‘Instead of losing a pound I put on a stone. I needed to figure out why it happened’

Self-sabotage was a strange comfort zone but I’m glad I’m tackling it

Week after week passed by and I grew more frustrated about being just one pound away from my 4st (25.5kg) weight-loss goal, but not being able to reach it. My goal was so close that I could touch it yet but I wasn’t quite there.

I’d embraced a slow and steady step-by-step approach to losing weight. It has worked successfully for me to build healthy habits into my life that were sustainable and became enjoyable, but let’s be realistic, anyone can lose 1lb so what was wrong with me?

The only thing I felt motivated to do step by step now was to furiously stomp on my weighing scales until it showed me that 1lb weight loss I wanted to see, or fling it out the window and hear it smash. Both scenarios appealed to me. I wanted to be a better person than leave a clearly malevolent weighing scales bother me but I wasn’t – and it was about to get worse.

I would like to say I took a step back, kept a cool head and recognised I was almost three-quarters of the way there in achieving my 5st 6lb (34.5kg) weight loss, my fitness was progressing and I was feeling better than ever so I should stop giving myself a hard time, but I didn’t. I regressed only focusing on what I hadn’t achieve and started to self-sabotage. I exacerbated everything by not admitting to myself I was self-sabotaging and kept busy in other parts of life to avoid facing it.


To make sure I got rid of any motivation that might resurrect within me, I started comparing myself to others. I looked at people who lost more than 5st in a year, or even five months, and wondered why wasn’t I doing it that way. I knew why I wasn’t doing it that way – it hadn’t worked for me in the past – but a logical answer didn’t get in the way of self-doubt creeping in, and my confidence in what I was doing began to fall.

Goodbye almost 4st weight loss and hello 1st weight gain. To be specific it was 13lb, let’s not forget about that 1lb that haunts me so much. Regaining weight felt like the failure I deserved.

The first 3st was difficult and the results dramatic, the fourth stone I'd given myself permission to take time to make my new healthy habits routine

I can’t say the weight gain was a series of slip-ups, mindless eating or write it off to laziness as I put a lot of effort into creating new unhealthy destructive habits that contributed to it while welcoming back harsh self-criticism and judgment. Getting healthier was no longer my priority, making myself feel bad appeared to be my new goal. I didn’t want to admit it, talk about it or face that I was once again doing actions that made me unhappy, and feel bad mentally and physically. I was rebelling against my own success, stopping myself from reaching my own weight-loss and fitness goals. It was ridiculous behaviour to quietly and actively embrace.

I had to ask myself why I was doing this: was I afraid of my own success? Did it feel safer keeping some extra weight? Was my identity wrapped up in losing weight and maybe I fear what would come after I achieved my goal? I wasn’t thinking and worrying about weight any more, did I not deserve to be content and care-free? Had I grown so attached to the feeling of failure which I’d become familiar with from weight-loss fad diets and extreme exercise in the past that I didn’t want to let it go? Did I have a hidden belief that I didn’t deserve to succeed in my weight-loss goals?

I’m determined to learn the answer to these questions over the coming weeks but I do know the answer to one. I had deep down a niggling suspicion I didn’t deserve reaching my 4st weight-loss goal, that I wasn’t “worthy” as it didn’t feel difficult enough to get there. The first 3st was difficult and the results dramatic, the fourth stone I’d given myself permission to take time to make my new healthy habits routine. I had enjoyed the process but I’d an underlying belief that I didn’t deserve to.

Oxford Dictionary defines to sabotage something is “to prevent something from being successful or being achieved, especially deliberately”.

During my two months of self-sabotage I didn’t return to bingeing but I did start to eat more often when I wasn’t hungry. I embarked on a type of reverse-diet. I ate sugary processed foods that never quite filled me but the cravings grew. I stopped myself for doing some workouts, no longer letting myself enjoy the feel-good endorphins that come after exercise. I did some exercise but not as much as I wanted and my energy decreased.

My taste buds started to change the more sugar I ate, and the wholesome meals I normally enjoyed appealed to me less and less. My stomach pains started to return, I started to confuse cravings with hunger. I still kept my good habits but they were being overshadowed by my unhealthy ones. I started going to bed later and getting less sleep. I shied away from fun events.

Three weeks in and the scales didn’t increase, but my waist size did and I felt bloated, small headaches and my cravings intensified. My weight in the following month rose sharply and my measurements grew too. But more worryingly for me was the realisation my mindset was working against me and I wasn’t fighting back. I seemed happy to wallow in my “failure” with the guilt and shame peeking their head above ground again.

When I arrived back to having a 3st weight loss again, I realised although weight gain is frustrating, the bigger problem is I wasn’t treating my body with respect. I wasn’t giving my body what it needed – quality nutrients, movement and compassion – and I was disconnecting with listening to it again.

My good habits I'd nurtured over the last few months were itching to take precedence and help me feel good again

I shouldn’t be afraid to delve into the darker, negative side of my mind. It’s there and I need to understand what prompts my destructive behaviours. And so, I returned to journaling. It was a relief once again to get it all out of my head, no more “secret behaviour”. Once I could see the unhealthy habits written down in black and white, my worst fears spoken aloud, it lost it’s grip on me. It was empowering. I no longer felt swept up in the momentum of the self-sabotage. I felt silly about it but I’m human, I make mistakes. Facing it had made the problem seem manageable once again. Ignoring my self-sabotaging behaviours had allowed it to fester and spiral over two months.

So just three days ago I started to cut back on sugar, consciously be grateful for the body I have and get out to move more again. It felt both good and awful. It was daunting and exciting to push myself again in a workout and feel a sense of achievement. About 24 hours after cutting back on sugar I had headaches from hell and felt irritable. But yesterday, I woke up feeling much fresher, clearer and more myself again. My good habits I’d nurtured over the last few months were itching to take precedence and help me feel good again.

I wasn’t starting from the beginning; I’d taken a detour that may work out to be of benefit to me in the long term. My goal is to focus on the here and now, take time to figure out what caused me to self-sabotage so I can be prepared for it the next time. I’ve realised gaining almost a stone, going backwards in progress, was what I needed to go through to learn an important lesson in making sure my weight loss and fitness is permanent, but it’s not been an easy lesson to learn. Getting healthier and fitter has not been a smooth linear progress, but I’m improving and overall getting better.

Self-sabotage was a strange comfort zone I didn’t expect to find myself in, but one I’m glad I tackled.

Rachel Flaherty’s column is about getting fitter and healthier

Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelflInstagram or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com