Journey Beyond Weight Loss

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Why (and how!) We Sabotage Ourselves

In our Journey Beyond Weight Loss Membership, we have been reading the book The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It’s a fascinating book, and everyone should read it if they haven’t already. It’s mostly written for business people, but you can take all the lessons in it and apply them to your weight loss journey. You will understand why we have this tendency to sabotage ourselves when we lose weight, especially when we start to get closer to our goal weight!

Some of this weeks episode highlights are:

3:07 What the heck is the upper limit problem? Basically that we have a limited tolerance for feeling good. Like we don't know what to do when things are going really well.

19:33 Learn to recognize upper limit behaviors. These are things that we do that cause us to dampen the flow of positive energy. They're actually acts of self-sabotage!

23:59 These upper limit behaviors you observe are perfect things to write down and investigate in your journal. Which hidden barrier seems to pop up for you over and over again.

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:00):

You are listening to the Keep The Weight Off podcast with Dr. Angela, episode number 33.

Introduction (00:05):

Welcome to The Keep The Weight Off podcast, where we bust all the dieting myths and discover not just how to lose weight, but more importantly, how to keep it off. We go way beyond the food and we use science and psychology to give you strategies that work. And now your host, Dr. Angela Zechmann.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:27):

Hey everyone. And welcome back. It is so good for us to be with you.

Marchelle (00:31):

Hi everybody.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:33):

Yay. So in our Journey Beyond Weight Loss membership, we have been reading the book, "The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level" by Gay Hendricks. Now this is a fascinating book and everyone needs to read it. If they haven't already, it's mostly written for business people though, but you can take the lessons that are in the big leap and apply it to your weight loss journey, because it helps to explain why we have this tendency to sabotage ourselves when we lose weight. And by the way, Marchelle knows this already, Journey Beyond Weight Loss is open for enrollment, and we're going to be starting next week on September 21st. The deadline to sign up is Friday, September 17th. So when you're done listening to this podcast, head over to to learn more about it and to sign up.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (01:32):

So we see this all the time where people are doing great, and then they stopped coming in for awhile. And I always know what's happening, they're struggling. And sometimes it's hard for me not to get on the phone and just call them and say, get your butt back in here. Eventually they do come back. Usually with their tail between their legs, and they're feeling really ashamed. And they say, I'm not sure what happened. I just stopped taking my medications and I started eating crap again. Sometimes they'll say that they went on a vacation and they couldn't get back on track after that, or maybe something really significant happened. Like they lost their job or their mom fell and broke her hip, something sort of traumatic like that happened. But sometimes they just aren't sure what happened. And I think this book helps to explain what's going on.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (02:36):

So I want to explain it to you. So Gay Hendricks, who is the author of The Big Leap says that there's only one problem that holds us back from thriving, and he calls it the upper limit problem. And he says that the more successful you get, and for us, that means the closer we get to our goal weight, the more urgent it becomes to identify and overcome the upper limit problem. Now, what the heck is the upper limit problem? Yeah, exactly. Well, what he means by the upper limit problem is just basically that we have a limited tolerance for feeling good. Like we don't know what to do when things are going really well. Hmm. It's like we have a thermostat setting for good feelings. And when we go above it, we unconsciously start to manufacture problems to bring us back down to where we're comfortable. Is that not interesting?

New Speaker (03:47):

Yes, this is, this sounds very familiar to me.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (03:53):

So for example, when we get close to our goal weight, we start to worry that we won't be able to maintain it. Ever heard that before Marchelle.

Marchelle (04:05):

I've heard that a couple of times,

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:07):

Just a few times. Well, that's one way it shows up it's as if we're saying to ourselves life can't possibly be this good. What am I missing another way of saying it is like, have you ever heard that old saying, waiting for the other shoe to drop something like that? So yeah,

Marchelle (04:23):

Exactly. Waiting for the ball to drop.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:29):

Well, this is why diets don't work because it takes time to stabilize at a new weight and get used to the new thermostat setting. And this is what we do in Journey Beyond Weight Loss. We help you stabilize and shift the way you think about yourself so that you actually can believe that you can thrive in a healthy, vibrant body that you're proud of. And we have a ton of fun doing that in Journey Beyond Weight Loss.

Marchelle (04:59):

It's fun. It's sometimes it also can be hard cause we're going to get, you know, cause we've got to dig a little deeper.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (05:04):


New Speaker (05:06):

That's like where the real work happens. But I just wanted to say like, this sounds so familiar to me already just because I had like this goal weight that I achieved not too long ago and it's almost like I was running to the finish line because I wanted to hurry up and get there before I went to Mexico on vacation. Right. Right. And then it was like, right. As I got my toe across the finish line, I was there for, I seriously, you guys, for 24 hours, I did like a body comp, just so I would have proof of it and kind of shit happened where all of a sudden, I just went crazy after that. I do not know. Like I just started going right - by turned, like, turned around, did an about face and then started right back up the scale somehow. And I don't, I don't know, like I wasn't there long enough to really like process what the hell just happened.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (06:06):

Yeah. I think you hit your upper limit.

Marchelle (06:09):

Yes! Something - so that's… So I can't wait to figure out, you know, like what happened and then how then, you know, once I know then I do things different the next time.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (06:19):

Yeah. All right. So this is going to be awesome. So let's talk about this. So Gay Hendricks discovered four hidden barriers to us achieving our goals. Now these hidden barriers are basically false beliefs that cause us to sabotage ourselves. So he said that it's possible to have more than one of these four barriers. I'm going to go through each one of them. It's possible to have more than one, but he's never met anybody who had all four of them. So that's kind of good news. Okay. So yeah. So I'm going to take you through each of them and you can decide which one of these is a barrier for you. Okay. And I'm not just talking to Marchelle and I'm talking to all of you guys are listening to all of us. All of us. Yeah. Okay.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:08):

So the first hidden barrier is feeling fundamentally flawed.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:14):

So you feel that at a very deep level, there's something not quite right about you. So when you lose weight, the brain starts to experience what's called cognitive, cognitive dissonance. I can hardly even say that cognitive dissonance. Have you ever heard of that Marchelle? Yes, I have. Aha. So it's like, it's like, there's two things going on in your brain at the same time. And neither one of them make sense with the other. So a little voice says, given that I'm fundamentally flawed, or maybe we feel like we're wrong or we feel like we're bad. How can I possibly be at a normal weight? But there you are at a normal weight. So that, that, that cognitive dissonance is difficult for your brain to manage the brain. Can't handle both of those truths at the same time. So you either have to gain back some weight or you have to let go of that old limiting belief that you're flawed.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:15):

And since most of this is totally unconscious, what do you suppose happens to most people? They don't know that they have a feeling that they're fundamentally flawed. So they end up putting the weight back on so that they can they can live that truth that they're fundamentally flawed. Okay. So many of us have this feeling that there's something not quite right about us and Gay Hendricks says, this is actually the most common of the hidden barriers. And I would say for me, this is true. And it happens in childhood as young children. We're really dependent on our parents and we're very sensitive to their emotional energy. And if things aren't going well, we have this tendency, because we don't have a larger perspective. We only know ourselves. We have this tendency to assume that if things aren't going well, that it's our fault.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:21):

Or we may have had people outright tell us that we weren't right. Many of us have had that there's that … we had a parent or a caregiver or an older sibling, or maybe kids in this school playground tell us there's something wrong about us. So, you know, there are all kinds of reasons. If you grow up surrounded by alcoholism or physical or emotional abuse, you may well have this idea that there's something wrong with you. So then when you lose weight, your brain is like, Hey, wait a minute. Good things like this don't happen to me. And so then you go about unconsciously sabotaging yourself. So that was true for me. This feeling of being fundamentally flawed. You think that might be true for you, Michelle?

Marchelle (10:09):

I definitely think this is true for me.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:11):

Really? Yeah. Yeah. In our, in our book group not too many people raised their hand on this one, which surprised me, but yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:21):

Yeah. So but I think it's really interesting. I think a lot of our podcast listeners are going to recognize themselves in this one. And, and as Gay Hendricks said, I actually just heard him speak a couple of weeks ago live. He said, this actually is the most common. So if you've ever felt like there's just something wrong with you, I want you to know there's nothing wrong with you. You're a human being. You just have this idea that you got when you were a kid at some point in time and you don't have to go about figuring out exactly how it came about, but you do want to recognize that it's actually not true. So yeah, really all right.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:04):

Hidden barrier number two is disloyalty and abandonment. So we fear that if we're successful at weight loss, we're going to end up alone or we're going to be disloyal to our roots, or we're going to leave other people behind. Now, several of the women in the book study raised their hands with this one. They said sometimes eating healthy whole food. When everyone else is indulging in family or cultural meals can feel very alone and can feel disloyal. If you don't eat your mother's Christmas cookies, you're being disloyal. So that's just an example…

Marchelle (11:45):

You're talking about me right now, right? Oh, I think that I have, I think that even in a podcast, oh yeah,

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:56):

You've talked about that.

Marchelle (11:57):

You remember? And then my mom even like made the the big, huge like care package of all the treats and I accidentally forgot it. Yeah. And then when she called it, I mean, we were too far to turn back, you know, and then I didn't see her for a week. So that was you know, that was something that helped me and, and I, and I still feel, felt guilty even. Yeah. You know, I didn't do it, but that's, that's a huge one. Even like, I get thrown this, for instance, I'm sure everyone is used to doing, you know, birthday cakes.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:34):


Marchelle (12:35):

Huge. That's a huge tradition in our family. Like whats a birthday party without a birthday cake.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:40):

Yeah, me too.

Marchelle (12:42):

That's always been like a worry, that's come up for me on how, you know, how, how are we going to do, like, what are we going to do if, you know, are we going to even have birthday parties anymore? Because that's a such a big thing, like making the cake and who's going to make the cake and we go like a way, and I know there's a lot of cake makers out there that go like way beyond, you know, just like your regular, you know, flat sheet, pan chocolate cake. I mean, it's like, it's a thing.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:13):

Their cakes are a work of art. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So then, yeah. And we always had this tradition in my family, my mother made angel food cake with pink frosting on top. And you know, it was just a tradition, you know,

Marchelle (13:30):

That's what I'm saying. Like these, these traditions that are, I don't know, that are settled in and sugary treats.

Marchelle (13:39):

Are up. Yeah, yes, yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:42):

Holidays are going to be here before we know it guys. So I want you to be thinking about this. So see if hidden barrier, number two is a disloyalty and abandonment might be true for you. You know, it was interesting because you know, our group the other night for some people that actually goes even deeper than just the food thing. So one woman said that as a child, and this was a really interesting story. As a child, her sister was teased by her alcoholic father for being overweight. And so she purposefully gained weight so that her father would hassle her instead of her sister. So she, and so this was a way of protecting her sister, right. And now to lose the weight now would mean being disloyal to her sister. And this was all completely unconscious, but she realized it as part of the work that she was doing in Journey Beyond Weight Loss. So again, we do really deep work in this program and it's necessary if you want to lose the weight and keep it off. Right.

Marchelle (14:52):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (14:53):

Listeners ask yourself if a feeling of being disloyal or abandoning people from your past could be at the root of any self-sabotaging behaviors. Okay.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:06):

All right. I'm going to move on to hidden barrier Number three, that is believing that if you're successful, you will be a burden to other people. So ask yourself this question, when it comes to your food, do you ever think that eating healthy whole foods is just too much of a burden for other people? So you just get a case of the buckets. Now, remember what I mean by that? You just take the "B" and replace it with an "F" and you're thinking you're left thinking to heck with it. You know, you're just going to go along with everyone else because you don't want to cause problems. That's hidden barrier Number three, inaction.

Marchelle (15:44):

I hear from patients coming in and they are defeated and they feel super overwhelmed and stressed out because like they're teenagers or their husband is like, it's almost like the way I see it is that they … you're sort of get, like, they're getting a little pat on the head, you know, from their family, like, oh, it's so cool that you're doing this. You know, we really support you. Everything's great. We were there for you except on Fridays when we want to have pizza.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (16:17):


Marchelle (16:19):

So I hear that a lot where they just feel like I, what am I going to do? Like, I'm hitting my head against the wall because you know, my family or, you know, or even roommates or whatever are just supportive, but not all the way. Exactly. Exactly. So they feel like it's a burden if they have to eat differently than the rest of the family. So I hear a lot of times they just say, yup, yup. And they say, well, it's Friday. I can splurge whatever. And then they feel like crap. And then they totally feel guilty after they do it. Right. It never turns out well.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:02):

Yeah. Yep. So that's hidden barrier Number three. Your healthy lifestyle is a burden to other people. So yeah. You know, that weight loss was nice, but it just isn't worth the burden. It would seem to cause others, of course nevermind the burden that the extra weight carries for you. Right. So just think about that.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:25):

All right. I'm gonna move on to hidden barrier. Number four, this is called the crime of outshining. So what we say to ourselves in this case is that I must not remain at my healthy weight because if I did, I would make someone else look or feel bad. So maybe think about it. If you have a friend or a sister or a mother or a daughter that you're worried would feel bad if you lost weight and actually kept it off. I mean, it's okay to be on a diet and lose a little weight.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:59):

But if you actually lost all your weight and then kept it off, how would that person feel and worse? What if your life became successful in many other areas, because your confidence soared, you had more energy and vitality and you just shined. Would you be worried about out shining someone else in your circle? That's the question, because this can be a way that we end up sabotaging ourselves because we don't want somebody else to feel bad. So that is the crime of outshining. Now in weight loss, it can seem a little bit confusing to sort out the crime of out shining from hidden barrier Number two, remember which was disloyalty and abandonment, but they really are two distinctly different things. So ask yourself what happens when you're successful at weight loss. Do you worry that you're going to end up making a heavier friend or relative look, look bad, then you might unconsciously sabotage yourself. Okay.

Marchelle (19:06):

I can't say this one has anything to do with me because I have too much work to do on self-confidence.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:15):

All right. Yeah. So as, as Gay Hendricks says, some people have more than one hidden barrier, but he's never met anybody that has all four of them. So, all right. So now that we've gotten a sense of why we sabotage ourselves, what do we do now?

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:33):

Well, the first step is always awareness. That's huge. Recognizing the way our brains work is really, really powerful. The next step is to begin to recognize what Gay Hendricks calls our upper limit behaviors. So these are things that we do that cause us to dampen the flow of positive energy. And they're actually acts of self-sabotage. So I'm going to name a few of the most common ones. But there are actually quite a few of them. So I'm going to recommend that all of you listeners out there, get the book and read it and study it so that you can really find out just what the heck you do.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (20:12):

It's not a big book. It's a small book. It'll take you a couple of hours to read it. But if you study it and think you'll really get some benefit. I recommend that you do this with complete curiosity and compassion and not with any judgment whatsoever. Remember your brain has been having to find ways to adapt to everything going on around it. And most of this stuff happened when we were small children. And so you just want to become a very compassionate observer of yourself. Okay.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (20:46):

So the first upper limit behavior is worrying. So who would like to raise their hand and admit to being a worrier? That would be me about you Marchelle?

Marchelle (20:58):

I'm raising two hands right now.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:01):

Okay. All right. So if you don't believe that you deserve to be happy, your brain is going to find a way to make sure you're not happy by finding something to worry about.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:13):

Some people are what we call worrywarts. They seem to be addicted to worrying. That was my mom. For sure. She could never imagine that things might actually be going well. And she worried about everything. So if you find yourself worrying, like worrying that you'll gain all your weight back, just take a deep breath and remind your brain that this is just an upper limit behavior. And maybe you do actually deserve to be living in a healthy, vibrant body that you're proud of. How does that sound?

Marchelle (21:47):

That sounds amazing.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:49):

Yeah. All right. The next upper limit behavior is criticism and blame. Another really common one. It can be criticism of someone else, or it could be self criticism. So this can actually become an addiction as well. We'll use criticism and blame to prevent ourselves from feeling too good because we've hit our upper limit for good feelings.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:14):

So this tendency to blame and criticize others, or ourselves can be sneaky because sometimes our criticisms can seem completely legitimate. But if you notice a pattern, ask yourself if this is indeed an upper limit behavior, again, be kind and compassionate with yourself and approach the whole thing with curiosity and not judgment. I know I have a tendency to do criticism… Criticism and judgment of, and blame of myself and of others. It's true.

Marchelle (22:53):

I do it too.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:54):

Yeah. The last one that I'm going to talk about is called deflecting. So that's the last upper limit behavior that I'm going to talk about. It's … so maybe someone has complimented you on your transformation and you just kind of brushed it off, or you felt uncomfortable about it. This could be an upper limit problem manifesting itself. It's a way of shutting out positive energy. Again, underneath it all, we don't believe we deserve to feel good, so we're not going to allow it. So we just deflect. Okay. So there are a few more behaviors that you may engage in to reduce positive energy and rebalance your thermostat to arrange that feels lower and more comfortable for you. But those are the common ones. And I can't emphasize enough - awareness and compassionate investigation are the keys. Last week we mentioned that you should have a journal to document your weight loss journey. Did you get one?

Marchelle (23:57):

I got my journal.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (23:58):

Yay. Awesome. So these observations are perfect things to write down and investigate in your journal, which hidden barrier seems to pop up for you over and over again. Where do you think it originated? What behaviors do you use to bring yourself down when there's more good going on, than you can tolerate, is it possible that you can train yourself to tolerate more good feelings? That's a huge question. Bring awareness and compassion and gradually you'll shift all of this. So the secret of course is to remind yourself that you do deserve to feel good, that you do deserve to be living in a healthy, vibrant body that you're proud of. I think I've said that three or four times now. So hopefully people are starting to believe that.

Marchelle (24:46):

I love that.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (24:48):

I know. Yeah. Do you have any questions, Marchelle?

Marchelle (24:53):

No, I, this, this has been awesome. Yeah, so, I mean, honestly, like just, I know that this might be a little too much and I'm sure that it is because our listeners wouldn't know this unless they had been in Journey Beyond Weight Loss, because I was just starting to like put together the, you know, the scale of emotions. And some of, you know, some of these these behaviors, you know, the upper limit behaviors, you know, like sabotaging behaviors and then being, you know, like being down on the scale of emotions and certain like the self side. So, I mean, like I said, you know, everybody needs to get on Journey Beyond Weight Loss, because like so much of this stuff you can put together and it's just like right now, the light bulbs are going off for me. I'm like, wait a minute. That makes sense. And so, cause I'm really trying to figure out like what happened with me because it happened so quickly. And so like I'm right here with everybody just, you know, trying to figure out how to, you know, get back on track because like, I, I don't know. It's just like just some unfinished work.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (26:07):

Yeah. That's why we call it the Journey.

Marchelle (26:11):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (26:11):

It's not a diet It's a journey. I'm going to do it just a really quick review just to remind everybody. So the upper limit problem means that we have a limited tolerance for feeling good. We have a thermostat setting for good feelings. And when we go above it, we unconsciously start manufacturing problems to bring us back down to where we're comfortable. And again, we're not aware that we're doing this. It's totally unconscious. There are four hidden barriers that keep us stuck. And what this means for us is that we end up self-sabotaging our weight loss. So the first hidden barrier is feeling fundamentally flawed. And because we feel flawed or wrong or bad, it's unconsciously difficult to believe that we deserve good things like lasting weight loss. The second hidden barrier is a fear of abandonment or of being disloyal. For example, if we don't eat traditional meals that we grew up with, we may fear being disloyal to our families.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (27:13):

The third hidden barrier is believing that your success brings a burden to others. And several of the Journey Beyond Weight Loss, students talked about how they do feel like a burden sometimes when they're just trying to eat healthy whole foods. Hidden barrier Number four is the crime of outshining. Your concern is that your successful weight loss will make someone else look bad. So you unconsciously sabotage yourself. We keep ourselves below our upper limit with certain behaviors like worrying, criticizing, and blaming others or ourselves and deflecting compliments. And there are other ways we do it, but those are the most common ones.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (27:58):

Again, I recommend that you get the book, it's called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. Read it, cover to cover and study it with curiosity. Okay. Do you have any questions, Marchelle?

Marchelle (28:11):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (28:12):

All right, great. So that's all for this week. We will see you again next week. And remember if you want to join us in Journey Beyond Weight Loss, head on over to Journey Beyond Weight Registration is only open until Friday at midnight, and we have a great group of people ready to go to help you on your weight loss journey. We will see you next week. Bye everyone!

Closing (28:37):

Hey, if you really want to lose weight and keep it off for good, your next step is to sign up for Dr. Angela's free weight loss course, where you're going to learn everything you need to get started on your weight loss journey, the right way. Just head over to to sign up. Also, it would be awesome if you could take a few moments and write a review on iTunes. Thanks!


Dr. Angela



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