Does the term self-sabotage sound familiar to you around food? Do you feel like you're in a continuous fight with yourself, feeling like you want to lose yourself in the packet of biscuits or chips and in doing so, punishing yourself with it?
This term self-sabotage comes up regularly in my clinic and I think it is important to be clear on what it is, what it isn't, why you're feeling it, and what to do about it as it doesn't need to hold you back in healing your relationship with food and body.
Firstly, let me clarify when you find yourself overindulging in the sweet or salty treats, what you're doing with food is not really self-sabotage. It’s not really punishing yourself either. Generally what you are trying to do with food is self-soothe. Something’s going on in your life that doesn’t feel good, and you’re doing the thing that you know best to do in the moment, which is to eat something (often sweet), actually to make yourself feel better however often it feels the opposite.
It’s also really important to know that the strategy that you’re using makes sense. Sweet treats make anybody feel better in the moment. The only reason why you would do it is that it makes you feel better. You’re not doing it to punish yourself, you’re not doing it because you have no willpower. You're not doing it because you are a bad person. You’re essentially doing it because your nervous system, your body, your DNA has a memory that if you feel bad and eat something sweet and fun, you will feel better even if just for a moment, or two.
That’s the strategy you know well, so that’s what you fall back on. What I want to encourage you to do is recognise those moments when this behaviour takes over, and acknowledge the need to interrupt this behaviour pattern. This means you need to be ready for a shift, a shift in how you are viewing yourself, viewing your future, and viewing what success looks like for you. This means a shift in the never-ending pressure on yourself, recognising when you are being hard on yourself and reminding yourself that this strategy doesn't work. Being hard on yourself may sound good because you may believe that this means you could push yourself more. But all being hard on yourself does is makes the lows lower. And in a strange way, it makes it a little bit easier for you to not take good care of yourself. Here's the thing though, there’s a place where you have to find the part of you in that moment that says: “I don’t have to be so hard on myself.
So, this is where the unsexy work needs to happen. This is the shift. You have to choose to mature yourself in this particular area. Being hard on yourself has not yielded a positive result. The only reason we are hard on ourselves is because of habit. A part of our brain believes that it’s eventually going to work. However you've proven to yourself that it doesn't work, in fact it takes you in the opposite direction. The goal, therefore, is quite simple, it's about you learning how to love yourself through this process. You start by calling off the dogs a little and start to like yourself and respect yourself a little more. Only you can do that, and that's the practice.
It is about you treating you the way you would want to be treated by another human. This is about you treating you the way you would treat the people that you care about. It’s a choice. You get to choose. It’s choosing that you're going to practice it even when it is difficult. It’s difficult because it means seeing when we’ve been on a path where we self-attack and seeing that we have stopped loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves when things don’t go well. It’s about asking yourself: “how would my friend treat me in that moment? Would they abandon me? Would they judge me? Would they say negative things to me?” No.
So, let the internal critic be there, alongside the person who respects herself and takes care of herself. If you were raising children, and they were going through a hardship, you wouldn’t beat them up, you wouldn’t punish them, you wouldn’t judge them. You would love them into wherever you saw that they needed to go. This is what you have to do to yourself.
Part of this is earning your own trust so that even when you do eat the whole bag or the whole box, you still stand by yourself. You still don’t punish yourself. You still forgive yourself. Even though it feels gross and even though your body might not feel so good, and even though your energy might be low, you still say to yourself: you didn’t want to do that but you did it. And you did it because you wanted to feel better. That’s the only reason. You weren’t feeling good, so you did it to self soothe. You don’t have to punish yourself for more than 10 minutes. This is key - it’s about shortening the amount of time that you would normally punish yourself or abandon yourself or not take care of yourself. Instead of it being a week, or five days, or three days, or one day, you start to cut it down to minutes.
So, those are the baby steps. It’s you trusting yourself like your good friends and the people that you’re closest with. Being at peace in the world is trusting yourself. It’s not trusting that you won’t ever eat the sugar again. It’s trusting that even when you do eat the sugar, you’re still your best friend.
It’s about you learning to stay awake in the moments that we tend to go to sleep. It’s about staying conscious in the moments when we tend to go unconscious.
Here's the practice. When it comes to food, if you fall off the wagon, if you eat the whole bag, you're still going to love yourself, and you're still going to take care of yourself. You're not going to punish yourself for days. You're going to get back into self- care and self-awareness as soon as you can. Because punishing yourself doesn’t work for you. The more you practice that, the sooner you’ll be ready for change.