Recovering from slip ups

By Jade Chan, Psychologist

Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong process – it’s expected that there will be times when you do well and times when you don’t do as well. As we all know, even when we start with the best of intentions, there will be moments when we accidentally (or even intentionally!) make decisions that we regret later. 

Before we get into it, it’s important to be clear that having a piece of chocolate or a slice of pizza once in a while is not a slip up. It’s okay to have these kinds of foods every so often – it would be impossible not to! When we talk about slip ups, we’re referring to the times when you might have eaten the entire block of chocolate or spent the whole weekend having pizza, hot chips, and soft drinks.  

Here are the best things you can do for yourself to recover from slip ups: 

Coping plans 

Research suggests that people who think about potential barriers to their goals and how they might recover from slip ups tend to get back on track more quickly and maintain weight loss for longer. This is what we call “coping planning”.  

Before your next slip up, come up with a plan for how you might cope with mistakes and barriers to your plans. Take some time to consider:

  • Potential barriers to your goals – for example, what will you do if you want to have a healthy meal after work but don’t have time to go to the supermarket? How can you plan your week so that you’re less likely to come across these barriers? 
  • Your “high risk” situations – i.e., situations where you’re most likely to lose track of your weight loss goals. Common examples of these situations include parties, times of high stress or busyness, and holidays.  
  • What you will do if you slip up in these “high risk” situations – how will you get back on track as soon as possible? 

It’s important for you to write these plans down and rehearse them in your mind. Studies show that thinking about doing something activates the same brain regions as actually doing it! The more practice, the more likely you’ll be able to put your coping plan into action when you need to. 

All-or-nothing thinking 

“I’ve ruined my day, I might as well give up and start again tomorrow”
“I can’t believe I ate like that, I’ve wasted all my hard work so far”
“I’m supposed to go to the gym 3 times a week but it’s already the weekend and I haven’t been once. I guess I have to start from next week” 

Do those thoughts sound familiar to you? If so, you probably fall into a pattern of “all-or-nothing thinking” from time to time. If you aren’t 100% on top of things, you consider yourself to be at 0%. This pattern of thinking is unhelpful because you’re more likely to turn a small mistake into a major setback by giving up. Rather than waiting for tomorrow/next week to get back on track, start again right now.  

Problem-solving 

Once a slip up has happened, replay the situation in your mind and figure out what might have contributed to the problem. Ask your recovering self: 

  • When did things start going wrong? 
  • What was I thinking when it happened? What were my reasons for doing this? 
  • Have there been times when you’ve managed better in similar situations? What was different those times?
  • Did you try a coping plan? What worked/didn’t work?
  • What could you do differently next time? 

Help-seeking 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get stuck into unhelpful cycles and find it hard to break out of them. Whether you ask a friend to help you troubleshoot or seek professional advice on how to improve your lifestyle, draw from the resources around you to get through the challenges you face in your weight loss journey.  

Self-compassion 

Finally, be kind to yourself. We are all human and humans make mistakes. Cliché but true. The worse you feel, the harder it is to get back on track. View every slip up as a learning opportunity and show yourself some compassion for the difficulties that you are experiencing. The kinder you are to yourself, the easier to will be to keep going through the highs and the lows.

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