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Marilu Henner explains why we sabotage our own health goals — and how to stop

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Updated: February 1, 2013 11:50AM

Becoming a healthy, fit person is much easier now than it was when I started getting healthy in 1979. Back then, there were no food labels, no healthy fast food, no health food aisles in mainstream grocery stores and no access to information about alternative medicine. Today, there’s really no excuse for not being as healthy as we can be.

So what’s the problem? Why are we sicker, heavier and lazier than ever before?

I’ll tell you why: Despite all the great information available, we’re human beings with human frailties who choose to thwart our own best efforts, time and time again, through … self sabotage.

But what is self-sabotage? And why does it have such a stranglehold on us?

Self-sabotage is the method we use to set ourselves up to fail. It’s the excuse we give when we want to blame our failure on something or someone else. It’s the reason we bail on our New Year’s resolutions long before January ends. The key to success is understanding that self-sabotage can be controlled — and that once the urge for failure is conquered, our goals can be achieved.

I think I understand the reasons for self-sabotage because I sabotaged my best efforts at self-improvement for years. Here are just five of the 33 types of self-sabotage I’ve discovered — sometimes I’ve indulged in all five of them in a single day! See if you recognize yourself in any of them.

1. Emotional eating: The emotions that make us turn to food are varied, and some of them start in childhood. Our parents give us a cookie when we’re hurt, celebrate with ice cream when something goes right or send us to bed without dinner when we misbehave. Food becomes related to feelings rather than hunger. I talk about this a lot in my book, “Healthy Kids,” and encourage parents to break the cycle. It’s difficult as adults to discontinue this pattern, but it’s necessary to do so in order to have the right relationship with food.

2. Misplaced anger: Self-sabotage is a way of acting out. It’s a temper tantrum — but the rage is against yourself, because you want to punish yourself. You act like a spoiled child, thinking you deserve to do anything you want at any time without any consequences. But it’s really a case of, “I’ll show me!”

3. Food is seductive: Let’s face it: We turn to food because it doesn’t disappoint us the way other things do. Food looks good, smells good and we know it’s going to taste good. While we’re lusting after food, we’re not thinking about how our clothes are going to tighten, our faces are going to break out and our stomachs are going to bloat. For this reason alone, it’s important to learn to love the food that loves you.

4. Fear of success: Sometimes we get close to our goal, get plenty of compliments and then give ourselves permission to blow it. Or we’ve hidden ourselves for so long with “body armor” that when we start to get recognized, we don’t feel invisible anymore, and we feel too much pressure. We put the weight back on in order to hide again, and hold ourselves back so that other people don’t get jealous or competitive.

And many times, self-sabotage is connected to avoidance of sexual feelings that come up when we start to look and feel our best. We overeat so that the sexy, vibrant person inside of us doesn’t threaten our safe haven of discontent.

5. Fear of failure: Sometimes we think, “If I were just thinner, my life would be perfect” — but when it’s not working out that way, we get scared. If we don’t immediately get the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect life, we might have to look beyond our weight to figure out why these things aren’t happening. But that can be too painful, so we pile on the pounds, because at least then we have a familiar and safe excuse.

These are just a few of the many self-sabotage excuses I discuss during the classes I teach at It’s never easy to deal with these issues, but awareness is half the battle.

Marilu Henner donated her fee for writing this
column to PCRM: Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Follow her on Twitter

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