I’m sure many of you have experienced this at some point in your weight-loss journey: You’ve just found the magic solution to losing the extra weight and keeping it off forever. You figure out what to eat on the plan outlined, buy the groceries needed to adhere to it, and adopt the exercise regime it recommends. You follow the program strictly for two weeks, and guess what? You lose some weight, you feel better, and you like how your clothes fit. Success!
Then ___________ happens. And suddenly you’re falling off the weight-loss wagon.
There was birthday cake at the office. Your partner left you. Your boss reprimanded you. You went out to lunch with your coworkers.
Before you know it, you’ve had a “snack-cident,” which can start as a cheat, but can quickly mushroom into a full-on binge. It crept up on you without your conscious knowledge and drove your head into a bag of potato chips.
After your snack-cident, then comes the wall of shame that sends you into a pit of despair and self-loathing. You ask yourself: “Why did I do that? Now I’ve really blown it!”
Feeling like a failure, you ditch your diet and fall back into your old patterns. The weight you lost soon comes back, along with a little extra.
In case you’re wondering: One treat or cheat meal won’t be the unraveling of all of your hard work. We’re not talking about a once-in-a-while indulgence. Or even a day-after-Thanksgiving food (and, let’s be honest, wine) hangover. We’re talking about behavior that causes you to throw your hands up in the air and say forget the diet, portion control, workouts, going to bed early, etc., and falling back into the unhealthy habits that caused the weight gain in the first place.
So, why does this keep happening?
3 Common Pitfalls That Can Cause You to Fall off the Weight-Loss Wagon
Pitfall #1: New beginnings
Human beings enjoy things that are new and exciting. It may sound strange, but sometimes it’s fun to start a new diet or exercise routine. You get to try new recipes and new workout routines and there’s all these gadgets that track all your metrics. But, once the initial excitement wears off, we tend to get bored. Or, the stress — either physical, mental or both — of maintaining the routine feels overwhelming. Before you can see the evidence (in the mirror, on the scale, in your pants size, in compliments) of how getting up before everyone else in your household to complete a workout before the school and work day begins can benefit your health, attitude, sleep, and waistline, you’ve given up.
Pitfall #2: Short and sweet
We also tend to have short attention spans and want immediate results that don’t require a lot of suffering on our part. Suffering doesn’t have to be physical pain — though the soreness you might feel when starting a workout routine could count — it can also be the annoyance of not ordering your usual unhealthy coffee beverage, or avoiding the fries, or preparing healthy meals ahead of time instead of vegging out on the couch.
Pitfall #3: Unrealistic expectations
If it were possible to lose a huge amount of weight in a short amount of time and keep it off for the rest of our lives, none of us would be in this situation in the first place. Sustained, healthy weight loss and maintenance takes time, endurance, and patience.
To stop the vicious dieting cycle, you need to find a way to cope. If you identify with one — or all — of the pitfalls listed above, the first step is to recognize that you’re doing these things. Next, you need to employ strategies that will stop you from engaging in the unhealthy cycle so you can ultimately reach your weight loss, health, and fitness goals.
5 Tips to Avoid These Weight-Loss Pitfalls
1. Focus on the big picture
Acknowledge the desire for novelty and meet these needs in other areas in your life before the newness of the diet and/or exercise routine wears off. For example, you could try a new sport or hobby. Or, try out a new group exercise class or stream a workout video online and work out in the privacy of your home.
Also, look at the rest of your life to see what realistic, sustainable changes or allowances you need to make to meet your goals. For example, if you keep skipping your evening workouts because of work obligations, schedule changes with the kids, or you just want to eat dinner before 9 p.m., gradually shift your schedule so that you can eventually become one of those enviable people who wakes up, works out, eats a healthy breakfast, and is ready to face the day before 9 a.m. It may take some trial and error that includes going to bed earlier, allowing for one snooze only, and setting your workout gear out the night before, but it’ll all be worth it in the long run.
Whatever your long-term strategies become, try to keep in mind that life can be unpredictable. Allow for some wiggle room and what to do if you have to move your morning workout to lunchtime, or even another day. Make sure to include special occasions like birthdays, meals out, and vacations into your overall plan. You should be able to embrace life and enjoy it, no matter if you have pounds to lose. If you aren’t following an exercise routine or eating plan that helps you do this, it’s time to reassess.
2. Accept that “healthy” is a lifestyle
Think of weight loss and maintenance as a marathon rather than a sprint. Or, if you hate running, think about adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes clean eating, exercise, quality sleep, and plenty of daily activity as a process where you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk. If you reflect on your struggle with weight, you’ll probably discover that it took you years to get to where you are today. Similarly, it may take years to find success in your weight-loss journey — and to stay there in the long run.
3. Be realistic
Accept your weaknesses. For example, if you know that an upcoming family gathering will be stressful and it will be hard to stick to your food plan, work around it by planning ahead. Consider what you will eat ahead of time, and stick to that plan. Or, cook choose a family favorite recipe that’s received a healthy revamp. And consider toting recipe makeovers, such as skinny buffalo chicken dip, slow cooker turkey meatballs, or healthier fettuccini alfredo, to the next buffet-style dinner at your mom’s house.
When you get home, figure out a way to de-stress after the family gathering that doesn’t revolve around food. Chase your kids at the playground on the way home, soak in a bubble bath, listen to soothing music, get lost in one of your favorite books, etc.
Remember that being healthy is hard work, doesn’t come easily, and you may not always enjoy the process. Expect tough times when you are bored of your meal plan and feel like rebelling, or when you resent having to work out when you just don’t feel like it that day.
4. Celebrate your successes
We tend to flourish and succeed at goals when we are praised. Instead of giving yourself a label like “failure,” when you go off-plan, tell yourself it’s OK, and accept that you’re “a work in progress.” Stay away from extreme labels that make you feel hopeless (“failure” is one of them), or drive you to set unachievable standards (like “looking like a supermodel”).
When you do drop pounds, are able to do several push-ups without resting on your knees, complete a couple of weeks of clean eating, or finish a workout plan or challenge, pause and revel in your accomplishments. Reward yourself with a non-food item. Share your success on social media. You may just inspire someone else to make healthy changes, too.
5. Develop a strong support system
Many people find that they are more successful with long-term weight loss when they involve others in the process. Announce your commitment to get healthier and stronger to your friends, family, and coworkers. Start or join a workout group, join a Facebook group, or recruit workout buddies and accountability partners to help you stay motivated when your resolve starts to slip, or you feel tempted to make unhealthy choices.
Also, if you’ve tried the advice above and are still struggling, consider investing in counseling. There is a tendency to slip back into old eating patterns after an initial weight loss due to how we deal (or don’t deal) with our emotions. A therapist can help you pinpoint patterns when faced with upsetting emotions and help you address problems when they arise instead of stuffing them down with food.
The 10-Second Takeaway
If you keep falling short of your weight-loss goals, take some time to examine why you went astray. Remember that nobody is perfect all of the time, and this shouldn’t be the goal. You might have to go through several months or even years of trail and error before you find the routine, habits, exercise, eating plan, and support system that you need to become a lighter, fitter, healthier you. That’s OK. If you stay committed to your health, you will eventually discover what works.