Going Sugar-free for a month
Recently, I have had the pleasure of leading over 50 people in a Sugar-Free January Facebook group. It’s been incredibly rewarding for me and for many in our community. One participant recently remarked:
“I am forever grateful for your kick in the butt to jump start my getting a firm grip on my weight/health situation. Hope you will continue the group after January. For me, it’s a great small community.” C. from CA
Most participants have gone 100% sugar-free, while others have dramatically decreased their consumption of sugar, and a few others have simply educated themselves on how much sugar is found in commonly consumed foods and have a new perspective on what to buy and eat. I would say it’s been a win-win for most.
There’s always a hitch!
Today, one participant shared the following:
“Please tell me why I have gained four pounds this January? I think it is because every time I take on a “Diet” it gets me into this deprivation, hyper scrutinizing, hyper critical space in my head… any thoughts on it?” L. from NJ
Yes, I have thoughts on it and, as a Health Coach trained in the Psychology of Eating, it’s in my wheelhouse!
Dieting as a big, fat restriction
Many people react to a “diet” by feeling so restricted that all they can think about is breaking free of those restrictions. People who react this way often gain a few pounds while dieting. Why does this happen?
First of all, studies have revealed that dieting is directly correlated to increased preoccupation with food, eating in the absence of hunger, and possible binge eating.
A famous study of 2,000 sets of twins in Finland in 2002 revealed that dieting has a obvious weight amplifying effect: the twin who embarked on a diet was two to three times more likely to gain weight than the twin who didn’t diet.
So we know that dieting doesn’t “work” most of the time. That’s why I always suggest to clients that we consider changes in our eating to be “therapeutic” rather than a diet. Personally, the word diet makes me wince and conjures up plates of cottage cheese from my childhood!
But why do we self-sabotage?
In our culture, we are often “put” on diets by our mothers or other family members, often when we are children or young teenagers. This forced control over our eating was humiliating, belittling, isolating, and downright annoying. We felt singled out and deprived. Sometimes we felt ashamed and unworthy, never quite measuring up because we weren’t thin enough, which measures into good enough. Everyone else got cookies, but we weren’t allowed the treats. We protected ourselves by being rebels and sneaking the cookies. This behavior helped when we were twelve because it made us feel better and gave us back some control.
Maybe the unwanted eating behaviors started at another period in life, like around the loss of a parent or the illness of a child. We ate mindlessly to try to regain control of the situation, to fill an empty feeling, or to soothe the feelings of hurt and loss.
Behaviors become habits
Over time these patterns become habits. We return to them over and over again because we seek out the familiar. Also, many foods that we are attracted to for emotional reasons tend to be sweet or carbohydrate, and those are the foods that are available at every turn and are the most detrimental to us from a nutritional perspective.
In looking at self-sabotage, we must realize that we are unconsciously attached to doing something with negative results. Behavior is where we make our choices, but what will be the emotional outcome of that choice or behavior? It’s the attachment to that emotional outcome that drives the behavior in a vicious cycle.
- Perhaps we are negatively attached to control and we eat to be rebellious?
- Maybe we are negatively attached to deprivation and we eat to feel satisfied?
- Possibly we are negatively attached to rejection and we eat to punish ourselves?
Just like Functional Medicine looks at the root cause of illness, we must look to the root cause of the negative attachment in order to end self-sabotage.
Keep in mind that self-sabotage is all about short-term behavior, rather than long-term outcome.
Fixing self-sabotage by understanding hunger
If you are interested in this work or struggle with self-sabotage, consider delving into any negative attachments you may have. Slow down and become aware of how your short-term behavior affects your long-term outcomes. Steer clear of a “diet” and practice your intuitive eating skills by defining your hungers. You may find the Hunger Journal to be a useful tool to zero in on what’s driving your self-sabotaging habits.
 Haines, J. & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2006). Prevention of obesity and eating disorders: a consideration of shared risk factors. Health Education Research, 21(6):770-782. Free Full Text:// http://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/6/770.long
 Pietiläinen, K.H. et al (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. International Journal of Obesity, http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v36/n3/full/ijo2011160a.html