How to Handle Sabotage


Losing weight is never an easy walk in the park, but when you have to deal with sabotage from others it's more like a trek up Mount Everest. It's difficult enough when you talk your own way out of exercising and into a big piece of cheesecake, but when someone else does it for you, how are you supposed to react?

Recognizing sabotage and learning to respond to it effectively are crucial for successful and permanent weight control.

Are you being sabotaged?

When you first tell people you’re going to lose weight, chances are you get a response something along the lines of: "But you’re great just the way you are!" While that’s kind, it would be better for you to hear something like: "Well, I like you however you are, but I’m glad you want to make some changes and take better care of yourself. What can I do to help?" When someone says instead that you should "quit worrying about your weight" they are - intentionally or not - sabotaging your goals.

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Sabotage can be understood as anything anybody says or does to actively discourage you from achieving your weight goals. 

Why people “commit” sabotage

When someone sabotages your goals it's often because that person is uncomfortable with the changes you're making. When you make a change, it can threaten another person's "comfort zone", particularly if that person is close to you. They may want – consciously or not – to prevent or undo a change, and the result is sabotage. Common things others may say to sabotage your goal include:

  • "You don't need to lose weight – you look great!"
  • "Come on, have just one more drink."
  • "Stop being so selfish. You don't need to go to the gym. Spend time with me instead."
  • "Gee honey, you were so good this week, you deserve a treat, let's go out for ice cream."
  • "I slaved over this homemade, deep-fried, chocolate-covered pie just for you, so you have to eat another piece."
  • "I'm not on the diet; you are. So why should I suffer? I want to have ice cream, cake and cookies in the house."

Sabotage can also stem from a lack of knowledge about your goals, a lack of empathy for what you are trying to achieve, or simple jealousy at your determination to improve your body and health.

Why you shouldn't listen

If sabotage has been making you think things like "It’s not fair to put my needs before others'," or "I don’t want them to be upset with me," then you need to challenge your thoughts. If you choose to eat a carrot stick instead of a chocolate chip cookie, how does that burden anyone?

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Dealing with sabotage isn't always easy or comfortable, and you may look for reasons to avoid the problem. You may be hesitant to speak up for yourself because of your own uncertainty, or fear that you will displease others. But remember that if you easily concede to discouragement from your goals, you won’t reach them.

On another level, each time you say "yes", when you mean "no", you can create a passive anger within yourself. Passive anger can boomerang in the form of guilt and depression, making lifestyle changes much more difficult.

Turning sabotage into support

Losing weight and changing your lifestyle is difficult; you need all the support you can get. So it’s better not to flare up and battle every time sabotage rears its ugly head. Hostile confrontations create stress, and stress makes it difficult to lose weight, both psychologically and physiologically. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, sit down and explain why you are serious about losing weight.

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If, after all your efforts to explain what you are doing, you still can't get the support you want, be firm in your own resolve. You are not the problem. The problem is the need in others to maintain the status quo or control.

At all times be assertive about your decisions, but not aggressive or obnoxious. And if you refuse food, make sure people understand you are not rejecting them personally! You are just rejecting their offer of food.

Five effective ways to respond to sabotage

Sabotage can come from anywhere at any time. Here are some of our best tips for handling sabotage in various situations:

If you’re cornered by someone who insists on overfeeding you, despite your polite refusals, then continue to say “no” decisively and creatively. There are hundreds of ways you can say no: "No, I’m full thanks," "No, it just doesn't agree with me, thanks," "No thanks, it’s too late for me to eat sugar, I won’t sleep," "No thanks, it I eat another morsel, I will upchuck on the tablecloth!"

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If saying "no" just doesn’t work, and the food is still plunked down in front of you, be strong in your resolve; leave the food there and don’t eat it. You might feel a bit rude, but a person who simply refuses to listen to you is ruder!

If you’re at the office make sure you are prepared for the onslaught of available candy, mid-morning treats, and vending machines by filling up before you go to work. If you eat a healthy breakfast, you are less likely to succumb to greasy donuts and calorie-loaded candy! You can also keep healthy, low-fat snacks in your bag, briefcase, or drawer for when temptation hits.

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If your spouse or partner is showing “support” by stocking the fridge with your favorite drinks, pizza, cheesecake and ice cream and then eating them in front of you, don’t explode! Explain why a healthy weight and lifestyle are important to you now. Who knows, he or she may decide to join you. At the least you can ask him or her to respect your decisions. If talking really doesn’t work, stick to your resolve.

If you have the kind of “helpful” friend who is constantly barraging you with pointless criticism, simplistic solutions for weight loss, and nosey questions about your food plan, try saying something like: "Actually, my approach to weight loss is working out well for me these days, but thanks anyway." That ought to get the “butt out!” point across, without sounding too harsh.

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If you want to say "yes" because the fries just smell soooo good, or because someone is waving plates of tasty treats under your eyes, or because you don’t want to upset whoever made the triple-chocolate-cream layer cake, have your refusals ready.

Say "No" even if you aren’t thinking it.

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For example:

  • Say: "No, thank you, I've already had two pieces." Even if you're thinking: "Two pieces the size of a pea!"
  • Say: "No thanks, I have high blood pressure." Even if you're thinking: "Who cares if my blood pressure is 180/100? I want more potato chips."
  • Say: "No thanks. My doctor absolutely forbids me to have any of that right now." Even if you're thinking: "Surely it won't do much harm?"

Sabotage from anyone is painful and difficult, and it's particularly tough when it comes from those who you expect to be loving and supportive. When others sabotage you, remember that the problem lies with them and not you. Stay strong in your resolve and say "no" - your health and waistline may depend upon it!

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