The Blame Game: How Your Behavior Might be Hindering Your Weight Control

by Charles Platkin, PhD

The Blame Game: How Your Might be Hindering Your Weight Control

Recognizing and Understanding the Two Faces of Blame
You can “externalize” blame by placing it outside yourself — in other people (e.g., “How can I lose weight when I have an unsupportive family?”), situations or circumstances (e.g., “I inherited bad genes.” “I don’t have time to plan healthy, low-calorie meals. I’m just too busy.” “I have to keep all those sugary foods in the house for the kids.”) Or you can “internalize” it by blaming yourself (e.g., “I’m a weak person.” “I don’t have the strength or the willpower to stick to my plan.”)

Externalizing Blame Behavior: One of the classic explanations for externalizers is blaming “bad genes.” Another, newer one is that obesity is actually caused by a virus. But are these really valid arguments?

Does a bad gene pool or a virus absolve you of responsibility for being overweight? Of course, there are people who insist that biology and/or nature both explain and excuse all good and bad behavior. But having this information can also lead to an entirely different conclusion. Once you’re aware that you have a predisposition to obesity or diabetes, you can take responsibility for being cautious and chart a smarter, more healthful course of action. If you had an ear infection, you might go to your physician and take antibiotics. Or, if you broke your leg you would seek medical treatment. Awareness of a problem should lead to responsibility for dealing with it.

Internalizing Blame Behavior: Too often, internalizers define themselves as hopeless or lost before they begin. They use phrases like, “I can’t do it so why try?” “I’m no good at that.” “It’s all my fault.” “I wish I were never born.” And when they examine their experiences and failures, their reasoning follows a similarly self-defeating pattern: “Why am I fat? Because I’m weak and have no discipline, no self-control, no willpower.” When an internalizer fails at a , he or she figures, “I’m just not the sort of person who deserves to be in good shape, so I might as well get used to it.”

What internalizers don’t seem to understand is that “being responsible” is a very different thing from blaming oneself. Taking responsibility means being accountable to yourself. Self-blame means believing that everything is both your fault and beyond your power to control. The first is empowering and propels you forward; the second is counterproductive, depressing and a futile exercise in beating yourself up. Remember: Blaming yourself is as destructive as blaming someone or something else for your own misguided efforts. Self-blame destroys any possible motivation you might have had to act. And because self-confidence is a critical component of successful weight control, the blame stands in the way of your achieving your weight-loss goal.

Use the Power of Language
Altering the language you use to tell your story and express your frustrations can help you change. Language shapes the way you view things, just as your view of things shapes the way you talk about them. It follows, therefore, that the words you use can influence the way you think.

You need to listen to what you’re saying when you’re thinking or talking about yourself. If you find that you’re making yourself the victim of other people’s actions (e.g., “If Harry hadn’t taken me to that Italian restaurant, I wouldn’t have been tempted to eat all that pasta.”) or of circumstances (e.g., “My parents really saddled me with terrible obesity genes.”), what you need to do is turn those sentences around so that you become the primary actor and cause of whatever it is that’s happening in your world. One way you can do that is by beginning your sentences with the word, “I.” Using “I” statements when discussing issues can help you transform your behavior affirmatively. For instance: “I know that I often overeat when I’m in this situation.” Or, “I tend to do (fill in the blank) when the going gets rough.” State specifically what you may be doing wrong so that you can correct it, instead of blaming other people.

When you put the word “me” at the end of your sentence instead of putting “I” at the beginning, you confirm your passivity and helplessness and allow whatever negative pattern you’re following to continue. Think what a difference it makes when you change, “My boss is making life hell for me, which is why I’m always into the bags of chips when I get home” to “I choose to stay in this job despite the fact that my boss undermines my authority. I respond to this stress by coming home and eating unhealthy foods to make myself feel better.” Or how about changing “My husband is always picking fights with me, which forces me to overeat junk food” to “My husband and I argue, so I respond angrily, get stressed out, and do myself harm by binging on junk food.” In both examples, the first statement keeps you a victim. The second opens up a whole new line of inquiry and potential action by giving you the opportunity to ask yourself, “Why do I choose to eat junk food in stressful situations? What can I do to change that?”

One of the I hear all the time is, “I am really busy, and I don’t have the time to pay attention to the nutrient content of everything I put into my mouth.” Yes, you may be very busy, but you are doing yourself a disservice by offering this up as a reason for not eating properly.

Almost everybody these days lives a hectic lifestyle, but is that the real reason for your food choices? Busy people need to prioritize, especially when it comes to getting healthy by losing excess weight, so the truth of the situation might be closer to: “I’m very busy. I make choices every minute of every day, and right now, reviewing what I eat every day does not take priority over other matters in my life.” That statement is honest and candid and lets you see that you can choose to make a change.

Write down five situations, events or circumstances that did not go according to plan in terms of your weight loss — whether or not you think they were your fault. Now go back and read through each one. When you get to the part about what went wrong or where the problem occurred and how it affected what and how you ate or your physical activity, rephrase it so that you’re the one who is ultimately responsible. Don’t place any blame on another person, luck or circumstances.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
You’ve heard it all before: “I’m big boned.” “I have a slow metabolism.” “I don’t have enough money to join a gym.” Blamers have one main tool in their toolbox — excuses. According to a study in Personality and Social Psychology Review, excuses are self-serving explanations or accounts that aim to reduce personal responsibility for questionable events, thereby disengaging core components of the self from the incident. Their goal is to convince others and oneself that a negative event is not as much one’s own fault as it might otherwise appear to be.

Excuses are merely vehicles of blame, attempts to rationalize away responsibility for why things didn’t go the way you wanted them to. The trouble is, some excuses appear so airtight that they allow you to talk yourself out of doing what you know you have to do. In fact, excuses work (just like blame works) to distance you from the uncomfortable consequences of failure; they insulate you from potential damage to your self-esteem.

You need to bust those excuses. First, identify and write down your diet and exercise goals. Next, brainstorm and write down all the reasons you can think of for not working toward your goals. Remember to include your self-doubts, fears and insecurities — these are excuses, too. Be honest. Last, punch holes in your excuses until they are no longer airtight. Do this by coming up with counterarguments for every single excuse that you may have for NOT exercising — this is called Excuse Busting. Here’s an example:

EXCUSE: It’s raining outside, so I can’t go for my morning run.
EXCUSE BUSTER: First of all, I’m not made of sugar, so I won’t melt. Second, I have a gym membership, so I can certainly head down there and run on the treadmill. Third, if I’m going to be lazy and not go to the gym, I have an extensive library of fitness tapes right here at home. The rain isn’t going to stop me!

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