There I was — minding my own business, eating a healthy diet, getting to the gym regularly, and keeping my fibromyalgia symptoms to a minimum. But, then it happened. A box of cookies that I’d ignored for weeks suddenly called my name. Chocolate mint is my favorite, after all. I snagged a cookie. Then another. Before the day was through, I’d finished the whole box.
Does this sound familiar?
There are a multitude of reasons. In fact, a short time ago, I sat down to write out the reasons why we eat (and sometimes eat unhealthy things). I intended to come up with at least 10 reasons and surprised even myself when my list swelled to 30, then 40, and finally, 50. The principal fact gleaned from this exercise is that while we eat for any number of reasons, only one of them has to do with true hunger. (If you're curious, see “50 Reasons to Eat.”)
Understanding why we eat leads to improved success at making healthy dietary changes. With a better understanding of our own reasons, we’re armed with ways to invite the behaviors we want while minimizing the ones we don’t.
We can’t discuss diet disasters without pointing out the link to cravings. Cravings can serve as the catalyst for overeating or eating something we didn’t plan on. Although the focus of this particular article is on diet disasters themselves (rather than on what leads to them), you may wish to check out this post that lists “13 Surprising Sources of Food Cravings.”
But what happens after the diet disaster?
Here are the types of things I hear clients say when they fall off of their healthy eating routine.
“I messed up already, so I might as well quit.” Or ….
“I messed up already, so I might as well eat the whole thing.”
“Now that I ate that slice of cheesecake, I messed up ALL the effort I put out in the past 3 months and I’ll have to start over.”
“This just proves that I can’t stick with anything. Why even try?”
“I knew that diet wouldn’t work.”
Here’s the first problem with the statements above – there’s an assumption of failure. Eating the “right” foods day in and day out is an impossibility.
Of course, when it comes to life, there is no perfect, so why would our eating plans be any different? It’s the expectation of being perfect that can set us up for disaster.
Which brings me to the next subject: disaster. I chose to include that word in the title of this article as hyperbole. We’re used to thinking of any slip up as a disaster, but is it really? If we magnify a misstep into a disaster, then we also are likely to magnify the conclusion that we draw from the experience. (I’m pretty sure Dr. Phil would call this Stinkin’ Thinkin’….)
Here’s an example. Can you hear the exaggeration in a statement such as “I made a mistake, so I probably undid all of my hard-earned effort?” Is that true? Of course not. Eating well is always a benefit with long-lasting results. We don’t unravel an entire afghan by dropping one stitch – or even several.
Here’s my favorite motivational quote when it comes to the assumptions we make when we feel we’ve failed:
is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.”
Therefore, if we drop the attachment to the feeling of failure, we can tackle the issue head-on without the distraction of blame or a sense of futility. Instead, take a look at the tips below to see what you can do the next time you feel you’re ankle deep into disaster.
Try these tips after a diet slip so you don’t slide into despair:
Whatever you did to feel that you “messed up” is done. It happened, it’s in the past, and it’s time to move on. Wishing for a do over never works. Instead, accept what happened – learn from it if possible – and stay the course. Your very next bite provides an opportunity to get back on track. End of story.
If you overindulged, the likely culinary culprit was either sugary or savory with processed fats and oils. Either way, do your body a favor. Help your digestive system to process (and eliminate!) the food as best you can. Sip room temperature water, hot water with lemon, or green tea throughout the day. Glug, glug, glug.
Hopefully, you already take a good quality probiotic on a regular basis. It may surprise you to learn that you can temporarily increase your dosage to address intestinal issues (such as bloating or diarrhea) that stem from bacterial infections, a bout of the stomach flu, food sensitivities, or even food poisoning. When we indulge (and over indulge) problem foods to which we have sensitivities, probiotics can help. Please speak to your doctor or natural health practitioner for suggestions on dosages.
4. Your Big WHY
This is a good time to remind yourself WHY you want to make healthy changes. We’re all motivated by different things so perhaps you want to move toward a healthier body or maybe it’s away from increasing symptoms and diagnoses. Or, a combination of both. In any case, jot down a list of reasons why a healthier you can be a happier and more fulfilled you. With a healthier body, would you be able to connect more with others? How about experiencing less pain so that you can do more of the activities you love and enjoy? Revisiting these reasons can go a long way toward helping you out of a slump or over a binge.
It’s time to make your nutrition count. Step right back into your healthy eating plan (with no self-bashing!) and make your next meal count. And, your next, etc. Important note: Don’t over-correct here and skip meals or starve yourself in order to “make up” for overeating or eating something that’s not necessarily healthy. In nutrition math, A + B does not equal C. If you over-eat, then under-eat, you don’t get back to where you began. Instead, you’ve created a roller coaster effect with your metabolism that will boomerang into another binge or unhealthy behavior in the near future. It’s far better just to get back on track and eat well.
It may be time to truly ramp up your self-care activities. Are you getting enough fun and creative ventures in your life? What about nurturing yourself with a hot soak in the tub and a magazine? Life of imbalances (too much work, not enough play) can be a leading cause of unhealthy eating behaviors, so take care to … well, take care!
If you haven’t noticed already, overindulging in sugary foods can really affect our ability to think clearly. Sugar consumption can leave us feeling foggy, fuzzy, groggy, and headachy. There’s no better way to clear the cobwebs in our head than to walk and to get out in nature. As an added bonus, because walking is also a great detox, it’s a good way to help your body process and purge foods. Important note: Just as with nutrition, fitness after overeating is a time to heal your body and renew your motivational spirit. It’s not an opportunity to over-do it and punish yourself. Punitive exercise never works for any lasting benefit.
8. Plan Ahead
While this may sound like you’re planning to fail, it actually helps to have a plan in place for when dietary slip ups occur. (Because we know that they will.) Decide in advance what action you’ll take. When I posed the question of favorite ways to bounce back from diet disasters on twitter, Tricia Cardone (@NHHealthyLiving) of Nutritional Healing Technologies had this to say, “Plan ahead! Plan meals, exercise, etc.” Planning ahead can be the very lifeline you need to keep on moving forward.
There you have it! Eight ways to bounce back, stay on track, and move forward after a diet disaster. It’s my hope that you find these tips motivational whether your nutritional journey is smooth sailing or a bumpy ride. It’s essential to continue steadfastly ahead – at your own pace, and to follow your own plan.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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