3 Hidden Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage Your Weight Loss Goals

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Feature image by: Frits Ahlefeldt

If you find that you are consistently dieting and/or sabotaging your weight loss goals, the answer may be a lot deeper than just a lack of willpower or dedication.

What I find typically happens in career dieters, is a life-long game of nutritional “red light, green light”.  A client picks up a program, sticks to the protocol like glue, then once the program is over, all progress halts, and any newly acquired healthy eating habits have long been thrown out the window, until the next program comes along, in which the process repeats.

As frustrating as it as for a coach to watch a client sabotage his or her own success, I can imagine that it is exponentially more frustrating for the client. Which is precisely why I decided to write this post, to help those who find themselves in this vicious cycle understand themselves better.

From my experience in my practice I am going to share with you 3 hidden reasons why you are self-sabotaging your weight loss goals.  As a forewarning, some of these topics are of a very sensitive nature.

My purpose of this post was not to be accusatory or assume that you fit this bill, but rather, the purpose is to get you to start looking at yourself in a deeper light.  To get you to start looking at your diet history as more than just a lack of willpower, but potentially something bigger within yourself.

This is also not to say that these are the only reasons why people sabotage their own success.  Anything but.  These are just a few ideas that I wish to discuss today, and ones that because of their sensitive nature are often taboo in our in discussion of weight loss.

I hope that through this post you can start to think deeper about your weight, your history of dieting, and your patterns of self-sabotage.

3 Hidden Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage Your Weight Loss  

1. Strong familial ties to food.

The first thing that I thought of while I was outlining this blog was the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  This movie epitomizes the strong connection between food, family and our need to part of a “tribe”.

Allow me to explain upon this notion further and how it relates to your weight loss:

One of our first needs as a human being, and you can see this in Maslow’s Heirachy of Needs, is our need for tribal connection.  In today’s world, replace the word tribal for family and you are dealing with the same primordial behavior that we as primates are born with.

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs
Photo credit from https://www.thoughtco.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4582571

The instinct to develop tribal or familial connections is also deeply rooted within us spiritually and which even has a direct tie to our 1st chakra.  According to Caroline Myss in her best selling book, Anatomy of the Spirit, developing a tribal connection is our first step into personal and spiritual development, pg. 105:

No one begins life as a conscious “individual” with conscious willpower.  That identity comes much later and develops in stages from childhood through adulthood. Beginning life as a part of a tribe, we become connected to our tribal consciousness and collective willpower by absorbing its strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, superstitions, and fears.

Through our interactions with family and other groups, we learn the power of sharing a belief with other people.  We also learn how painful it can be to be excluded from a group and its energy.  We learn as well the power of sharing a moral and ethical code handed down from generation to generation. This code of behavior guides children of the tribe during their development years, providing a sense of dignity and belonging.

What Caroline is basically saying is that when we enter this world, we have not yet established ourselves; we have not defined our “I”.  How could we?  We are merely infants that must learn how the world works from those who raise us.

Thus, our first stage of development in the world is through the connections we make with our families and the subsequent lessons and paradigms that we inherit through our upbringing.  This idea is clearly shown in the movie as our protagonist struggles with staying connecting with her tribe while trying to strike out on her own.

And one of these lessons, which also plays a pivotal theme in the movie, is the role food plays in our lives.  I use the movie as an example because it does a great job capturing the influential role that food can play in our tribes (family).

Having a strong tribal connection, or a grounded root chakra, is a necessary step in our personal development, for it is our family in which we look to for support.  Our family acts as a safety net, and if you’ve ever had to move back in with Mom and Dad, you have experienced this firsthand.

However, just as Maslov described in his heirachy, as Caroline discusses in Anatomy, and as our endearing Toula learns, we must move beyond our tribal ties in order for us to progress through our own personal development.

my big fat greek wedding scene
my big fat greek wedding scene

The issue with self-sabotaging comes in to play when you feel obligated to your familial ties.  If you are stuck in the tribal mindset, or stuck in your first chakra, you cannot make your way through the other stages of personal development.  In this sense, you are sacrificing your own development to remain tied to the tribe.

At one point, each family member must learn to break ties with the tribe in order to fulfill himself or herself as an individual.  The challenge here is to keep the tribal influences that help progress us, and discard those that do not.

For instance, loyalty is a very positive influence that we learn through the tribe, however, it is this very loyalty that can cause family members to criticize behavior that is outside of normal tribal customs.

In food sense, think of it this way:

If you come from a family where food predominates social gatherings, communication or bonding, what happens if you decide not to participate?

If you have ever dieted before I’m sure you have experienced what its like to tell your mom that you will not be eating stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner because you’re on a diet.

Because of the strong loyalty to the tribe, it can be very difficult to step outside of your family traditions for the fear of judgment and guilt, in this case we’re talking about food.

As Carolyn mentioned, “We also learn how painful it can be to be excluded from a group and its energy”.  So, perhaps the reason for self-sabotaging your own weight loss goals stems from this fear of being different than the rest of your family.

If you feel this relates to you here are some questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. When you go over to your family’s for dinner, do you feel obligated to eat what is served?
  2. Do you feel awkward, or do you feel bad when you are trying to eat healthier?
  3. Does your family make cutting remarks about your attempts of improving your life?
  4. What lessons have you learned in your family that progress you through your own development and which ones hinder you?
  5. What are some ways that you can actively involve your family in your weight loss efforts?

2. History of physical or sexual abuse in childhood.

As I mentioned earlier, the topics that we were going to discuss will be uncomfortable for some to hear, and thus have made them rather taboo.

In the case of long-term dieting and self-sabotage towards weight loss efforts, one area that often does not get addressed is the role of physical and sexual abuse in childhood.

As you can imagine, this is not a topic that has made headlines as a possible reason for weight gain or obesity.  We would much rather blame it on a gene or a chromosome than look at it emotionally.  And honestly, I feel this is where we are missing a huge piece of the puzzle.

What is interesting is that abuse in childhood can create weight issues on either ends of the spectrum, both as excess in weight or being underweight, but it is sexual abuse that is particularly associated with overweight and obesity (1).

Although this topic is still not widely discussed, Time magazine did address this issue back in January 2010.  In the article titled, “How Childhood Trauma Can Cause Adult Obesity” a 2007 study was referenced in which women who had been abused as a child were 27% more likely to be obese as adults.  And even more alarming was the statistic from a 2009 study which showed:

“…that sexual abuse in childhood raised the risk of obesity 66% in males in adulthood.”

In a food sense, you can think of it this way:

Food has become a coping method to deal with negative emotions, and in addition, the extra weight in a metaphorical standpoint can act as a protective mechanism to thwart off any future advances. (2)

I often joke that even though I call my self a “nutrition coach” I very rarely deal with nutrition.  Very rarely is it ever a nutritional or food concern, but rather an emotional one, and from the 8 years I’ve been in practice I have heard my fair share of stories from clients and their accounts of sexual or physical abuse.

Again, I feel the need to reiterate from above that the point of me discussing this topic is not to pigeon hole you into any one of these reasons, but rather to get you to think outside of the box when it comes to your weight and your healing journey.

There is a strong correlation between our thoughts on food, the way we view ourselves as sexual creatures, and even pleasure.

It is possible that we seek pleasure in food as a way to cope with traumatic events and negative feelings, and we hide ourselves as sexual creatures through the protection of excess weight.

Perhaps the weight that has stayed on you is a form of protection; a way for you to seem unattractive to your perpetrators.  Thus, in order for you to successfully lose the weight permanently, you must first feel a sense of safety in your life.  And part of this comes with dealing with past traumatic events and letting go of the fear of a recurrence.

(As a fair warning for myself, and for you, I feel it necessary to disclose that I am NOT a doctor or psychologist.  The advice and questions I suggest are in NO WAY to replace the care of a medical professional or licensed therapist.  These are just my own conclusions, thoughts, and ideas that I have personally developed over my years of overcoming my own traumas, and the resources I’ve referred to others.  Take what it is worth for you and leave the rest.)

If you feel this relates to you here are some questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. Have you experienced a physical or sexual abuse in your life?
  2. Have lost significant weight in the past only to find that you sabotage your efforts?
  3. What, if any, positive factors do you get from staying overweight?
  4. What, if any, positive factors do you get from achieving a healthy weight?

If you feel you need support to help you through physical or sexual abuse, please reach out to these resources directly:

Pandora’s Project
With informational articles, message boards and chat rooms, Pandora’s Project offers peer support to anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape.

PAVE | Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment
This national nonprofit organization uses social, educational and legislative tactics to shatter the silence surrounding sexual violence and stop sexual violence before it starts.

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It features a wealth of resources including a National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE), information about different types of sexual assault and much more.

Safe Horizon
Safe Horizon is a victim assistance agency that provides support, prevents violence and promotes justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities.

3. An unsupported spouse or the fear of leaving your spouse behind.

The final reason why you may be self-sabotaging your own weight loss goals could be as close as the person lying next to you in bed.

Relationships and love can make people do all sorts of crazy things.  In a similar fashion as our connection with our tribe, we also have a tie with our partner in life.  In a sense, there is also a strong loyal bond that makes up the foundation to a healthy relationship.

However, what happens when this “loyalty” causes us to make destructive decisions for ourselves?  You love your boyfriend, but his drinking and eating habits do not quite support your goals of living a healthier life.

What are you to do?  At one point, you may be faced with the possibility of leaving your relationship if you feel you cannot get the moral and emotional support needed for you to stick to your goals.

Or perhaps you find that the only time you socialize with your partner is over alcohol or when you are out to dinner?  I have actually worked with clients who find they get along best with their spouse is over a few glasses of wine.

I have also worked with clients who have re-kindled less-than-stellar past relationships, only to see their progress come to a complete halt.

Or maybe you find that it is easier for you to “cheat” on the weekends because your partner is cheating?  “If my boyfriend is doing it, its OK if I do it too.”

Where, then, is the line between a fun healthy relationship, and one that is destructive to your health?

I do not have the answer for you, as that is something you must decide on your own.

As someone starts to take an active role in achieving better health, it is only natural that the person starts feeling better about him or herself and his/her life.  And what can happen is that the partner that is growing individually, may start to outgrow the relationship.

And this is where conflict arises.

One partner may start to outgrow the other, and in an attempt to keep the relationship together, may decide to stay.  Or, the partner feeling left behind, may attempt to manipulate the other into staying.  Either way, this could be a hidden reason that is preventing you reaching your weight loss goals.

If you feel this relates to you here are some questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. Does my current relationship support or hinder my goals?
  2. Have I openly asked for support in achieving my goals? (it’s not fair to blame your partner if you have not first asked for support.)
  3. Would my health improve or worsen if I stayed in my relationship?
  4. Do I support my partner in his or her own goals?

Closing Thoughts

As I’ve worked with clients over the years, I managed to step outside of the minutia of typical nutritional dogma to see bigger patterns when they occur.  And although willpower and dedication do have their place in achieving long lasting weight loss goals, it is not the end all be all; just as we are the masters of our own destiny, so we are the orchestrator of our own devices.  The very reasons why we find ourselves sabotaging our own success lie right inside us, we need only the courage to look deeper.

I hope that through this post you were able to gain some insight into your own history of dieting and may have taken one step closer to putting an end to self-sabotage and thus your nutritional game of “red light, green light”.


As a fair warning for myself, and for you, I feel it necessary to disclose that I am NOT a doctor or psychologist.  The advice and questions I suggest are in NO WAY to replace the care of a medical professional or licensed therapist.  These are just my own conclusions, thoughts, and ideas that I have personally developed over my years of overcoming my own traumas, and the resources I’ve referred to others.  Take what it is worth for you and leave the rest.


1. Roenholt S, Beck NN, Karsberg SH, Elklit A. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2012;3. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v3i0.17188. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

2.  Wiederman M, Sansone R, Sansone L. Women & Health. Vol. 29(1) 1999

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10 Responses

  1. Thank you Sirena. Keep shining your Light so that others may find their way out of their darkness. Namaste.

  2. Thank you for this article. All three apply to me, especially the familial ties to food. I work out every day and I’m very committed to it. My problem is my eating and I can’t seem to stick to my “lifestyle change”. I get no support at home so it makes it twice as hard. But I’m not gonna stop trying. I have 50 lbs to go so wish me luck and thank you again!

  3. Thank you for focusing on the spirit, rather than the outward appearance. We are such a sensual society, only basing weight loss on dieting and exercise. Thank you for speaking to the root of the matter. This year, I am determined to face my fears and truly understand why I have sabotaged my own weight loss for years. Some reasons are sexual and physical abuse as a child, unforgiveness towards myself for past mistakes, fear of losing my sense of family community if I don’t eat like they do, and fear that I will stray from my husband if I am thin and feel beautiful. Thank you for your honesty. Your truth is helping me find mine.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for your comment and feedback. I’m proud of you for facing your fears and be kind to yourself as you make it through this process. Please let me know if I can support you.


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