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What to do when you blow it

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We’ve all been there—spontaneously grabbing and killing a bag of chips or hitting the Popeye’s drive-thru one evening because you’re ravenous and forgot to meal prep. Later, you start to feel like you’ve set yourself way back, and feeling disappointed, you’re tempted to throw in the towel for the whole day or week, exclaiming, “I’ve blown it!” Along the same lines, you skip your workout one day when you feel exhausted and then it rolls into the next, and the next—and at the end of the week you realize you’ve only done one of the three or four workouts you’d planned. Well, try to go easy on yourself when this happens—you aren’t doomed, and the damage to your healthy lifestyle isn’t as bad as you may think. 

When we “blow it,” it means there’s a lapse, or small period of time, where we go back to old habits and behaviors that aren’t in alignment with nutrition and movement recommendations. Lapses can occur because of stress, hunger, cravings, negative emotional states, and experiencing a high-risk situation. Try these practical steps next time you slip up to help reframe the mistake and turn the negative into a positive.

1. Realize mistakes are normal and learn from them.

The first step to reframing your mindset around making mistakes is to realize they’re a normal occurrence in life. One night of overeating or not having the energy to go on your evening walk won’t derail your progress entirely—it’s the habits you do every day that count. Mistakes help us to learn more about ourselves and what triggers to avoid next time. Triggers can be social, emotional, or environmental. You can think through certain high-risk events and make plans that will help you navigate those triggers—like remembering to bring your favorite healthy dish to the next get-together. Try not to criticize yourself when reflecting, but rather view this as a learning opportunity. You’re giving yourself valuable coping skills for when these situations do arise and minimizing the risk of future lapses.


2. Avoid criticism and reframe negative self-talk.

We can be our own harshest critics or biggest supporters. If you notice you’re experiencing extreme emotional responses to a lapse, learning how to reframe our negative self-talk can help with a positive mindset. Instead of criticizing yourself for making a mistake, be conscious of these negative thoughts that want to arise—be mindful and present in the moment and congratulate all the hard work you’ve done up to this point. When you do notice negative self-talk arising, think about how you’d talk to your partner, friend, or child if they were experiencing the same thing. You wouldn’t be mean to them or verbally beat up those we love the most, so why do that to yourself? Reframing takes practice, but having a positive mindset makes it a lot easier to refocus on our goals.


3. Overcome the “all-or-nothing” mindset.

The “all-or-nothing” mindset can really trap us—this is a type of thinking that says you’re either a success or failure and nothing in between. Our brains quickly jump to evaluate a situation, and it comes to the conclusion that it was perfect or a complete disaster. It’s easy to spiral and think I just ruined everything I’ve worked for. It’s easy to get caught up in this “all-or-nothing” thinking when we make a small mistake during our weight care journey. You may even be able to recall a time when you were making great progress, but had one minor lapse that caused you to go back to old habits for a short period of time or to just throw the towel in. Think of it this way: If you were to get a flat tire, would it make sense to slash the other three as well? Nope. You’d fix the flat to continue the drive. This same metaphor goes for a setback—you reframe and move on to do better next time.


4. Make a plan to get back on track.

If you indulge in an unhealthy meal or miss a workout, it’s all about what you do next. Instead of skipping the next meal because you think you overate, give yourself an opportunity to fuel your body with healthy options. This may look like adding more green vegetables at your next meal or drinking more water throughout the day. Physical activity may help you avoid future aversions, according to a small study from the Weight, Eating, and Lifestyle Sciences Center at Drexel University.  So going on a walk the next morning could absolutely help in getting back on your weight care journey. It’s okay if you ate an entire piece of cake because you’re on a vacation or a burger and fries because you were starving after a late night at work. Making lifestyle changes takes time, and tomorrow is a fresh start. Life happens.


5. Find and lean on support

Venting to loved ones can help. Find someone who will let you discuss what happened without guilt and try to assess how to get over this hurdle—having someone who cares about you can get you back to where you need to be. This can be a partner, a friend, a family member, or a therapist. Your support system will offer compassion when you’re not feeling your best. Remember to be kind to yourself and focus on all the positive changes you’ve made thus far. You’re in control of your journey and have the opportunity to get yourself back on track.

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