones you don’t really care about or choosing a veggie tray and a hummus dip instead.
One piece of advice I learned long ago is, “When you say no at the store, you only have to say no once!”
All these justifying thoughts are what compel you to buy the foods that you know are triggers for you to overeat. It’s exactly what your primitive brain, who remembers the dopamine hits, wants you to do! Be on to it! If you really want that food, go ahead and plan to have it. Buy a small portion and enjoy it thoroughly, and leave the Family Size at the store!
If a certain brand of cookies is tempting to you, and you don’t want to be eating cookies, don’t buy that brand. Buy the brand you don’t care about to keep in the pantry for the family or take to the event!
For instance, at Christmas I have an adorable snowman cookie jar that sits on my counter all December. But instead of filling it with little danish butter cookies (my fave), I buy no-name-brand chocolate chip cookies. You know…the dry, hard kind with fake chocolate chips. I have no desire to eat those! But they look cute in the cookie jar and serve their purpose. And a couple of days before Christmas I WILL fill it with the danish butter cookies and enjoy them, but I’m not being tempted every time I walk into the kitchen all month long.
Use these strategies with yourself and remember, having the strength to say no and walk away in the store ONCE will save you having to say no to yourself over and over once they are home.
6. Restricting & Rebelling
Lastly, telling yourself you CAN’T have certain foods almost always leads to rebelling. The independent girl inside of us will want to fight against the “dictator” telling us we can’t have or do something…even though we’re the ones who made that decision!
Instead of telling yourself you “can’t” have something, tell yourself you CAN. Because the truth is, you can have it if you choose to. Nobody can force you not to.
Tell yourself why you’re choosing not to have it right now. Focus on what you’re gaining by making the choice to not eat this food.
Our brain panics when it thinks of loss…”I’m losing my favorite foods! I’m giving up everything good!” When we’re in this thinking, of course we’ll eventually sabotage it. So instead of focusing on lack, think of what you’re getting by creating this new relationship with food!
What will you GAIN? More health? More energy? A flatter tummy? Feeling lighter and more comfortable in your clothes? Whatever it is for you that drives you…your WHY that matters more than the taste of this food in the moment…focus on THAT.
For more on how to do this, grab my free guide: “5 Ways to Get Through ANY Craving – starting today!” HERE.
And remember, nothing is off limits, unless you decide it is. It’s totally up to you! You don’t have to give up anything forever unless you want to for your health. You can learn how to have any food you want with balance and control so that you’re able to keep it in your life and still live the life you want. You can also learn to completely give up certain foods and not desire them anymore…it’s your choice! This is the work we do in my coaching program, Become HER and It’s totally possible for you.
Strategies over Sabotage!
So there you have it. Six common ways those of us who struggle with overeating refined sugar and carb foods end up sabotaging ourselves. Remember, the key is to become aware of what YOUR saboteurs are and come up with a strategy for each one!
It takes practice and patience, but with consistency, you WILL be able to overcome them, one at a time. The only power food has over us is the power we choose to give it. Figuring out strategies to avoid sabotaging ourselves before it happens, is the first step to taking your power back.