The Self Sabotage Cycle and How it Impacts Your Ability to Lose Weight

self sabotage cycle

Have you ever found yourself in a position in which you’ve committed to a goal – and literally let the whole world know it – yet, shortly after that commitment you’re engaging in a behavior that directly undermines that goal?

Yeah, we’ve all been there…

It turns out that trying to change is a major threat to our ego and our ego calls on the calvary to prevent this from happening. This is how you get stuck in the self-sabotage cycle.

In today’s episode, Paul and Coach Micheala will introduce the self-sabotage cycle framework.

Paul and Coach Micheala discuss the various forms of self-sabotage that occur, why it occurs (and how), before providing actionable steps to break out of the cycle…for good.

Key Highlights

  • Discover the three different types (and many additional forms) of self-sabotaging behaviors.
  • Learn how self-sabotage occurs consciously and unconsciously, and why this occurs.
  • Understand the role your ego plays in serving as the catalyst for self-sabotaging behaviors.
  • Discover the proven action steps you can take to break out of the self sabotage cycle for good!

Episode Resources

READ: The Benefit of a Weight-Loss Group (and How to Find One)

Join The 5% Community

Read our “Maintain Your Weight Loss After A Diet” Blueprint

Learn Sustainable Weight Loss Nutrition Fundamentals


Paul Salter:

Hey, 5% Podcast listeners. Welcome back to another episode of The 5% Way Podcast, with your host and sustainable weight loss specialist, myself, Paul Salter, and Micheala Barsotti. Thank you so much for choosing to spend some time with us today because we are incredibly confident you’re going to find today’s episode valuable because it’s a topic that we can all relate to. And that just last week, I really felt that I was falling victim to this vicious cycle that we are going to chat about in great detail today. But before we dive into this exciting and life-changing topic of self-sabotage and how the hell to get out of that cycle, I just want to remind you that if you are someone who learns best by reading, every single podcast is available in an article transcription-type form on our website. Just head on over to number of the particular episode you want to read, such as, I believe, 183 for this particular episode.

And then the second quick announcement I would like to share is we are about to close up enrollment for our second ever cohort of The 5% Fundamentals Program, which is unique, distinct, and separate from The 5% Community. This is a three-month introductory crash course that teaches you the why, the how, the what, and the when behind the nutrition strategies to make to navigate an efficient and effective diet, as well as to navigate an effective post-diet weight maintenance phase. And you’re going to go through this 12-week experience with the utmost one-on-one coaching, group calls, online curriculum, truly walking away as if you feel like you are your own empowered nutrition coach, truly having reclaimed your confidence, sense of control, and inner calm when it comes to food and food-related decisions and adjustments to lose the weight you desire and keep it off for good. So if you would like to be a part of our second cohort, visit the link in the show notes below. We would love to have you. And that’s where you can find more information. Micheala, how are you today?

Micheala Barsotti:

I’m great. And just to piggyback off of what you just said, I just want to remind everyone that we did just drop a new article on our website, the pros and cons of joining a weight loss community. So if you are somebody who has been on the fence about joining a community, this would be a really great read for you.

Paul Salter:

Absolutely. And I’m having so much fun getting back into writing again. For those of you who don’t know, I was actually a full-time lead nutrition writer and editor for a couple of years at the website and company,, where I literally got paid to just write all day. And if you imagine how much I like to talk and how quickly I talk, equally, I write as fast and type as quickly. So it was a lot of fun just pumping out article after article. And that was something I got away from for many, many years. And I’m excited to have that back into more of a consistent routine capacity.

Okay, buckle up, because today’s episode is all about diving into the self-sabotage cycle and learning how it impacts not only your ability to lose weight, which we’re going to kind of gravitate towards for our focal point of examples throughout this episode. But let’s be honest. The self-sabotage cycle exists in every aspect of life and in any endeavor we embark on when it comes to trying to feel, look, and be our best. So let’s make it very clear on what exactly the self-sabotage cycle is. And this cycle is in action when you set a goal for yourself and then you engage in any behavior that undermines the goal you just set for yourself.

And what makes the self-sabotage cycle so frustrating is that often these behaviors that undermine your goal, they happen subconsciously and you don’t even realize it until after the fact. And one of the examples I’ve seen and personally experienced many times over is setting a goal for weight loss or to embark on a diet and determining that I’m going to commit to making better food choices, exercise choices, anything in alignment with losing that weight I desire. Yet a couple weeks into my diet, I find myself alone at nine o’clock in the evening, hanging out with Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry enjoying a good old pint of The Tonight Dough which, by the way, we could do a separate episode on this, is hands down the best flavor of Ben & Jerry’s. I stand pat in that opinion, and I will not take no or disagreement for an answer.

But anyhoo, despite having my weight loss goal, whatever it may be, finding myself, despite my best intentions, hanging out with Ben & Jerry a little bit too often while I just simultaneously was telling all my friends that I was trying to lose weight. So apparently some disconnect happened behind the scenes that my conscious mind did not get a memo about. And that is, in fact, an example of how the self-sabotage cycle could play out. And you probably have some form of relatability to that. And Micheala, I’m curious to learn, how have you seen this self-sabotage cycle show up in your own life, or maybe variations of it in those you’ve worked withs lives?

Micheala Barsotti:

Ooh, yes. I definitely struggled with and still struggle with self-sabotage at times. But for a while, when I was really, really restrictive and lived in that all or nothing mindset, self-sabotage really showed up because I was the typical like I’ll start back over on Monday. So Friday would roll around and I’d really want something from restricting all week. And then in the moment, it was just all about the short-term temptation. I didn’t think about the long-term plan and I just caved and I did it and my mindset was always you can just get back on track later or we’ll start back over on Monday. It was always a starting back over thing. But I would really be talking myself up in the moment. Like it’s not that big of a deal. So that was kind of a big thing for me. And I think negative self-talk, like this is something that shows up a lot, whether it be with clients or with myself. And what the mind believes the body achieves, right? So like your own thoughts are your biggest barrier.

Paul Salter:

Yeah. It’s that damn ego. And we’re going to break that sucker down here, moving forward. But you’re absolutely right. Especially in the case of I’ll start on Monday, it’s the ego presenting this false sense of bravado or confidence. Like, “Yeah, trust me, next week’s going to be much easier. Just go ahead and have that ice cream, whatever it may be,” when all reality, we find that that is something that happens on repeat week after week, month after month and so forth.

And what is really unique about self-sabotage, unique and also frustrating I might add, is there are many different forms. So the self-sabotage cycle itself for you, for me, for anyone out there listening may be initiated by a myriad of different behaviors that undermine us. And if you’ve never come across the website, Positive Psychology, I can’t recommend it enough. They have so many good resources, articles, videos, trainings, et cetera. But when I was perusing their site, doing some research and putting together my notes for this episode, I thought they did such a great job shedding some light on the different forms of self-sabotage that I want to share with everybody.

So from the experts at Positive Psychology, they go on and note that self-sabotage occurs when we destroy ourselves either physically, mentally, which is the big one, the self-talk, or emotionally, or just simply deliberately hinder our own success and well-being by undermining personal goals and values. So the point I want you to extract from this is that self-sabotage could happen on the physical level, could happen on the emotional level, could happen on the mental level. And it’s not a one size is applicable to all. There are just so many, like really countless forms of how this self-sabotage cycle may take shape in your own life.

What’s incredibly helpful is that you start to bring awareness to how it does in fact play out in your own life. Because what if that awareness comes the beginning stages and sense of empowerment. And with that awareness, you can then do what’s even more important is take action to break free from that cycle for good. So as an example here, let’s say that you are in fact trying to lose weight and keep it off. And you convince yourself that you can just skip your workout. That would be a form of physical self-sabotage. And maybe you decide that you can skip your workout because you’ve had three good ones in a row or yesterday was great. There’s no real reason for that. Like consistency is what matters most. If you’re finding yourself talking yourself out of the physical activity, that is only working against you.

Another example of a different form of self-sabotage, maybe that you find yourself saying to yourself, “You’ll always be overweight or you can’t do this,” each time you encounter a plateau on the scale, which ultimately leads to you throwing in the towel. That form of self-talk is a mental variation of self-sabotage. Or maybe you remain inactive, sedentary, not following through on the commitments you said that you would do when you are overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, any other negative emotion, which ultimately leads to these emotions hijacking your brain, controlling the rational decision-making component of your brain and convincing you not to engage in those healthy behaviors you committed to, or the ones you know you’re supposed to be doing to achieve your sustainable weight loss goal.

And as I alluded to earlier, whether your self-sabotage is occurring physically, mentally, or emotionally, sometimes it is on the conscious level and you are aware of it and it’s still happening for a plethora of reasons, but more often than not it’s happening subconsciously. And that truly just depends on our level of awareness. And again, so well said from the experts at Positive Psychology, they go on to say and to really reiterate this point, self-sabotage can be conscious or unconscious, depending on the level of awareness.

And an example of conscious self-sabotage is deciding to eat cake, despite a goal to eat healthily. Unconscious self-sabotage happens when a personal goal or value has been undermined but not initially recognized. So again, these behaviors are happening and happening, and you’re not even aware maybe that you’re eating the cake. Whereas when you are aware, it’s kind of like the, “Oh, screw it,” mindset. “I’m just going to eat the cake despite… Who cares that I said 10 minutes ago I’m on a diet. It doesn’t really matter.” And Micheala, in all of your years working with so many women and going through your own challenges facing some self-sabotaging behaviors, why do you feel we actually engage in this self-sabotage cycle?

Micheala Barsotti:

I think one of the biggest factors is that we don’t always believe that we’re capable of achieving our goals. So we’ve failed so many times in the past, we’ve told ourselves we’re going to do it and we don’t. So there’s that like we don’t believe in ourselves. That’s probably the biggest one. And then second is I think that we don’t always have a clear enough why. We haven’t connected the dots as to like why that goal is truly so important. And when we don’t have our why, then it’s much easier to cave in moments of weakness because we don’t have that emotional attachment to our goal.

Paul Salter:

Absolutely. And I’m looking through my notes here. We have a couple great previous podcasts I’d love to point your attention to. So it’s episode 170, gaining some emotional clarity, and 169, where Micheala and I go into detail about the power of knowing your why. And while I’m at it, I’m not trying to shout out all of our fantastic episodes, but also episode, what is it here, 172, how having a perfectionist mindset is working against you and your goals. Three highly relatable complementary episodes that further ingrain some of the key points you need to really understand and go along with what we’re talking about in this episode. So if you have not listened to those yet, 169, 170, 172, and why not 171 while you’re at it, those are very good complementary resources for you as well. And I could not agree more. The power of your why, it can never be stated enough, and that’s why we did an entire episode on it. So that is absolutely a reason why the self-sabotage cycle becomes so prominent for each of us in if not one or multiple aspects of our lives.

But I can also share that in my decade of experience helping thousands of men and women make the mindset, behavioral, and emotional changes necessary to achieve sustainable weight loss, I have found that the biggest reason self-sabotage occurs is due to fear. And surprisingly not fear of failure, but fear of success. And the way I would encourage you to think about this, for all of our listeners out there, is if you’ve struggled with your weight for a significant period of time, it becomes a part of your identity, whether you realize it or not. Maybe this is the aha moment you need. It’s powerful. And it might be a little humbling, but bear with me, I’m going to help you get out of it.

Your identity is the collection of your self-talk, your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, and your results. The biggest threat to our ego, remember, the one who was encouraging false bravado and confidence earlier in this discussion, the biggest threat to your ego is a change in your identity. And if your identity is rooted into being overweight or a set of habits that doesn’t lead to you feeling, looking or being your best, your ego is not going to be happy when you commit to initiating several changes to transform your identity, to level up, so to speak. And naturally, your ego is going to fight back. And it does so in the form of these unconscious and eventually conscious self-sabotaging behaviors.

And because it’s important to remember, the moment you start using a certain word or repeating the same phrase to yourself, that word choice, that self-talk, it really influences your thought environment. And the more time you spend giving time of day and energy and emotion to those thoughts, well, now they are elevated to beliefs. And both your thoughts and beliefs dictate the actions you do and the actions you do not take, which ultimately influence your results, your identity, and eventually your reality. Again, your ego does not want to have you trying to initiate changes at that core level there and in an effort to prevent you from not doing so, not transforming your identity, it’s going to fight back.

And I’d like to share a few examples in, again, the sustainable weight loss context of how self-sabotage may present itself. So one example may be, and this is my favorite one to write about because I had this personal self-sabotaging behavior present itself far too often than I care to admit. But one of the ways that self-sabotage presents itself specifically during a dieting phase is when you begin to quickly rationalize with yourself over whether to indulge in a high calorie treat, an off-plan food item, whatever it may be. And you start to say to yourself, “It’s only one.” Or, “I’ve had a good day, a good week. I deserve it.” And I like to call this simply a case of the I deserve its. Also commonly known as the fuck its.

And I have a strong hunch, if you’re listening to this, as Micheala’s smiling and nodding, that you can relate. And in the moment, this decision, or dare I say the plural form, these decisions as it happens over and over again, may seem inconsequential, but the problem really begins to exist when they do in fact happen over and over, and like I shared, far more often than we admit. And similarly, you may convince yourself that you cannot work out today because you’re just too tired or too sore and it’s just completely fine. Just skip meal prep for this week because you’ll believe you’ll be able to navigate making one meal at a time with ease. How foolish we can be when our self-sabotaging selves are running the show.

And I know this is probably one of the biggest challenges I have let my clients learn the hard way and experience the hard way themselves. And they tell me, “I decided not to meal prep this week. I think I’ll be fine navigating.” And then we check in a few days later and it’s not quite the same tone or mood or outcome they had hoped for because they weren’t in fact set up for success, and ultimately meal prepping was not available or their output and product of their meal prepping session was not there to support them. Therefore, they struggled mightily to put together any semblance of a plan. And I’m just curious, Micheala, have you noticed any of those or any relatability in your own life?

Micheala Barsotti:

Definitely. I mean, I’m not perfect by any means. And I think that if I don’t meal prep, but even if I have the best of intentions, this actually just happened to me this week. I got home from travel and I’m like, “I don’t have time to get to the grocery store the first half of my day. I’ll do it later.” And I mean, it was a shit show. It just was. But I see this a lot too with clients when they’ve worked all day, they come home and they have every intention of cooking this meal, but they’re tired and so they just order out. And they justify it because they’re like, “Well, I just worked all day and I’m just exhausted.” But when you start to recognize the pattern, this is happening over and over again, eventually you have to realize, well, then something else has to be done because that is self-sabotage.

Paul Salter:

Yeah, absolutely. And ultimately, when it comes to recognizing multiple forms or variations of these self-sabotaging behaviors in your own life, we have to remember that, again, they are occurring to prevent you from transforming your identity. And the closer and closer you get to that goal you set and that new identity, the more and more your ego feels threatened and ultimately calls the cavalry to start sabotaging your efforts, and in this case, towards continuing to lose weight and keep it off for good. But fortunately, it is possible to get yourself out of the self-sabotage cycle. And I’ll be candid. It’s no easy feat because it takes a lot of rebelling and placing yourself in a position of discomfort and unlearning behavioral patterns, which is not something that happens in a single day, week, or maybe even a month. So with patience, persistence and grit, it absolutely can be done.

And I think what’s important to highlight here when it comes to really breaking free of the self-sabotage cycle you may be stuck in is that it was a cycle born out of a long period of time, often years or decades of a consistent theme going on in your self-talk, your thoughts, your beliefs, constantly running on autopilot in the background. And in order to change your identity and get out of that cycle, you’ve got to cut out that negativity or that story that’s no longer serving you right at its source, its core, its head, if you will, which is the compilation of both your self-talk and your beliefs. And ultimately, if you can get on board that these types of changes aren’t going to take place overnight, you can learn to look for progress in areas that actually show it, which is going to be a little slow. And it’s not as simple to recognize like jumping on the scale five days in a row. I promise you that implementing some of these steps is going to pay dividends when it comes to transforming and leveling up your identity.

And the first key ingredient to get out of the self-sabotage cycle is simply awareness that you are in one, awareness that some type of behavior continues to occur. When you start to lose the weight, you get a little too comfortable, you fall victim to a case of the I deserve its, and you find yourself having gained back the eight pounds you just worked so hard to lose. You throw in the towel. Three weeks later, you don’t like how you feel, so you start over and the process repeats itself. So gaining awareness there is really, really important.

But it’s also equally as important to gain both clarity and awareness on the following. What is the actual goal you are really seeking? Like, yeah, okay, you might want to see number X on the scale, but I would urge you to go deeper than that. Why do you want to attain that goal? What feelings are associated with that goal? So gaining clarity on the goal, the feelings associated with it, as well as why you want to attain it, just like Micheala mentioned earlier, are incredibly important.

But just as important is understanding what scares you about the goal you’re seeking. Like I mentioned, what I’ve observed to be the biggest source of fear is actually fear of success from achieving goal, not fears of failure. So gain clarity, like nonjudgmentally ask yourself, “Why are you afraid of losing those 20 pounds and actually having success keeping it off for good?” Is there fear that now you’re going to have to be a role model for others? Is there fear that now you’re going to have to start asking questions and you’re going to have all of this unwanted attention that you don’t know how to manage and maybe you don’t want altogether? Get really clear on what scares you about that goal.

Next, gain clarity around what it would mean to you if you achieved this goal. How would you feel? In addition to the feelings you’re seeking, is there a sense of pride, accomplishment, validation, I told you so’s for somebody or even yourself out there? That knowledge is important in just helping you to really understand if your actions are in fact appropriately aligned with you achieving your goal. And after you’ve accomplished your goal, how’s your life going to be different? Also very important. And then we need to gain clarity on the specific self-sabotaging behavior that is taking place. So getting clear on what that self-talk, that action or that thought is.

And I can tell you that one of the books that’s really stood out to me and stood the test of time in my own short life of having a really powerful impact is the book called Best Self, Be Yourself Only Better, minus a word or two there. I might have butchered the title. But it’s by Mike Bayer. I can include the link in the show notes. But he encourages you in one of his exercises to give your worst version, or he says your anti-version, of your best self a name. So that when that version of yourself appears, you can say it’s, instead of it being Paul, maybe it’s Passive Patrick, for example.

I like to bring that skillset and that information I learned to this situation too. Give your self-sabotaging behavior some type of name or trigger or label so that you can quickly not only identify it, but you can quickly detach it from you, meaning that you are starting to form the habit and the pattern of recognizing that behavior is not me, that is not something that’s part of my identity. I no longer wish to participate in that. And the more you do that, the more you detach it, the easier time you’ll have bringing awareness to it and ultimately conquering it.

So those are a handful of bullet points and items to really gain clarity on. And I have found personally, and I think many, many people I’ve worked with over the years would echo this, is that the best way to do this is through consistent journaling, quiet time, meditation, breath work, whatever it may be. Just something to be alone with your thoughts and emotions, unimpeded by social media, email, whatever other distractions are in your life. And if this is something that’s new to you, really start simple. Consider opening a blank Google Doc, Microsoft Word document, Notepad app on your phone, or sitting down with a blank piece of paper and journal and set a timer for three to five minutes and consider using one of the following prompts to get started.

And the prompt is, Today, I feel blank, use an adjective of your choice, because blank. Describe why. I want to feel blank, positive adjective of choice. And know that in order to feel this way, one simple action step I can take is to blank. Complete it with an action step. And then a secondary prompt to consider is, Who do you need to become to blank? And in that blank, you would describe the goal you’re working toward. And in answering that question, you might think, “Okay, if my goal is to lose 25 pounds and keep it off, how does that version of me think? How does that version of me talk to myself? What are some of that version of myself’s actions, habits, et cetera?” Get really clear on that because it’s going to become infinitely easier to start working towards embodying what you’ve written down when you actually know what it is you are working toward.

Micheala, any element you think that’s really helpful I might have missed to share with our listeners when it comes to breaking free from the self-sabotage cycle?

Micheala Barsotti:

I mean, I think you covered it. You definitely have to do the deep work, whether it be journaling or really understand like what this behavior is stemming from. But then it’s thinking about, and you kind of just touched on this, the action steps that you can take to control what you can’t control. So like let’s say it’s ice cream at night that’s the self-sabotaging behavior that you’re doing. Like what could you do to make that a little bit easier for yourself? Could you remove it from the house? Like just trying to figure out what do you actually have control over of the behavior that you’re trying to work on, and how can you make that easier for yourself to not engage in it as much.

Paul Salter:

I love that. And the great kind of connection, the last point I want to make that I mentioned briefly earlier is how do we track progress to understand whether we are in fact moving out of this self-sabotage cycle, repeating or engaging in the self-sabotaging behavior less and less. And like I mentioned, it’s not going to be as simple as seeing numbers and quantitatively tracking data in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or in an app. Instead, the self-sabotaging behavior is not going to disappear overnight because you suddenly have awareness of it after listening to this episode. It’s going to happen. It might happen tomorrow, might happen in the week. But the more you follow through on answering some of the prompts I shared with you, spending more quiet time alone, and really just bringing your conscious thought and emotion to that subject to understand why it’s happening, what’s going to end up occurring is that that behavior is going to occur less frequently.

And then when it does occur, it’s going to occur at a lesser intensity, and your ability to quickly recognize it specifically as you’ve named it or identified it and let it go, or circumnavigate it, choosing a different behavior, is going to become easier and easier. So it’s important to have that clear expectation because if you are hoping after listening to this episode, journaling for five minutes, that the behavior will just be gone, you have a completely false expectation that is not going to set you up for success. So I think it’s important to share that with you.

Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode, everybody. I hope that you found it valuable. And if you want an even more detailed answer approach with step-by-step action steps you can take, head on over to our Resource Hub, We have a full-blown written article all about how to break free of the self-sabotage cycle that will really serve you well if this is a topic you want to go even deeper on and explore in greater detail.

And otherwise, if you did find this episode valuable, not only would we appreciate a genuine rating and review, but, hey, give back. Share it with somebody who also would find it valuable. This is a topic that has so much value beyond just having a weight loss goal. If anybody you know is trying to feel, look, or be a better version of him or herself, this episode is going to be valuable. And we would appreciate it, as would he or she appreciate it, if you shared it with them. Well, thank you again for listening. Have a fantastic rest of your day. And we’ll catch you next week in another episode.


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Paul Salter

Paul Salter is a Registered Dietitian and Founder of The 5% Way. Since 2013, Paul has worked one-on-one with nearly 1,500 men and women, helping them to collectively lose tens of thousands of pounds of body fat and keep it off for good. He’s also published nearly 1,000 articles, two books, and 175 podcast episodes (and counting) on all things related to our five core elements of sustainable weight loss.



Micheala is a Transformation and Community Success Coach. She specializes in bringing out the absolute best in you and helping you see that you already have everything you need to achieve the transformational results you desire. Micheala will be an incredible asset for you on your journey since she went through the process herself and has seen long lasting results.

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