Once in awhile you’ll need to face this. Sabotage. We’ve considered self-sabotage – all the ways we undermine our own health and fitness goals. Reader Carrie helped us with that.
But sabotage often comes from outside, from others. I’ve talked to lots of people working hard to change their behaviors and lives, learning to shop, cook, and eat differently, exercising more, doing fewer sedentary things. And along the way, they run into people or environments that seem intent on or designed to undermine their efforts.
These saboteurs come in many forms:
*The boss who rewards with food and isn’t willing to think of a more appropriate prize.
*The spouse who feels threatened by your weight loss, bringing home “treats” night after night.
*Family members who resent the time you spend exercising.
*Co-workers who roll their eyes at lunch, wishing you would just eat some cake the way you used to so they don’t have to feel guilty about eating it themselves.
*Buddies who are concerned you might be over-doing it.
*Overweight friends who feel left behind.
*The sibling who prepares your favorite off-limits food when you come to visit.
*Parents who wonder aloud whether all this effort you’re making is really worth it.
*Clubs and churches, organizations whose gatherings are focused on food, potlucks.
*Fast food advertisers.
*Critiques of your diet, your choice of exercise, your likelihood of long-term success.
When we’re feeling a bit hungry or too busy or weak in our resolve to make all the healthy changes we know we need, these saboteurs come along and weaken us still further. They are diet kryptonite, potholes, rope burns, the penny on the track that derails your train.
But their intentions are rarely bad. In many, if not most cases, these saboteurs are acting unconsciously, and even normally, forgetting about your struggle. They wouldn’t intend to make your challenge harder for you. These are engaging in passive sabotage.
In some cases they do intend to undermine you because they are dealing with your changes too, resisting them, and right now they really think you’re not as much fun as a fit person. They liked you better fat. Or they’re acting out of jealousy, whether they realize it or not, angry that you’re succeeding at something. This is active sabotage.
Actually active sabotage is both easier to recognize and easier to manage than passive sabotage. With active sabotage, you generally see it coming. You can expect where it will come from and what form it will take. You can be ready for your sister’s fattening meals, and ask her in advance not to prepare them, or bring along a dish or two to contribute to the meal, food you know you can eat. You can tell people you need their support right now, and not their criticism. That’s easy enough to do.
Passive sabotage is harder to see coming and often impossible to stop. These are the actions, messages, images, and situations that feel like herds of sea monsters as you paddle your canoe across a stormy ocean. A crazy metaphor? Not really. When you’re feeling weak about your goals and new habits, it feels as if the whole world is set against you making these healthy changes. It’s easy to let these instances of passive sabotage engulf you. It’s easy to see them is bigger and more scary then they need to be. It’s easy, that is, to give them the control that is rightfully yours.
Maybe some day some smart behaviorists will be able to codify and suggest a way around all these instances of diet sabotage, but until that blessed day, you will need to be ready and girded for these encounters. Your best armor is your journal, of course. Writing out lists of those sea monsters and land monsters helps you to see their true form and decide how to deal with them.
Written down, a fast food commercial doesn’t look like such a foreboding enemy. It’s a stupid commercial, after all. It may trigger your desire for hormone-laden, oppressed-labor-processed, force-fed beef patties that have been congealing under not very hot heat lamps on HFCS and palm-oil pumped bread-like sponges. In short, cancer and diabetes bullets. But when you write out that monster and analyze it for what it really is, you gain control over it very quickly. The commercial looks ridiculous then, and not at all appetizing.
If you see that your church picnic does not require you to eat the ice cream or the pie, but in fact includes a number of healthy options and certainly room for you to provide those healthy options, then the pot luck isn’t so scary. A challenge to negotiate, yes, but you can give yourself a good pep talk before you go.
Mainly, your work with sabotage is to remember that you’re always in control and responsible for your own reactions and decisions. If you give control over to the saboteurs, they win. And you don’t want them to win.
Today just make a list of current and potential saboteurs in your path, and decide on strategies for dealing with each of them. So you’re ready. So you stay in charge.
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