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Losing weight is never a walk in the park, but when you have to deal with sabotage from others (or even yourself!) it becomes more like a hike up Mount Everest. It’s difficult enough when you talk yourself out of exercising and into a large slice of cheesecake, but when someone else does it for you, how are you supposed to respond?

Recognising sabotage and learning to respond to it effectively are crucial for successful and permanent weight control.

Are you being sabotaged?

When you first tell people you’re aiming to lose weight, chances are you’ll get a response along the lines of: “But you’re great just the way you are!” While this is kind, and probably well-intended, it would be more helpful to hear something like: “Well, I like you how you are, but I’m glad you want to make some healthy changes and take care of yourself. What can I do to help?”

When someone tells you that you should “quit worrying about your weight and eat another slice of chocolate cake instead,” they’re – intentionally or not – sabotaging your goals.

Sabotage can be understood as anything anyone says or does to actively discourage you from achieving your weight loss goals. A “saboteur” can be anyone – from your spouse, to your mother, to a colleague.

Why people “commit” sabotage

When people sabotage your goals it’s usually because they’re personally uncomfortable with the changes you’re making. They may feel threatened or insecure, or experience a pressure to adopt the same changes – but it’s usually their own internal processes and thoughts which cause them to sabotage you.

When you changes, it can threaten the comfort zone of those around you. A natural reaction to that threat is to want – consciously or not – to stop the change that caused it, resulting in sabotage. When people want you to stay “just the way you were” they tend to say things like:

  • “I know you’re trying to lose weight, but I don’t like to eat alone.”
  • “You don’t need to lose weight – you look great!”
  • “Why bother? This is your 10th diet this year. You never stick to them anyway.”
  • “Come on, have just one more drink.”
  • “Stop being so selfish. You don’t need to go to the gym. Spend time with me instead.”
  • “You were so good this week, you deserve a treat. Let’s go out for ice cream.”
  • “I slaved over this homemade, deep-fried, chocolate-covered pie just for you, so you have to eat another piece.”
  • “I’m not on a diet, you are. Why should I suffer? I want to have ice cream, cake and biscuits in the house.”

Sabotage can also stem from a lack of knowledge or empathy, or simply jealousy of your determination to improve your body and health.

Why you shouldn’t listen

If sabotage has been making you reconsider your goals, and think, “Maybe they’re right. Why should they have to change what they do? I’m the one with the problem,” or “It’s not fair to put my needs before theirs,” or “I don’t want them to be upset with me,” it’s time to challenge your thoughts.

Think about it – if you choose to eat a carrot stick instead of a chocolate chip biscuit, how does this burden anyone else? Perhaps those around you benefit from making some healthy changes anyway, or being inspired by your efforts.

Understandably, you don’t want to upset anyone. Dealing with sabotage isn’t always easy or comfortable, and you may look for reasons to avoid the problem. You may be hesitant to speak up for yourself because of your own uncertainty, or fears you’ll displease others. But remember, if you easily concede to discouragement from your goals, you’ll never reach them.

Stay true to yourself and your goals, and tune out anyone or anything preventing you from getting there!

Turning sabotage into support

Losing weight and changing your lifestyle is difficult; you need all the support you can get. So when you encounter sabotage, resolve to make friends, not enemies. It’s better not to fight every time sabotage rears its ugly head. Battles and hostile confrontation create stress, and stress makes it more difficult to lose weight, both psychologically and physiologically.

Instead of knee-jerk reactions, explain to your saboteurs why you choose to avoid certain foods and situations right now. You don’t need to shove good eating habits down anyone’s throat, so to speak, but actually sitting down and explaining to someone why you’re serious about losing weight can be very effective.

If others are still resistant to your change of lifestyle, educate them as to why healthy eating and exercise is good for everyone. At all times be assertive, but not aggressive or obnoxious. And if you refuse food, make sure people understand you’re not rejecting them personally! You’re just rejecting their offer of food.

If, after all your efforts, you still don’t get the support you want, be firm in your own resolve. You’re not the problem. The problem is the need in others to maintain the status quo or resistance to change.

Five effective ways to respond to sabotage

Sabotage can come from anywhere, at any time. Here are some tips for handling sabotage in various situations:

If you’re at the office make sure you’re prepared for the onslaught of available confectionery, mid-morning treats, and vending machines by filling up before you go to work. If you eat a nutritious breakfast, you’re less likely to succumb to oversized muffins and calorie-loaded chocolates! You can also keep healthy, low-fat snacks in your bag, briefcase, or drawer for when hunger strikes, so you have healthy options to resort to, and don’t end up reaching for the convenient sugary treats nearby.

If you’re cornered by one of those over-bearing types who absolutely insists on shoving another plateful of deep-fried spring rolls in front of you, or dishes you up a mountain of dessert without even asking, say “no” decisively. There are many ways you can say no: “No, I’m full, thanks,” “No, the doctor says I have to watch my cholesterol,” “No thanks, it’s too late for me to eat sugar, I won’t sleep,” “No thanks, if I eat another morsel, I will throw up on the tablecloth!” If saying no doesn’t work, and the food is still plonked down in front of you, be strong in your resolve; leave the food there and don’t eat it. You might feel a bit rude, but let’s face it, a person who simply refuses to listen to you is ruder!

If your spouse is showing “support” by stocking the fridge with your favourite beer, cheesecake, pizza and ice cream and then eating them in front of you, don’t explode! Explain why a healthy weight and lifestyle are important to you. Who knows, they may even decide to join you. At the least you can ask your partner to respect your decisions. If talking really doesn’t work, stick to your resolve and remove yourself from the situation, if you can.

If you have the kind of “helpful” friend who is constantly barraging you with pointless criticism, simplistic solutions for weight loss, and nosy questions about your food habits, try saying something like: “Actually, my approach to weight loss is working well for me at the moment, but thanks anyway.” That ought to get the “butt out!” point across, without sounding too harsh.

If you want to say “yes” because the fries just smell soooo good, or because someone is waving plates of tasty treats under your nose, or even because you don’t want to upset whoever made the triple-chocolate cake, have your refusals ready. Say “no” even if you aren’t inclined to. For example:

  • Say: “No, thank you, I’ve already had two pieces.” Even if you’re thinking: “Two pieces the size of a pea!”
  • Say: “No thank you, I’m really full.” Even if you’re thinking: “I hope she didn’t notice I was spellbound by that chocolate mousse.”
  • Say: “No thanks, I have high blood pressure.” Even if you’re thinking: “Who cares if my blood pressure is 180/100? I want more potato chips.”
  • Say: “No thanks. My doctor forbids me to eat that while I’m on medication.” Even if you’re thinking: “I wish I had a diet pill right now.”
  • Say: “I have to take a medical test which requires me to fast.” Even if you’re thinking: “This is the real test. Get me out of here fast or I’ll devour the whole buffet!”

Sabotage coming from anyone is painful and difficult, and is particularly tough when it comes from those you expect to be loving and supportive. When others sabotage you, remember the problem lies with them and not you. Stay strong in your resolve and say “no” – your health and waistline depend upon it!

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.
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