How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Weight Loss: Unpacking Limiting Beliefs & Diet Culture

how to stop self-sabotaging your weight loss goals

I can’t tell you how many times I used to find myself knee-deep in free-for-all eating the weekend after successfully sticking to my diet. I’d beat myself up thinking, “Why do I self-sabotage my diet every single week — every single time?”

I didn’t know it at the time, but part of the reason for my weight loss self-sabotage was actually biology. The body is wired to rebel against dietary restriction by increasing hunger for junk foods.1-3 For many of us, though, the reasons why we self-sabotage our weight loss goals are rooted in our beliefs.

Even if we really want to lose weight, we might self-sabotage our weight loss goals if success creates too much cognitive dissonance — the internal friction that happens when we hold two or more conflicting beliefs. For example, if you don’t believe you’re worthy of success, you won’t allow yourself to have it, and you’ll self-sabotage weight loss the moment you get too close to success.

Many of us carry our limiting beliefs subconsciously, though, which means that we don’t understand why we self-sabotage around food. We just do it, and then feel awful about ourselves.

Improved self-compassion alone is a compelling reason to dig into the subconscious beliefs that we carry about food, weight, and everything in between. The more we understand the reasons why we do the things we do around food, the more we can find compassion for ourselves and slowly stop self-sabotaging behaviors.

Self-Sabotage & Weight Loss: Looking at the Full Picture

In my practice as an eating psychology coach, I like to view self-sabotaging behaviors holistically — mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes it’s a biological reaction to too much dietary restraint, and sometimes it’s a psychological reaction to our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

At a biological level, our bodies are programmed to resist dietary restrictions, a prevalent weight loss strategy. Substantial clinical evidence suggests that such dieting intensifies feelings of hunger beyond normal levels.[1], [2], [3] Extensive research has also demonstrated that those who adopt restrictive diets are often at risk of not only regaining the weight they lost but also potentially gaining even more than before.[4], [5], [6]

In other words, when you diet, your hunger goes into hyperdrive, prompting you to abandon your diet and subsequently regain or even exceed your previous weight. To me, this is the epitome of biology-driven self-sabotage around food.

But what if you aren’t restricting your diet and still self-sabotage your weight loss goals? What if you feel like you’re doing everything “right,” like listening to your body to inform what you eat (intuitive eating), and yet you still feel out of control sometimes? This is where eating psychology comes into play.

Hidden, Limiting Beliefs Can Fuel Self-Sabotage Around Food and Weight

self-sabotage should be addressed holistically — mind, body, & spirit

For many of us, the most triggering blocks to weight loss are psychological. Instead of rebelling against a restrictive diet, we rebel against our own success. But why? Why would we deprive ourselves of the success that we quite literally dream of? The answer is different for everyone because our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (i.e., our psychology) are extremely unique.

However, there are some limiting beliefs that are quite common. For example, Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap, talks about a limiting belief that many of us have faced: a fear of success. Whether we’re aware of it or not, many of us self-sabotage our own success because we don’t feel worthy of it. Gay calls it “Upper Limiting.”

Another way of describing self-sabotage is cognitive dissonance, or psychological discomfort from holding conflicting beliefs simultaneously. Even if you really want to be successful and lose weight, you might also believe something else about weight loss (i.e. “skinny people are stuck up”) that makes it less desirable.

For example, if you lose 20 pounds and start to wear smaller clothes, you might also start to attract new kinds of attention from friends and strangers alike. If you don’t feel worthy of the success, and especially if the new attention shines a spotlight on it, it will cause cognitive dissonance. In an attempt to get yourself back to familiar ground, you will self-sabotage your diet and weight loss goals, even though you also really want that to happen!

My Clearest Moment of Weight Loss Self-Sabotage

my self-sabotage story is rooted in a deep-seated need for protection

I hope you’re starting to see why it’s important to understand what you believe, at a subconscious level, about everything associated with weight loss. Not just your diet or weight loss goals, but everything.

This can include what you believe about success, relationships, and even the spiritual root of weight gain: a need for protection. To illustrate what this looks like, I’d like to share one of my favorite stories of my own self-sabotaging behaviors.

When I was 10, I got a scooter and rode it up and down the neighborhood for hours every day. This was a big change from being indoors all the time. To no one’s surprise (except maybe me) I lost 14 pounds within a few weeks. 

My size XL pants became too big, and I distinctly remembering showing my loose pants to my mom like it was funny. It meant nothing to me, because I hadn’t been brainwashed by diet culture yet, and I did not have “weight loss goals.” I was just having fun.

I only realized that I lost weight because my dad pulled me to the side one day and put a gallon of milk in my hands. He told me that gallon of milk was 7 pounds, and I just lost twice that much weight from my body because of all that scootering. Go Kari!

Shortly after that conversation, my older brother made a mean joke about me, and I threatened to hit him. (Not proud of it.) Usually, a simple threat was enough to get him to leave me alone. Only this time, I didn’t have size to back me up. He wasn’t scared and, suddenly, the tables were turned. I was defenseless.

Dad intervened and told me, “Kari, you can’t threaten him anymore. You don’t have the extra weight to protect you.” Boom. There entered the belief: Being thin is not safe. I must be overweight in order to protect myself from harm.

I gained back those 14 pounds and continued to be overweight well into adulthood because of this subconscious belief — among many others. While this level of self-awareness might seem obvious, I had no idea that belief was hanging around my entire life, until I did the work.

Workbooks & Self-Inquiry Are the Answer to Self-Sabotage

cognitive dissonance: the mental discomfort of holding two or more opposing beliefs

When you hold conflicting beliefs about something — like “I really want to lose weight because it’ll make life better” and also “I am unsafe when I lose weight” — then you will self-sabotage weight loss. 

When food is subconsciously protecting you from something, you won’t give it up. (This is why I have an entire post on the spiritual root of weight gain, which is a subconscious need for protection.)

For me, being overweight provided safety; and every time I tried to diet, my subconscious was screaming, “This isn’t safe!!!” As a result, I would binge after every attempt to diet. This is why it’s so important to discover your subconscious beliefs about food, weight, and life. Now, how can you do that?

Self-inquiry, or the practice of asking yourself questions, is the best tool I’ve found. Specifically, self-inquiry with pen and paper. You have better access to your subconscious thoughts when you write something down versus thinking it through in your head.

My workbook on stopping self-sabotage, Why We Do the Things We Do, is the perfect tool for this. It provides 75 pages of juicy prompts to uncover your own hidden, limiting beliefs — that way you can heal them.

As I previously mentioned, a need for protection is one of the biggest triggers for self-sabotage and weight gain. Some of the exercises in Why We Do the Things We Do are titled ‘The Safety Net’ and ‘Boundaries & Protection’ as you’ll explore everything you believe about how your body is actually protecting you — in a psycho-spiritual sense. (Your body is always protecting you in a physical sense.)

Examples of Self-Sabotaging Beliefs

weight loss goals: what beliefs are tipping the scale the other way?

I know how outrageous it can sound that weight gain is actually serving a positive, protective role, but for many of us it’s true. Even if we really want to lose weight — even if it’s our #1 goal and we’re ready to put every ounce of energy behind it — we can’t get there if we’re also stripping away our protection.

Along with a need for protection, there are many other triggers for self-sabotage around food. Everyone holds patterns of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are highly unique — a need for protection is just one example.

Here are some examples of what other limiting beliefs could look like:

You might self-sabotage if you believe that being overweight is protecting you from…

  • Rejection – because if someone rejects you, you can just blame it on your weight, not yourself
  • Unwanted advances from the opposite sex – because you don’t know how to say no, so your body says it for you
  • Outshining others – because you’re a people-pleaser, and if your body became a trigger for jealousy, you can’t please everyone

The list goes on and on, and you won’t what’s lying in your way until you do the work of self-inquiry. As acclaimed author Joan Didion once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

How to Stop Self-Sabotage Around Weight Loss

Self-inquiry is the best way, by far, to stop self-sabotaging because it uncovers the beliefs that you don’t even know you have. However, it’s not the only tool in the toolbox.

Here are some practical steps you can take to address patterns of self-sabotage around weight loss and food:

1. Embrace Mindfulness Practices

meditation: choose responsiveness over reactiveness
journaling: bring awareness to self-sabotaging beliefs

Mindfulness is about being present and fully engaging with the moment. Through mindfulness, you can gain insights into triggers and behaviors that lead to self-sabotage.

  • Meditation: Meditation can help with stopping self-sabotage by moving you from a reactive state to a responsive state. Training in meditation can be the difference between flinging yourself into compulsion and having the awareness that you’re about to self-sabotage and choosing another action (like the ones listed below) instead.
  • Journaling: Putting pen to paper is one of the best ways to uncover the hidden beliefs that fuel self-sabotage. You can start with some simple freeform journaling to get started. Ask yourself questions like, “Why would I be afraid of success? What unintended consequences might I be hiding from?” For a structured approach, consider using my self-sabotage workbook — it’s my bestseller for a reason!

2. Build a Supportive Community

support: find someone to get you outside of your own head

When we try to figure things out on our own, we are subject to our own biases. Since self-sabotage is rooted in those biases, it can make a solo-venture unproductive.

We need the help of another person with different biases to reveal our blind spots! Whether it’s a therapist or a coach, find someone whose ideology you resonate with. Trust and vulnerability are crucial for creating a safe space where limiting beliefs can be explored.

3. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations

goals: root yourself in intuition instead of dieting

I can’t write a post on stopping self-sabotage around weight loss without mentioning goals. I advocate a highly intuitive approach to eating where your body informs what and when you eat.

To this degree, I think it’s important not to set yourself up for disappointment by setting weight loss goals that are too high. This can lead to an inclination to diet, which I previously mentioned is clinically proven to fail.1-6 Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, set goals rooted in intuitive eating.

For example, you can set a small goal of breaking just one food rule as a stepping stone towards giving up dieting and eating intuitively. Keep a journal of what you’re eating (no calorie tracking required) to generate awareness around what you’re actually eating.

Many of us think we will eat out-of-control when all foods are allowed. But over the long run, chances are that you’ll eat more normally because intuitive eating is correlated with healthier eating choices over the long-run.[7]

4. Redefine Your Relationship with Diet Culture

break up with diet culture: reclaim your physical & mental health

Stopping self-sabotage should be viewed holistically. While you employ steps towards your mindset, like self-inquiry, it’s important to employ steps towards your body as well.

  • Educate Yourself: Delve into scientific research and articles that challenge the mainstream diet culture. By understanding the actual science of weight loss (i.e. it is not about ‘calories in, calories out’!), you can debunk myths and develop a more informed approach.
  • Focus on Intuition, Not Restriction: Try to view all foods neutrally. Instead of dwelling on forbidden foods, prioritize those that nourish and energize your body. When you focus on food neutrality, you naturally gravitate toward healthier choices without feeling deprived.

Untangling the Knots of Self-Sabotage Around Food

We’ve delved deep into the multi-faceted nature of self-sabotage, especially as it pertains to weight loss. While biology plays a crucial role in our responses to diet and food, it’s our psychological terrain — our deeply entrenched beliefs — that often trips us up. Such beliefs, even when hidden in our subconscious, can manifest as barriers to our success.

Through journaling and self-inquiry workbooks like the Why We Do the Things We Do, we can uncover and challenge these deep-seated beliefs. Furthermore, by redefining our perspective on diet culture and focusing on intuition rather than restriction, we create a sustainable path towards holistic health — mind, body, and spirit.

Keep It Going: Get The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating (Free Ebook)

want this epic 13-page ebook on eating psychology?
plus a free 5 day email course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness?

Free 13-page ebook: Keep your momentum going by downloading my free ebook, The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating. It’s not just junk to get into your inbox, I promise. Sign up and see for yourself. You can unsubscribe anytime.

5 day email course — also free: You’ll also receive a 5-day email course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, my unique approach to stopping compulsive eating, enriching your journey with more practical tips.

Sign up below: Enter your email below to dive deep into this wiggy world where eating psychology and spirituality collide:

You're On a Roll: Take the Eating Psychology QUIZ!

Even if you struggle with overeating, I bet I can guess your strength around food.

You're Really on a Roll: Let's Put an End to Self-Sabotage

Ready to dive even deeper into your journey of self-discovery? I proudly present my most celebrated workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do. This 75-page digital workbook reveals your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating. By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up.

Some say ‘feel it to heal it’ but this workbook takes it a step deeper and helps you ‘see it to heal it.’ If you’re the kind of person who logically knows how to live a healthy lifestyle but you compulsively do the opposite, this workbook will illuminate what’s standing in the way. Then, you know exactly where to focus your energy.

You scrolled a looong while to get here. I'd love if you could leave a comment!

I read and reply to every single one! Just like I do with my emails. Since I don’t use much social media (outside of Pinterest and YouTube), I very much enjoy this opportunity to hear your thoughts and connect ✨

8 thoughts on "How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Weight Loss: Unpacking Limiting Beliefs & Diet Culture"

  1. Lindasays:

    If i am normal with food then why am I overweight? I try to eat healthy and I exercise intently 2-3 times a week; i try hard to stay away from sweets as I fear becoming diabetic as I age and i definitely do not want that to happen; recently read blue zone diet and i am just beginning it and i like it

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Linda, I’d love to know more about what it means to you to be normal with food. It sounds like you have ideas for healthy living, so let me know where you’re stuck and I’m happy to help 🙂

  2. Dellen Reedsays:

    I’m sitting at 187 I can’t stand it it’s been going on like a yo yofor probably more than 5 years, i lost my best friendhe was my husband at 1 pointbut i took care of him till he died. I don’t know if that’s it or if that’s just an excuse. But every time I start, I get to a point and I don’t do do it, and then I’m back at 187 and it’s not healthy and I want to be at 1:30. I get in my own way, I’m so upset. I’ve tried everything for weight watchers to any other thing you can think of except for the needles that you stick in your stomach which I don’t think are healthy so any ideas any suggestions? I really wanted to sit down with someone 1 on 1 and just talk, you know. I need to lose this weight. I’m upset with myself I don’t like myself I can’t fit in my clothes. I’m only 5 foot 1, so it says I’m obese. I’ve never been as heavy in my life. I can’t stand it and yet here I am so that’s my story. Thanks for listening

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Dellen! I have so much compassion for what you are going through, and I’m sure everyone else reading this can agree that yo-yo dieting is miserable. I’m sorry you’re going through the thick of it right now. I’ll try to point your in the right direction. I wonder if this blog post would be a great resource for you: How to stop compulsive eating with the Stop, Drop, & Feel. And here’s the link to learn more about coaching. I hope you can hold lots and lots of compassion for yourself as you move through these heavy emotions. I celebrate you for searching for answers beyond the layer of dieting!

  3. Patsysays:

    I’ve had a problem with my weight gain since freshman college. I’ve yo yo’d all my life. However, I keep trying to do better. I have acknowledged that I sometimes sabotage myself. I thought I’d look further onto this dilemma and googled a search. Your information came up. I’m interested in your workbook. Insight is helpful and can lead to changing our habits. I know self sabotage reasons have changed over the years: early 20’s unwanted male attention; 40/50 I said I wasn’t defined by my physical body but my intellect and other qualities…rationalizations, now in my 70’s I don’t get why except habits I need to break. I’ve broken the habit of bedtime association to eat snacks to tune of up to 500 added calories! Still trying after all these years! Regards, PJM

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Patsy! Thank you so much for sharing this with me and anyone else reading this post on self-sabotage. I think we can all relate, to at least some degree! I admire your willingness to work on yourself and turn inward. Just your Google search alone must signify a newfound readiness for change. I wish you the best on this courageous path making peace with food the psycho-spiritual way! I hope your name pops up here on the blog again soon 🙂

  4. Carleighsays:

    When I was a kid, I was skinny up until my mom and I started moving around a lot. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why we did. All I ever remember was going to schools and then leaving and going to a new house. It wasn’t until I was about 9-11 that we finally stopped moving around and moved in with my step-dad. He’s a great dad. But my just kept going up and up. All through middle school up until now (junior in highschool) it went up. I’m sitting at 218-222 at 5’0″. I don’t like my body most of the time, and I’m always afraid if people are laughing at me or something else. I always feel like all the eyes are on me. If not all of them, then some secret ones that spread rumors. I’m tired of all this. I want to be able to look like Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory but how am I supposed to look like her if I continue on like this? I starve myself during the school days because I’m afraid of eating in front of people and then I go home and I’m good when I’m alone but when my mom comes home and she starts eating, it’s like my body just goes “well, she’s eating so it’s okay for us to eat” and then I just go all ham on the food. (Pardon the pun) I don’t quote understand what this is.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Carleigh! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot of changes and challenges, and it’s completely understandable to feel the way you do about your body and eating. I celebrate you for your self-awareness and eagerness for growth.

      It’s also important to recognize that everyone’s body is unique, including how it looks and how it changes over time. Comparing ourselves to others, even people we admire on TV like Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory, can often lead to feelings of inadequacy, which isn’t fair to you or your journey.

      It sounds like you’re experiencing a lot of stress around eating, especially in public and at home. It’s also concerning to hear that you’re skipping meals during the day and feeling out of control around food later. This can create a cycle that is hard to break and can affect both your physical and emotional health.

      Since you are still in high school, I highly recommend talking to someone who can provide support tailored to your age and experiences, like a school counselor or a trusted teacher. They can offer you support and possibly connect you with other resources that might help.

      Remember, your value isn’t defined by your appearance or by what anyone thinks of you. You deserve to feel good about who you are, and to eat in ways that nourish your body without guilt or fear. <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *