Yasmina Zakari looked thrilled as her husband walked through their apartment door, brandishing a huge box of chocolates, beautifully wrapped with a pink and purple bow. For the past three weeks she had successfully stuck to her diet and had lost 5kg. For the first time in years her waist was returning.
“At first I thought it was really sweet of him to reward me for my hard work and to recognise how difficult it has been to completely change my eating habits,” says Yasmina, a 32-year-old primary school teacher.
“I hugged him and accepted the box of chocolates like a trophy. Yet almost immediately I started wondering why he had chosen chocolates. Of course, he knows I love them but he also knows what a struggle I had to give up sweet things. They’ve always been my big guilty pleasure.
“Later, he kept asking if I was going to have one. In the end, I said I would, but we both knew I could never eat just one chocolate. Within a few days, the whole box had gone. I felt wretched because it meant I had to start from scratch, weaning myself off sugar. All my hard work had been undone.”
Yasmina had been struck by a diet saboteur. In her case, it was her husband, but it could easily have been a well-meaning friend who brought her a cupcake or a workmate who suggested going out for coffee and pastries to celebrate her weight loss. From the outside it looks like a little treat to say well done, but to the dieter it’s a complete setback and a tough test of willpower.
“After three superb weeks where I had felt invincible, I knew I’d let myself down,” says Yasmina. “And getting back on the diet seemed harder. My confidence was shaken.
I started to fear the next time anyone bought me something edible.” According to experts, diet saboteurs are everywhere – they’re our partners, colleagues, friends, children, strangers and advertising. They strike when we’re feeling vulnerable and claim they want to enrich our lives with little pleasures, so we trust them. But before we know it, our resolutions are gone and we revert to our old ways.
International life coach Matt Hudson says we sometimes meet saboteurs at an early age – long before we embark on any kind of diet. Often unintentionally, they program our minds with unhealthy beliefs about food, diet, exercise and being slim. And these beliefs stay with us long into adulthood, sometimes forever, unless we take action to overturn them.
“If two parents are going out for the evening and feel guilty about leaving their son with a babysitter, they may give him some sweets to bribe him into accepting their absence and to ease their guilt,” explains Matt. “He will pick up on the guilt in the atmosphere and years later, when he’s feeling emotional or uncomfortable about something, he will turn to sweets because his brain has been programmed to do this from a very early age.
“Children are often told they will be overweight because they take after their mum’s side of the family, or they’re just like large Aunt Mary. They grow up thinking their weight is out of their control and they’re destined to look like their aunt.”
With these beliefs installed, they are often reinforced when we come into contact with people who give us food as a reward, a treat and a token of love.
According to Matt, diet saboteurs aren’t always innocent in their sabotage. They often have low self-esteem because they’re secretly controlling us by giving us the very foods we’re trying to avoid. “Some husbands feed their wives so they put on weight and other men don’t find them attractive,” says Matt. “That way, the husbands think there’s less chance of their wives leaving them.”
Our friends are often the saboteurs who ruin our diet and because they know how we think and operate, it’s easier for them to jeopardise our best laid plans.
Tricia Woolfrey, a UK-based advanced clinical hypnotherapist, says, “Friends don’t want you to succeed because by losing weight or going running every morning, you make them examine themselves and they start to feel a total failure. ”
Making better choices
So once we become aware of who our saboteurs are and the various tricks they use, how do we deal with them?
“One cream cake won’t hurt you,” Matt says. “But you could ask yourself whether having the cake will get you to where you want to be and if the answer is no, then ask what a better choice would be. Think about the type of person you want to become and if she is slim and healthy and self-disciplined, then too many cream cakes aren’t for you. Target your self-esteem.
“Repeat little mantras such as ‘Nothing tastes as good as being slim’, and ‘Every day in every way I am getting slimmer and slimmer’. If it’s your partner who’s tempting you with takeaways and cakes, tell them in a friendly way that you love them and you love the gifts they buy you, but you want to live beyond 50 and love them into your 90s.”
How to beat the diet saboteurs
Behaviour expert Marisa Peer, author of You Can Be Thin suggests using a few little white lies in the first few weeks of a diet when your resolve is at its weakest.
1. Never tell people you’re on a diet because they will go straight home and bake a cake for you, or they will invite you to a calorie-laden dinner.
2. Think of an excuse not to eat the things you’re being offered. Tell people you think sugar is giving you migraines so you’re trying to cut down. After all, if you had a nut allergy, no one would feed you nuts, would they?
3. Appear casual about a new exercise regime. Don’t announce that you’re going to run 10km every day or do an hour at the gym or enter a marathon. Just say it’s a nice day and you fancy some fresh air or exercise.
4. If people give you a biscuit or some cake, say you’re saving it as a treat, put it in your bag and give it away to a needy person.
5. If saboteurs insist on feeding you, explain it’s important to you to be slim.
6. Point out what the saboteurs will get from a new-looking you – a slimmer wife or a mum who’s not as grumpy and dissatisfied with her life. Reassure them that you still love them just as much as you always did and the new-looking you won’t abandon them.