Diet Sabotage 101

Newspaper clip about sabotage

“Beware Romulans bearing gifts” – Dr Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy.

While the original “Beware Greeks bearing gifts” from Virgil might seem to have more merit to the context of this article as Virgil was telling the tale of the famous Trojan Horse, Bones is a doctor dammit, not a poet! And Bones came bearing gifts of forbidden liquor which makes Bones’ a much better quote.

Often when we are trying to implement healthful habits, we are our own worst enemies. We strive for perfection when “perfection is the enemy of the good.” (Thanks Voltaire, I knew you’d come in handy someday). Giving up perfection is likely the hardest change to overcome and yet this change is key. With that said, outside of ourselves being our own worst enemies, we’ve all likely encountered others who seem like they are trying to sabotage our attempt at creating these new healthful habits.

It usually happens that in our weakest moments, when we are closest to giving up, thinking of throwing in the towel, that a friend, a family member, or a co worker appears, bearing gifts. These gifts usually take the form of something that we simply do not have the willpower to resist, and all too often these gifts tend to be one of our binge triggers.

Is that a coincidence? By this point, you may start to wonder “They know I am trying to form healthier habits, are they doing this on purpose?”

While we’ve previously discussed possible ways to handle this situation (Budgeting Luxuries First, Social Obligations, Binge Eating), the question remains: “Why are those closest to me seemingly trying to sabotage my healthy eating?”

There are a few possible reasons why this may seem to be a case of diet sabotage.

  1. The person has never struggled with his/her weight and just doesn’t understand.
  2. The person has struggled with his/her weight, and your desire to improve makes that person feel guilty about his/her personal choices (or even threatened by it!). In this case the person may be attempting to sabotage you, though often unintentionally.
  3. The person is adhering to the cultural expectation that being social requires a gift or offering of food. By offering you food, the person is simply trying to be polite by attempting to include you. For many people, the risk of offending you via exclusion is a greater risk or social faux pas than potentially sabotaging your healthy eating choices.

Previously, I have shamefully told a white lie about a food allergy. Given that both of my kids had peanut allergies, I’ve often just said “My family has food allergies so I’m avoiding that type of food.” I realize in retrospect that this was a poor choice and disrespectful to those that actually have to live with food allergies. I also feel guilty over having told lies at all over the matter as making healthy choices is something I should be proud of and not something to shamefully lie about; however, we make mistakes in order to learn from them. A middle ground alternative (that does require some practice to master) is to take a small bite or taste. This may not work for everyone, but with some practice at mindful eating, it should be doable. Cravings aside, the first few bites are the best tasting anyways, so you can truly enjoy the food item without having to eat all of it. Feeling guilt over “wasting” food in this fashion would require some practice to master.

I think the best solution, for all of the above cases, is to be kind instead of angry or frustrated. I’ve been there; I’ve previously been very stern with others about “tempting me,” but it actually made me feel worse, and I began to question why I was doing this. I shouldn’t feel the need to have my mom who loves to bake desserts for Sunday family dinner stop doing what she loves when I have the capability to politely say, “No thanks” when dessert is offered or to take a smaller portion than I normally would. It IS okay to be firm and stand your ground while still being polite. Remember, you are (or should be) doing this for YOU!

Featured image courtesy of Elly Jonez and used under a Creative Commons license. It has been cropped and modified from its original.