You get all fired up about beginning a new diet or exercise program and start off with a bang. You are sticking to your meal plan, exercising on a regular basis and feeling like a champion.

Then one day, all of a sudden, the positive vibes seem to fly out the window and your mind searches for any excuse to cheat. The trigger could be exhaustion, a fight with your significant other, bad traffic, a big change at work, misbehaving kids or nothing at all. You start skipping workouts, bingeing on desserts, and cutting yourself down with a litany of cruel and negative self-talk.

Welcome to self-sabotage! Self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors cause us to create obstacles that prevent us from achieving success. 

The question is: Why do we do it, and how do we make it stop? Research shows self-sabotaging behaviors are largely unconscious. We always act, create, manifest and attract according to our self-concept, or who we believe ourselves to be. Many times, self-sabotaging actions stem from fear. Fear of failure, rejection, change, other people’s opinions and even fear of success!  

Next time you are feeling the urge to self-destruct and blow up your diet and workout plan, stop and try this five-step process to keep you on track:

1. Reflect on your emotional state — Are you feeling sad, angry, stressed, jealous, lonely, unworthy, fearful, celebratory or happy? That’s right! Even in our happier moments, we can abandon our goals. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings so they can be validated and dealt with instead of buried and ignored. Once we confront our real feelings, we can consciously choose to fulfill our needs in ways that support our goals. Helpful tip: Write down the emotions in the moment so you don’t forget!

2. Ask yourself “why” — Now that you’ve uncovered the underlying emotions you’re experiencing, the next step is to figure out why they are bubbling to the surface. What is it that you believe of yourself for this self-defeating pattern of behavior to occur? Is food your only consistent form of pleasure, leading you to binge? What is the intention behind the self-defeating behavior? The bingeing may be happening to help you cope with stress, to experience feelings of comfort, companionship or relief. Often just acknowledging these emotions is enough to set yourself free.

3. Choose another course of action — Self-sabotaging can be a difficult habit to break free of. We tend to revert back to a familiar behavior, no matter how detrimental it may be, if we do not have an alternative plan in place. Once we define what it is we are really craving, we can home in on some tactics to divert our attention elsewhere. For example, a change of scenery or talking to a friend can alter our perspective on a situation that has us stressed out. Sometime all it takes is a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood to recalibrate. Replace late-night snacking in front of the TV with reading in bed. If you’re feeling unworthy or unloved, then pamper yourself with a hot shower, deep-conditioning treatment and a luxurious manicure/pedicure with a bright, new polish. You deserve that level of self-care!

4. Find an accountability partner — When motivation wanes, one of the greatest things we can do is ask for help. To ensure long-term success, it’s important to have someone to check in with, such as a health coach or online fitness group. Sharing our goals with others tends to make us want to stay the course and helps us reframe our negative thoughts and recognize potentially unrealistic expectations. Promising to meet a friend for a workout or joining a recreational sports team that has scheduled practices can be a fantastic way of ensuring we show up to exercise. It’s much more difficult to think about skipping a workout when we know it also means letting down our friends.

5. Think beyond you — Sometimes, we get stuck on ourselves and think the world notices all of our flaws with the magnitude that we do. We forget that we are human and allowed to make mistakes. Many of us compare ourselves to others and fixate on the differences and flag them as perceived shortcomings. Our inner critic is constantly yammering away, pointing these things out to us, but he or she has forgotten one important detail. We are all meant to be different. We are each on our own journey in this lifetime. When you get down on yourself, think about who else may be watching and learning from you — your kids, your clients, your friends?

Instead of self-loathing, imagine what it would be like to be an inspiration to your community. If you run that marathon, complete that boot camp or reach a healthy weight, you will certainly trigger feelings of belief and enthusiasm in others and may even drive them to take action. How cool is that? Helpful tip: Think about someone who inspires you, and try to emulate their character traits.

Remember that nobody is perfect and that your diet and fitness plans should be flexible. Don’t fall into the trap of black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. Putting an end to self-sabotage starts with believing in yourself and knowing you are capable of a life beyond your wildest dreams.


Kate McKay, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, motivational speaker and business consultant, resides in Newburyport. Follow her and learn about her new show to be released later this summer at Jill Kane is a holistic health coach and corporate wellness consultant. Her website is

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