We are a nation of blamers. We love to blame situations, circumstances, events and even ourselves for where we are in our lives. Blame allows you to avoid taking action — it gets you off the hook from acting responsibly. In terms of diet, it allows you to avoid focusing on controlling your weight — because there's nothing you can do about it. Keep in mind, however, that one of the key characteristics of all successful weight-losers is their ability to avoid blaming and accept responsibility for failures or setbacks. Here are a few tips to help you recognize, reorganize and resolve the impact blame may be having on your weight-control efforts.
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.") Or you can "internalize" it by blaming yourself (e.g., "I'm a weak person" or "I don't have 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 valid arguments?
Does a bad gene pool or a virus absolve you of responsibility for being overweight? 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. 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." When an internalizer fails at a diet, he or she figures, "I just don't have the willpower 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.
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 how you think.
Listen to what you're saying when you're talking about yourself. If 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."), you need to turn those sentences around so that you become the primary actor and cause of whatever is happening in your world.
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 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 blame on another person, luck or circumstances.
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. Excuses are merely vehicles of blame, attempts to rationalize away responsibility for why things didn't go the way you wanted them to.
You need to bust those excuses. First, identify and write down your diet and exercise goals. Next, 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.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.