“I can’t exercise for an hour so I might as well not exercise at all.” Or, “I’ve eaten so much junk this week, I may as well throw in the towel.” These are examples of “all-or-nothing” thinking that lead to relapse in a health and fitness program. BUT, lapses in activity or attention to nutrition do not mean failure—in fact, they can be learning opportunities.
First, look at the possible underlying reasons why you may have ‘lapsed’. Here are some typical ones:
- No time. Time is precious and scarce, especially if you wear many hats: mom, boss, employee of difficult boss, wife, wife of less-than-helpful husband, food shopper, dinner preparer, caretaker, etc. Available time can get sucked out from under your willing feet and can also make it difficult to eat right since shopping, planning, and preparing meals take, yep, time.
- Injury. So, you set out with the best intentions and now have ____ (fill in the blank): shin splints; heel spur; the evil plantar fasciitis; sore knees, hips, or shoulders; etc. It’s hard to work out when you hurt.
- Temptations. That plate of chocolate chip cookies at the conference, the opportunity to eat out instead of work out, the chance to put your feet up for 30 minutes after work—all can entice you to do the thing less favorable to your health and fitness goals.
- No support. So the friend with whom you were walking, running, eating right, going to the gym, complaining to, etc., is no longer available—likely for one of the three reasons above. Now you are alone and unmotivated to work out by your lonely self. Plus, you’re tired….
There are more, but these are big ones. So what to do? Do you label yourself as a relapser, a failure, a may-as-well-give-upper? NO, of course not. You look at lapses as slight and surmountable disruptions that momentarily tripped you up. After you look down to see what made you stumble, you keep going forward. And hear this: lapses are an expected part of a regular fitness routine.
So, here are some suggested counter-strategies to help you stay the course:
Plan for relapse situations. Coping strategies include adapting your program to better fit your life (e.g., shorter 10-minute “bouts” of exercise instead of 30-60 minute blocks), or adapting your life to better fit your program (e.g., getting up earlier, bringing a few exercise aids on vacation or into your office, etc.).
Set SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Timely. Instead of saying, “I should eat less and exercise more,” set specific, daily or weekly goals. Like “I will plan out three healthy dinners and shop for them on Tuesday evening. I will pack my lunch the night before. I will call Beth to arrange walk dates on Wednesday and Friday after work.” Enlisting a buddy (or two or three for backup) is a great relapse prevention technique.
Avoid boredom, burnout, and injury. Vary your exercise routine to include different elements, and make those elements things you enjoy, to the extent possible. I love to dance, for example, but probably would choose not to blast Adele at work. But dancing/movement could be part of a home-based program, or an outside class—jazzercise, Zumba, Nia, etc.
In any case, don’t just do elliptical or treadmill or weights. Change it up and make it fun. Hire a personal trainer who can show you correct form to avoid injury and who can design a diverse program to reflect your specific interests, time available, and goals (a little shameless self-promotion, I know).
Enlist support. As mentioned, helping relationships can make a big difference to staying the course. Find someone to walk, jog, shop, or share tips with and hold each other accountable. Negotiate with your spouse or partner or children for regular exercise time as you would for other time like going out with friends or getting your hair cut. Bargain with yourself in the same way, viewing exercise time as important and worthwhile—maybe even more so than getting your nails manicured 🙂 = 1 hour (just sayin’).
Get back on the horse. Let go of the all-or-nothing mindset. Revisit your goals and the benefits of exercise and eating right. Love yourself more and get back to it. Exercise and healthy eating need to be lifelong—don’t make it so hard and chore-like. Maybe you’d like to take this quiz offered by Harvard Medical School to identify your personal barriers and suggestions for overcoming them.
Oh, one more thing (just because I can’t say it enough): EAT BREAKFAST. Eating breakfast is “protective” against relapse and is one of three habits of people who lose weight and keep it off. The other two?—tracking what you eat and engaging in regular physical activity.
–Keep moving, Jen Katt