Being healthy is more than a checklist of do’s and don’t’s; it’s a lifestyle requiring commitment and flexibility. Unfortunately, western culture hasn’t made it easy to choose health. With highly processed foods, sedentary lifestyles, and stressful careers, it’s an uphill battle to be healthy. For many of us, choosing health means making radical changes. While it’s worth it, the struggle to make those changes means we won’t always be perfect and hit every goal we have. Some days, we’ll blow the diet. When that day comes, here are 7 steps to bouncing back when you blow the diet:
Step 1: Don’t freak out. The fact is, it takes 3,500 calories for you to gain 1 pound of fat. The main impact of your blowout will be on your ability to lose weight1, but it won’t necessarily make you gain weight right away. In other words, take a deep breath and don’t panic because you didn’t ruin everything you’ve been working for. What will have a long-term effect is consistently splurging.
Step 2: Don’t overreact. Trying to “make up for” the splurge by setting unrealistic food limitations the next day or by doing an insane workout is actually counterproductive. Restricting what you eat will make you hungry, and when we’re hungry is when we’re most likely to make another decision contradicting a healthy lifestyle. Workout too hard, and you might injure yourself, preventing you from working out at all for a few days. In short, overreacting by starving yourself or doing an intense workout really won’t be worth it in the end.
Step 3: Start fresh. Instead of overreacting, wake up the next morning and choose to start again. Strategize your day from start to finish, including when you’ll snack and what your meals will be. Meal plans leave less room for error and will keep you on track. Even take the time to remind yourself why you’ve chosen to change your food and health habits. Is it to accomplish a fitness goal? A lifetime dream of running a marathon? Being more active for your kids? Whatever your motivation, keep that in front of you when you have to make the tough choices.
Step 4: Make proactive choices. One study found that most people make a poor snacking decision at 4:12pm2. If you know the afternoon munchies are going to hit, choose a healthy snack to eat before you get “hangry” and make a really bad decision. Another proactive choice is drinking plenty of water. It’s been suggested that some people mistake their body’s signal for thirst as a signal for hunger, and so eat when they really should be drinking3. Keeping your body hydrated will prevent you from confusing the two signals so you eat only when you need to.
Step 5: Take a hard look at the cycle. We’re all going to blow the diet once in a while. But when “once in a while” becomes every day, it’s time to evaluate if there’s something bigger going on. Food addiction is a very real issue that should be realistically addressed. The Yale Food Addiction Scale4 asks questions like these to help you determine whether you have a food addiction:
- Do you end up eating much more than planned when eating certain foods?
- Do you continue to eat certain foods even when you’re no longer hungry?
- Do you eat to the point of feeling physically ill?
- Do you constantly eat certain foods throughout the day?
- Do you feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating?
- Do you go out of your way to acquire foods you crave?
- Do you struggle with negative feelings after over-eating certain foods?
If you think your splurging habits border on food addiction, there is help. A good place to start is having a conversation with your loved ones, and then seeking help from your medical doctor.
Step 6: Find help. Whether you’re struggling with a food addiction or you simply blew it this one time, getting yourself in a community of like-minded people will give you the accountability and encouragement you need to overcome struggles and be successful at living a healthy lifestyle.
Step 7: Give yourself grace. The expectation of perfection is unrealistic. If you don’t allow yourself a treat every once in a while, you’ll not only hate life, but you’ll eventually give up hope on living a healthy lifestyle altogether. Life is unpredictable and while we can do our best to prepare ahead of time to stay on track, sometimes situations and circumstances will arise beyond our control causing us to stray from our ideal diet. In those moments, do the best you can, and give yourself grace. Choosing to change your eating habits is one of the hardest challenges to take on. Even though perfection may not be attainable, consistency is. When you do blow the diet and slip backwards on your journey to a healthy lifestyle, following these seven steps will help you bounce back and get on track again.