How to Deal with Self-Sabotaging Patients

by Dr. Jade Teta ND | Follow on Twitter

Change is like a math problem, it gets easier with subtraction. Stop overloading your patients with self-sabotaging regiments.

WE HUMANS CAN OFTEN BE COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL and sometimes downright stupid (really not a judgement, I am human too). As an integrative physician who specializes in body change, I counsel people every single day on what it takes to make change happen.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar conversation to this with your patients:

Me: “Well, I went through your initial paperwork and labs, and I can see you have tried a lot of diets. Let me start by asking you why did or didn’t these approaches work for you?”

Client: “Well, plan X had me cooking every single meal, and I am not a great cook, and I work full time, and I go right to the gym after work, and then I take the kids to their after school activities, and by the time I get home I am usually too tired to cook, and when I do cook I then have to clean up. I don’t sleep well either, and I try to sleep in and that does not leave time for making breakfast after I wake, shower and get the kids ready.”

Me: [have not yet said one word]

Client: “But, I really don’t think I work out enough. Right now I am doing 3 days of weight training, 2 body pump classes, 1 yoga, and I try to run on the weekends. I just signed up for a half marathon training. I think that might help. Should I do two days of interval training instead of the body pump classes or in addition to them? What about bananas? Are those good or bad? I was thinking of trying intermittent fasting too. What do you think about that?

Me: [getting ready to speak, but there is more]

Client: “Anyway, the reason I am here is because I have a vacation with my girlfriends from college coming up soon, and I need to lose some weight before that. I was thinking of doing a juice cleanse. I just got one of those new Vitamix things. Oh, and I also do an Isaology shake twice a day. I run this as a side business. What do you think?”

Me: “Wow, you are doing a ton. Let me share one insight about change that I think we should start our discussion with. Change is like a math problem, it gets easier with subtraction.”

Client: [blank stare]

Me: “Imagine you are Santa Claus with that big huge bag full of presents thrown over your shoulder, but instead of taking the presents out as you go along you keep throwing more stuff in. You add in more workouts, and then you throw in morning juicing, and then you throw in cooking lessons, now training for a marathon, don’t forget your supplements and all the worrying about organic foods, avoiding carbs, getting enough sleep, and on it goes.

Often the problem is not what you are doing or not doing, but rather how much you are forcing yourself to carry. You’re trying to move forward, but you are adding so much into your bag that you are grinding all progress to a halt. Stop and empty the bag! You can’t make any progress weighed down by so much stuff.”

Empty that big red bag of self-sabbotage

Empty that big red bag of self-sabotage

5 Steps to Emptying the Red Bag of Self-Sabotage

If your patients are like many of my clients they are likely laughing or crying at the realization of this problem and how very simple it is. The fact is- change needs focus and focus needs room. Neuroscience tells us that the brain can only focus on a few items at any one time, but it does best when it only has to deal with one change at a time.

Want to help empty your patient’s bag? Have him follow these steps:

1. Empty your bag.

Get rid of all self-imposed items. I suggest the removal of at least 3, but preferably 10 things that are not absolutely essential. Obviously you can’t throw away your kids and annoying coworkers, but you can definitely toss the juicing notion, your half marathon training, your stress of cooking (for now), any extra workout classes, and your strict carb control.

You really want to dig deep in the bag and toss out some of the items you are really attached to.

How about your nightly TV habit, your Twitter and Facebook addiction, or the toxic family trauma you are still holding onto? The most difficult items to throw out are the ones weighing you down the most.

2. Add one thing at a time.

Now add back one thing at a time and add them back slowly over weeks NOT days.

Don’t be a hoarder.

You know what these people are like, right? They take all their stuff out and have every intention of throwing it away, but then somehow it all finds its way back in the bag.

And don’t let other people put more stuff in your bag either. If a nutritionist, doctor, or fat loss coach gives you a restrictive meal plan, 5-part exercise regime, 2 new mindset tools, and a new supplement schedule all at the same time, RUN.

3. Add lighter items first, heavier items last.

Psychology research tells us that building lasting habits is itself a habit. The more success you have, the more success you will have. So, start light and get heavier.

Any new habit added into the bag should be as easy, or preferably easier than the habit that was removed. Start with a 30minute walk 3 times per week as your new exercise regime, and then add on elements to your regime biweekly over the next several months.

4. Add trickle down habits early.

Trickle down habits are those habits that when changed have unintended positive consequences.

Working on a sleep habit first elevates energy, reduces hunger, decreases cravings, and increases motivation for exercise. It makes other habits far easier to manage later.

5. Keep your bag light.

Whenever you are confronted with what looks to be a new gadget, tool, or opportunity, make sure it fits.

Do this by asking these three questions:

  1. Will this take time from me or add more time to my life?
  2. Will this make me more productive and focused or take away from my productivity and focus?
  3. Will this add energy, vitality, and passion to my life or take it away?
About the Author
Dr. Jade Teta ND

Dr. Jade Teta is an integrative physician specializing in natural health, fitness and body transformation. He is the co-author of The Metabolic Effect Diet. He completed his undergraduate training at North Carolina State University, earning a bachelors of science in biochemistry. He then went on to study at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington completing his doctorate in Naturopathic medicine. Dr. Teta has worked in the fitness and weight loss fields for over 20 years, and is the co-developer of the rest-based training system for personal training and group exercise. He is also the co-founder of the Naturopathic Health Clinic of North Carolina and of the health, fitness and international fat loss company, Metabolic Effect. His background in natural medicine, along with his fitness expertise, has defined his healthcare specialties of hormonal weight loss and functional medicine approaches to chronic disease.