Do Not Let Setbacks Stop You Turn Setbacks into Steps Forward


Everyone has setbacks. That is especially true in a program such as Lark, which is full of challenges and self-exploration. The longer and more truly you stick to the program, the better your results will be, but setbacks can be discouraging. 

Setbacks happen no matter how hard you try to avoid them, but you do not need to let that be a bad thing. Instead, you can prepare for them and use them as learning experiences. That way, when you do have setbacks, you can turn them into steps forward. These are some common setbacks and how you might approach them so you can come out ahead.

 

Setback: You overdid it at a meal.


Somehow, you ate way more than you had planned or wanted to. Maybe you ate at a restaurant with friends or family and ended up eating appetizers, bread and butter, an entree with some starchy sides, and dessert. Or, maybe you got home from work late and picked up a pizza on the way home. 

How can you prevent this in the future? First, figure out the reason for this setback and try to address it. For the restaurant meal and pizza dinner scenarios, planning ahead might work. Check the restaurant’s menu ahead of time and stick to healthier options. You might save well over 1,000 calories by swapping a salad for the appetizers and bread, ordering chicken and fish with steamed vegetables for your main course, and sticking to decaf coffee to savor after the meal.

When you may be working late, have some healthy snacks available at work or in the car so that you are not starving when you get home late. Try to prepare some ready-to-heat meals on the weekends, such as chili, stew, or low-carb eggplant lasagna. If that is impossible, you can pick up something healthy, such as a roast chicken and salad from almost any grocery store, or healthier fast food options such as stir fry with chicken, shrimp, or tofu with vegetables from any Chinese outlet.

 

Setback: You ate your feelings.


Emotional eating is responsible for well over half of overeating. You might eat for comfort, to relieve stress, to relax, or to vent your anger. Ice cream, cookies, (sweetened) chocolate, pizza, and pasta are among the top targets for emotional eating, and something they have in common is that they are not typically considered diet foods!

The simple but effective solution is to figure out what feelings you are eating, and how to cope with them without hitting the kitchen, unless, of course, you are taking out your anger by cutting vegetables with a large knife. Make of list of activities to do instead of eating.

  • Phone a friend.

  • Go online to a support group, social media, or simply to surf the web.

  • Paint your toenails.

  • Take a walk.

  • Take a shower or bath.

  • Take a drive.

  • Go shopping.

You can also try starting with healthy foods. Tell yourself that if you get through a few stalks of celery and a handful of tomatoes and you are still hungry, you can have a few bites of brownie (or whatever your target comfort food is) and then go back to the healthy foods.

 

Setback: You feel sorry for yourself.


Do you feel as though you are the only one in the world who has to wake up early to exercise and give up so many favorite foods in the name of preventing diabetes? Those negative thoughts can really get in the way of healthy choices, so try to put a positive spin on Lark. Make workouts fun instead of a chore, and give yourself some breaks, such as one or two days off from exercising per week.

Another way to bring your healthy goals closer within reach is to have a weekly cheat meal. This meal is a planned meal with some of your favorite foods, regardless of their nutrition or lack thereof. Having a treat meal to look forward to once a week can make you happier to stay on track the rest of the week, and it gives you a chance to have that fried chicken, burrito, or doughnut, without guilt and without fear that it is your “last good meal” ever. Just get back on track after it.

 

Setback: A bad choice turned into a bad week.


Are you a victim of the all-or-nothing mentality? Did your Monday start with a mocha latte on the way to work, followed by a bagel and cream cheese at your Monday morning meeting? Did you figure the day was shot anyway, so you chose not to take your regular walk at lunch, and then you decided there was no point in cooking a healthy dinner when the day was already “messed up?” Then you may have been afraid to face the scale on Tuesday, and … the next thing you knew, the weekend rolled around, and you decided to wait until Monday to get back to healthy choices. 

Does this sound familiar? If so, you may be letting the all-or-nothing mentality get to you. You let one small choice snowball into a trend of poor choices. That is, since that first poor choice means that you will not be perfect, you decide that nothing matters anymore.

To put it bluntly: get over it! A single bad choice is not the end of the world, and there is no reason to dwell on it anymore. All you need to do is look forward and start with a clean slate. 

 

Setback: You got out of the workout groove.


It can be easy to slip out of the workout groove. Maybe you skipped a day because you were tired or the weather was bed, and the day turned into a week, and then longer. Now, it may be hard to get back to working out. How can you get back to it?

  • Make it fun. Just like you may have done when you first started, you may need to try a few different activities to find one that you truly can look forward to.

  • Troubleshoot. Exercise at a different time of day if you do not like the time that you have been working out, or go to be earlier if you have been too tired to get up in the morning.

  • Schedule it in. If you have gotten out of the habit, you may need to enter your activity time on your calendar to remind yourself until you do get back into the habit.

Finally, try not to compare yourself to what you did when you were regularly exercising. Just meet yourself at where you are now, even if you need to take more breaks or cannot go as hard.

 

Setback: You cannot get “back on track.”


If your setback has been lasting for a while, you may feel that you cannot get back on track. It is common to be embarrassed or to feel so far “behind” that you’ll never “catch up.” But catch up to what? Weight loss and fitness are not a race against anyone else. You have your whole life to make good choices, and you can start now.

To get back, give yourself a reprieve or time to reset, and set a start date, which is often a Monday. During the reset period, forgive yourself and make a plan. Often, go back to what worked, such as logging meals, making cleaner eating choices, and watching portion sizes and cooking methods. On your (re)start date, weigh yourself and set a new weight loss goal if necessary.

 

Setback: You aren’t losing the weight you wanted.


You may be losing weight more slowly than you expected or you might have stopped losing weight altogether. This can be extremely frustrating! 

First, be sure that your weigh-ins are accurate. Keep weighing only weekly, not daily, because daily fluctuations can be misleading and discouraging. Keep up those properweigh-in methods, such as doing it first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom and wearing light or no clothing.

Next, be sure that you are eating exactly what you think you are. Be sure to log everything in Lark so you are sure you are staying aware of all your food. Did you remember to count that salad dressing at dinner, for example?

Also, read labels and measure your portions if necessary. Maybe you eating higher-calorie foods than you thought, or your portions are bigger than you realized. For example, a tablespoon of peanut butter is tiny, a single-serve” bag of pretzels from a vending machine may have 2.5 servings, and a whole-grain bagel has 330 calories. 

By choosing a cup of non-fat plain yogurt instead of low-fat flavored yogurt, as well as a packet of plain oatmeal instead of flavored oatmeal, you can save 180 calories. Do that every day for a week, and you can expect to lose one-third of a pound of body weight. Simple swaps like that can be painless and effective.

 

Setback: You are no longer motivated.


Do you remember your reasons for starting Lark DPP and wanting to lose weight and increase activity? They may have been to be around for your family in the future, to keep up with them on family outings now, or to prevent the care and complications that are common in type 2 diabetes.

If you are having trouble getting motivated about health effects that may or may not pay off in 5, 10, or 20 years, think about the short-term benefits as motivation. You can be better focused at work and sleep better when you eat well and get active. You may enjoy fitting better in your clothes or feeling proud of the good choices you made.

 

Setback: It is too hard.


Sometimes, it just seems too hard, so you stop trying. The trick here is to realize that often, it’s not all too hard. Usually, just one or two parts are hard and making everything feel impossible. If you can pinpoint what feels too hard, you can address those points and everything may fall into place. These examples may drive home the point.

If skipping dessert is making you feel deprived, try planning to have a favorite dessert once or twice a week, or have a few bites each night. If working out in the morning is feeling like a chore, try going to bed earlier so it is easy to get up, or schedule your workouts for another time in the day when you have more energy. Is cooking healthy too time-consuming? Make big batches on weekends, or try an exchange system where you cook a few meals and share with a neighbor, and vice versa. Be creative about your solutions!

If the problem is that you are overwhelmed, then stop worrying about making too many changes at once. Focus on only one thing at a time, like having an English muffin instead of a bagel, or working out for 5 minutes if the alternative is 0 minutes. Every good choice you make adds up.

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health