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Sabotaging yourself when trying to lose weight: Professionals offer advice on how to stay motivated and not let life get in the way of being happy

FARGO — Stacey Rzaszutak wanted to lose weight. But when she was feeling down, she’d eat to feel better.

Instead, she would just end up feeling worse.

“Then I’ve got a stomach ache and I don’t feel good about myself,” she said.

Comfort eating is one of the more common forms of self-sabotage, a self-made obstacle to achieving one’s goals. Other ways people might get in their own way include procrastination, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and self-effacing behavior.

Self-effacing behavior, or extreme modesty, is a common affliction of intelligent women, according to an article in Psychology Today.

Joanne Jandro, a mental health counselor with The Village Family Service Center, said women sometimes wonder if they will jeopardize their femininity or be called “the B word” if they act assertively to express knowledge or confidence in the workplace.

“A man wouldn’t even give it a second thought,” she said. “A lot of that comes from wanting to be attractive, not wanting to lose your femininity, … so it begins to become a habit.”

In addition to comfort eating, Rzaszutak also had to deal with her own negative thoughts about herself.

“For me, when you’re overweight, how you view yourself or how you think others view you really affects your confidence,” the Carrington, N.D., woman said. “When I’ve been heavier, I’m not as confident. I’m not as outgoing.”

Marilyn McMurray, a Fargo empowerment coach, said she sees people self-sabotage through activities like self-effacing behavior all the time.

“I think that everyone deals with it on a daily basis,” she said. “One of the biggest things that holds people back is the stuff that we’re telling ourselves. I tell people to say, ‘All is well in my world. I am enough. I am deserving.’ It’s so important to fill your head with really good things.”

She said people just don’t see their own greatness. Growing up, kids receive grades, which do not measure their gifts. Even at work, McMurray said evaluations are typically focused on the areas that need improvement.

Then there’s also the culture of wanting to appear humble, especially in this part of the country, she said.

“People don’t want to shine brighter than others,” she added.

Jandro said people who are self-assured are comfortable projecting that can feel out of place.

“People in the Midwest see that almost as a form of cockiness or being flashy or being egocentric or bragging,” she said. “If you’re saying I’m capable and confident, that’s not something our culture really encourages.”

Mixed messages

Women get especially mixed messages because they’re expected to be self-assured, but they’re not supposed to own it, Jandro said.

Fitting in is so important — even as adults — that people don’t want to seem full of themselves in front of their peers so they might put themselves down instead, Jandro said.

“That North Dakota-nice or Minnesota-nice can be very burdensome sometimes,” she said.

While self-sabotage can happen to everyone, Jandro said it’s not a conscious decision.

Jandro said it’s not intentional, but those qualities for which we receive attention and validation can become how we identify ourselves, even if it’s not how we feel on the inside.

“We may feel insecure, but fear that if we don’t perform to a certain level, our value is going to be dismissed or minimized,” she said.

She gave the example of someone who may start out at the top of her class in elementary school, but as she gets older, it becomes harder to maintain those grades. The stress of trying to stay on top becomes overwhelming.

People may then develop unhealthy coping skills like using drugs and alcohol, overeating, unhealthy relationships or extreme exercising to numb their insecurity, she said.

“The goal in mental health is to try and become comfortable with our inside and have that match our outside,” Jandro said. “When we achieve that, then you’re not focusing so much on what other people think.”

Changing self-talk

It is possible to change your thoughts if you really want to, McMurray said, and it starts with changing how you talk to yourself.

“It becomes easier. It’s like a muscle, and it needs to be worked out,” she said. “The stronger it gets, the easier it is.”

But even for McMurry, it’s hard, she said.

“It’s constant. It’s easier now, but there are times when I’m in a new situation where I can feel it, and I have to start telling myself, ‘I am good enough, I am deserving,’ but that fear can creep in at any time.”

If you’re telling yourself you could have done better, for example, Jandro said that’s a trigger to say you did the best you could.

“We oftentimes have unreasonable expectations of ourselves and doing our best is really the goal,” she said.

Practicing an attitude of gratitude can help, McMurray said. She writes a note on her calendar every day to remind herself to be grateful.

People also need to understand that failure is an opportunity to learn, Jandro said, adding they need to teach their children that lesson, too.

“Failure is looked upon as a deficit or something we’ve done wrong,” she said. “In reality, most of the lessons that are the most effective are the things we failed at and had to try again.”

And Jandro said people need to recognize that everything we do is a choice.

People also need to find supportive relationships and look for things that give them pleasure and reduce stress, she said. Jandro points out that it’s OK to focus on our own needs, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact someone else.

“Each individual has value regardless of what they do,” she said. “That internal validation is so important because we’re so focused on the external that we forget that our value really comes from the inside.”

Rzaszutak has since found a weight-loss plan that works for her and has lost 30 pounds since September. Along with the weight loss, she has gained more confidence.

“Walking through a group of people, when I’m heavier I don’t feel as confident, I don’t like pictures being taken of me,” she said. “Now I don’t mind it.”

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