No one is flawless in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. It’s okay not to be perfect, but the statistics of how imperfect we are means there’s some work we need to do. Only 1 in 7 people will make it to week 13 on a healthy meal plan (diet). Most women give up after 5 weeks (5 weeks, 2 days and 43 minutes to be specific. The next one is tough- one third of women actually put on when during a diet (3.9 lbs). The holidays pose risk for even more relapses.
There’s room for improvement. And it comes from your ability to prevent a lapse from turning into a relapse. It’s possible though, through 5 easy steps: acceptance, mental replay, corrective replay, self-monitor, and move on. If you’re a fitness or nutrition professional, these quick steps will only 5 minutes with your clients and get them back to seeing results.
Lapse and Relapse
A lapse is just a temporary misstep on the road to accomplishing your goals. Call it a detour from your road of healthy living. It happens to everyone. Even the healthiest and fittest people aren’t perfect. They give in to cravings from time to time. And, they don’t always want to work out. After all, it’s hard to eat perfect and you live in an unpredictable world. As much as you try to establish a routine and healthy habits, life gets in the way from time to time. Sometimes you get injured or sick and can’t be as active as you want. All of that is okay. It’s just a lapse and it happens to everyone. The difference you want to master is preventing your lapse from becoming a relapse.
A relapse is a full-blown change back to problematic behaviors. Instead of a detour, you’re on a completely different route. This happens when the lapse snowballs. In this case negative thought patterns cause negative feelings. You might start losing motivation or self-confidence. You might even start thinking it doesn’t matter and you don’t really care about being healthy anyways because its more fun. When you start justifying your relapse it’s because of the battle in your mind about what you want and what’s happening. You can read more about how to use these mental battles to your advantage in this quick article.
In any event, there’s steps you can be taking in prevent your lapse from becoming a relapse. This is critical to continue your healthy lifestyle. Additionally, it’s a big deal during the holidays. The holidays create one lapse after another until the lapse is a 3 month relapse. Unfortunately, the 3 month relapse takes, on average, 5 months to turn back around.
5 Steps to Get Back on Track | Relapse Prevention
Do you ever ask yourself, “How do I get back on track?”. Or you do you have clients that are hit and miss and wonder, “How can I get my client to stick with their program?”. Whether it’s you or someone else, follow these 5 steps for relapse prevention and get back on track.
Step 1: Accept it
You just have to accept you had a misstep. It doesn’t mean you’re never going to be able to accomplish your goals. Or that you don’t have willpower. It just means you’re like everyone else and sometimes life gets in the way. It’s okay. Most importantly, you need to avoid awfulizing. This is when your mindset exaggerates the severity of the problem. The world isn’t going to end and you didn’t let anyone down. You’re still here and every day is another opportunity to turn it all around. Step 1 is simple. Accept you for being perfectly imperfect and move on.
Step 2: Replay it
Even if you are disappointed in yourself for falling off track, at this point you’ve accepted. So, it’s time to mentally rewind and replay exactly what happened. What were the reasons you made decisions not in line with your goals? What went wrong? Was there some kind of trigger? Replay the lapse in as much detail as possible so you can right it the next time.
Maybe you had a long day at work. Maybe there wasn’t any food in the house so you ordered a pizza (and ate the whole thing). Perhaps you wanted to celebrate something and drank away your daily calories. Or, did you go to your favorite restaurant and the smell kick started your cravings? Figure out what happened and go to Step 3.
Step 3: Corrective replay
Now that you know what went wrong, you can think about how it could have gone right. Don’t underestimate the power of mental practice and imagery. Just imaging the situation will engage the same areas in your brain that are active during the real scenario. In your mind’s eye, go back through what happened and do it right this time. Overcome the cravings. Solve the problem of why you didn’t work out.
If possible, it’s even better if you can safely replay the situation in real life. Of course, you would only want to do this after the mental practice of corrective replay. Maybe you went to happy hour hungry and had spinach dip. Go back to the same place. Challenge yourself. Do it all over again, except this time have a healthy snack ahead of time. Make sure you have plans later so you aren’t there too long. Do it right this time. If you do this, you prevent triggers from becoming cemented habits.
Step 4: Self-monitor
If you’re following the steps, then you know the behavior that caused the misstep. Step 4 is simple. You just track whatever behavior was oppositional to your goals. For example, if you fell of your meal plan, then go back to measuring and logging your foods for a week. If you didn’t workout for a week because it’s holiday season, then track your activity more closely than before. If you gained weight, weigh yourself each day for a week to keep it on top of your mind.
Step 5: Move on
Moving on is about treating the next day as a new day. This means, just because you binged the night before doesn’t mean you should fast the next day. Just because you missed two workout sessions doesn’t mean you need to run 7 miles. That’s punishment and it will have the reverse effect of making healthy living a lifestyle. Premack’s principle states that punishment will eventually reinforce the undesirable behavior. Read more about how to reinforce the good behavior in this Premack article. Moving on ties directly to Step 1. You went on a detour. You’re not lost and you don’t have to be hard on yourself. It’s just time to get back to doing things you know you want to do anyways.
The steps for preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse are simple. They also can be done pretty quickly. As with most psychological principles, they seem so basic and straightforward that they’re unnecessary. However, they are necessary. If you skip the first 4 steps, your setting yourself up to fall off track again and relapse. Take the time to go through all steps. It’s quick and it makes a big difference. You don’t have to be part of the imperfect statistics from the beginning of the article. Health, fitness, and nutrition is a journey for the long haul. You need a few breaks from time to time.