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Why We Lie to Ourselves


All of us lie to ourselves at one time or another, some of us more than others. Here’s one example you’ll recognize instantly: You’re stuffed to the gills but there’s still a slice of pizza left, so you snarf it down, thinking, “I’ll skip dinner tonight or start a diet tomorrow.” The truthful thought would be, “I’ll feel awful if I eat this slice of pizza and I’ll probably eat a big dinner tonight and eat the same way tomorrow.”

This type of lie has a kind of magic to it. It flies against our knowing better, our experience and what we understand about reality. It’s different than the lie you tell your boss that your project is almost done when you’ve barely started it or the one you tell your sister when she asks if you like her expensive new hair cut which she’s wildly excited about but you think adds ten years to her life.

So, why do we lie (to ourselves, to others), especially about our eating? Sometimes we know we’re speaking falsehoods and sometimes we’ve actually convinced ourselves that what we’re saying is truth. For example, are there times you really believe you’ll change your eating another day—or any time that’s not right now? In this case, you want to believe you’ll eat differently in the future so badly that you do believe it.

Other times you know you’re fooling yourself and that your self-lies are in the service of emotional (but certainly not physical) comfort. Not eating that remaining slice of pizza would make you anxious or unhappy and you dislike those feelings, so your decision to eat is based on avoidance. But you don’t acknowledge this. Instead, you lie and tell yourself something more palatable: You’re not all that full or it’s wrong to waste food. 

How many lies do you tell yourself about eating (or smoking or drinking or any unhealthy habits) every day? More importantly, how are you going to stop doing so in order to become healthy emotionally and physically? 

You can start by vowing to be truthful to yourself. Make a list of the lies and irrational thoughts that fill your mind about food. Read through them and have a chuckle at what you’ve made up. Take in how harmful those lies are and pledge to be more truthful.

Next, consider when you’re most likely to lie to yourself about food. Maybe you do okay with friends but lie to yourself when eating due to family pressure. Or vice versa. Maybe you fib more under stress or when you’re bored or lonely. Pinpoint when reality tends to slip away from you and fantasy takes over. Then decide what truths you’ll tell yourself in the future to honor and respect yourself and change your habits.