Healthy Living

Weight Loss Sabotage: Is Your Ego To Blame?

Have you been experiencing setbacks in your weight loss regimen lately? If so, your ego might actually be causing your weight loss sabotage.

It seems like a funny concept… wouldn’t our ego be what drives us to the finish line? We don’t want to be embarrassed by a flabby body. We don’t want people to see us fail.

Yet the ego only pushes us to succeed sometimes. Other times, it actually goes out of its way to ensure that we fail—so that it can find a scapegoat in advance.

It’s what psychologists call “self-handicapping,” as explained by journalist David McRaney in the book “You Are Not So Smart.”


McRaney says we unconsciously set up safety nets or “outs” in all areas of life to conveniently avoid the risk of feeling like *our own* ability is second-rate.

Oddly, we do it even when we have a track record of success. In fact, that fear of failure gets even bigger when we’ve succeeded in the past.

“The stakes on future tests of ability are raised, but so are the fears of failure,” McRaney says. “Instead of making excuses after the fact that feel like lies, you create conditions ahead of time so the excuses can be real.”

As an example, he cites a study in which students were told they got a perfect score on a difficult test. When taking a subsequent test, the students were offered either a performance-enhancing or performance-inhibiting drug… and the majority of students chose the performance-inhibiting one!

They would rather have failed and had something to blame other than themselves, than to increase their already-pretty-good chance of succeeding.


If we use self-handicapping in small aspects of life such as tests, it certainly stands to reason we’d do it for the more epic feats—like revolutionizing our health habits.

Losing 50 pounds, running a marathon, overhauling your entire diet… staring such huge goals in the face, it’s easy to feel intimidated and nervous about our ability to pull it off.

For me, I’ve noticed that I use several “sabotage scapegoats” to blame for tomorrow’s possible poor nutrition and fitness choices:

It may not be surprising that we fear failure, and that our ego subconsciously seeks to protect us from feeling bad about ourselves. But when it’s robbing us of the chance to actually succeed, we have a problem.


How can we prevent our sense of vulnerability from getting in the way of fitness and health victory?

I think it starts with awareness. If you’re not achieving your goals, start by asking yourself: are you afraid of failure? Are you creating any obstacles ahead of time?

If so, then it may help to try lowering your expectations and the pressure you put on yourself to succeed. The best way to kill a fitness regimen is to aim for perfection.

Another way to lower the pressure is to take baby steps. By breaking the goal up into smaller goals, it feels like you’re taking smaller risks and there’s less at stake.

Interestingly, McRaney points out that men are even more likely to self-handicap than women. Guys and girls: have you ever caught yourself creating obstacles in order to set yourself up for “excusable” weight loss failure?

By Chelsea Bush

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert

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