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Anyone who makes lifestyle changes to eat healthier and get more active should be proud. Those changes take a lot of commitment and effort. Small changes, such as choosing whole instead of refined grains and water instead sport drinks, can eventually become habits after you practice them enough. There can even be times when they feel easy and natural.
At other times, though, it can be more difficult, and that is normal. At some point, almost everyone relapses into old habits, or has a lapse in focus to follow that healthy lifestyle. There may be missed workouts, late-night snacks, or any number of other choices that are not what you may have intended.
Lapses can be frustrating, but they do not need to prevent you from hitting your health goals. As the Lark mission said, lapses are only a big deal if you let them become one. Here are some ways to recognize lapses and get back on track with your healthy lifestyle as soon as possible.
Keep It in Perspective
Your attitude can make a real difference in how quickly and easily you can get over lapses. A positive attitude can help you get over them more quickly and without as much effort. A negative attitude can be a drag. These are some examples of negative thoughts that are not helpful.
- I'll never be perfect, so why try? An all-or-nothing attitude can get in the way of good intentions. It may lead you to reason, for example, that if you do not have a full hour to exercise, you might as well not even do a shorter workout, or if you will be going out to dinner next Thursday, there is no point in cooking healthy meals at home on the other days.
- I already tried and failed. Come on. Really? Almost everyone has made mistakes at almost everything. Would it really make sense if you gave up driving after the first time you accidentally made an illegal lane change, if you quit your job after failing to meet a deadline, or if you stopped parenting after forgetting to send your daughter's lunch to school with her one day? So why would you give up on yourself because of a few extra desserts?
- I've tried so hard and it didn't help. Part of that is true - you tried hard - but what about the rest? A lapse does not mean you got nothing out of your previous efforts. What about all that you learned about health and about yourself? When you are ready to get back into it, you will already know so much more about how to do it and what to expect than you did before.
More helpful mantras might be:
- I did it before, and I can do it again.
- The few days (or weeks or months) that I lapsed are almost nothing compared to a lifetime of healthy choices.
- Every little healthy choice helps, so I might as well make a few today.
Often healthy behaviors and lapses ebb and flow along with life events. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep come more easily when life is going great. There may be more time and energy available to focus on planning for workouts and meals.
On the other hand, life's challenges can trigger lapses and sustain them. It can help to identify if there is something that may be making it more difficult than it was before to keep up those healthy choices. These are some examples.
- Getting sick can zap energy and get you out of the habit of packing a healthy lunch and making breakfast the night before. If you were sick recently, it is possible that you developed a few new habits and need to change them to be healthier.
- An injury can keep you out of the gym, which can lead to lack of motivation to eat and sleep well, too. Were you recently injured or kept on the sidelines for other reasons?
- Too much unmanaged stress can lead you to eat emotionally, choose less-nutritious foods, or avoid working out. If stress levels have recently increased, they may have helped the onset of the lapse.
- Boredom. A steady diet of chicken breast, egg whites, and broccoli can get old, and fast. Your meals may not be quite that limited, but eating the same things and doing the same exercise routines day after day can be boring, which can lead to loss of motivation. Something as simple as changing your routines, such as trying new foods, recipes, and workouts, can get you back to it.
Getting to some of the root causes of the lapse can enable you to address them and get over the lapse in its turn. Self-compassion, as Lark will tell you, always helps; there is no point in beating yourself up for a mistake or for bad luck.
Identify "Problem" Behaviors
What exactly is it that makes you call this a lapse? Starting generally and narrowing your focus can enable you to clarify your thoughts. These might be some general thoughts and more specific behaviors.
Whatever specific behaviors you identify can be targets as you strategize to get over the lapse. The path to overcoming the lapse is pretty clear if you identify just a few "problem" behaviors - just focus on one or more of them. If you identify a lot of target behaviors, that is great, too! You get to pick and choose one or a few to work on.
Make a Plan
Now you get a chance to figure out a solution to whatever you see as a "problem." Finding alternatives to these behaviors can help you replace the habits with healthier ones. Here are a few examples of target behaviors and alternative strategies.
- Not drinking enough: keeping a water bottle on your desk and a pitcher of water in the fridge, and setting a timer to remind you to drink.
- Picking up takeout for dinner on the way home from work. Cooking and freezing healthy meals on the weekend so you can thaw and heat them during the week.
- Not logging meals or workouts. Setting aside a few minutes each day to give yourself time to log.
- Snacking on chips, cookies, or other high-calorie foods. Having ready-to-eat healthy snacks on hand for any occasion. Examples include fresh fruit and vegetables, string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, canned tuna, whole-grain crackers, almonds, and hard-boiled eggs.
- Skipping workouts for bad weather. Have a Plan B, such as walking at a mall, going to a gym, doing an exercise video at home, or using an indoor pool.
Set a Start Date
When will you follow your new plan and go back to the healthy behaviors that feel so good? If the lapse has been short, and you have everything you need for your new plan, you can start as soon as now. This could work, for example, if part of your plan is to choose water instead of a soft drink from the vending machine, or to take a walk at lunchtime at work.
The start time and date may need to be further off if the lapse has been longer and you need time to mentally prepare or get anything else ready. For example, if the goal is to again make dinners at home instead of picking up a restaurant meal after work, a few days may be necessary to plan some meals, go grocery shopping, and prep some food. If you want to start working out at home to save time or to avoid bad weather, you may need to find some exercise videos online and/or purchase equipment such as dumbbells.
Now that you know what to do and when to do it, all that remains is to do it. There are sure to be setbacks when overcoming a lapse, but they do not have to lead you astray. Some practice can help you stay on your path, and Lark can help you by reminding you of your goals and offering guidance for achieving them.