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DIET DETECTIVE

Nutrition advice: How to get back on track after a diet, exercise lapse

Monday, November 12, 2012 - 12:01 am

You've been so “good” on your diet: You lost weight, exercised every day for months. Then it happens. You're stressed out; you just had an argument with your 14-year-old; your boss is breathing down your neck; your phone's ringing off the hook — you're the end of your rope. And, to top it all off, your co-worker is having a birthday celebration with the works, including cake and ice cream.

You have it all, and you don't just stop there — you continue this slide, and you relapse. The reality is that weight loss and maintenance have lots of ups and downs, and plenty of curveballs. And a key component of any program is to prepare for lapses and relapses.

A lapse is when you come close to moving away from losing and/or maintaining your target weight, and it typically involves a weakening of your coping skills. A relapse is defined as a reverting back to the target behavior.

Here are a few key strategies for preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse.

Failure, guilt and shame — and the all-or-nothing attitude

Problem: People who attribute the lapse to their own personal failure are likely to experience guilt that can lead to a complete relapse.

The Fix: There is nothing shameful about trying, failing, experimenting and trying again. In fact, you can learn from every situation you encounter along the dieting highway. Think about what went wrong. Did you let yourself get too hungry? Were you eating to fill an emotional need? Was the food sitting right in front of you, tempting you even though you weren't hungry? The more you learn about your behaviors and WHY you slip up, the better you can prevent them. Don't be ashamed or feel guilty about a lapse or even a relapse. And certainly don't use it as an opportunity to “go crazy” and eat everything unhealthy you see.

Abstinence violation effect

Problem: You believe if you have a setback you've failed. You said June 1 was your day to start dieting, and you ate healthy for three weeks. Then you ate a piece of cheesecake. Do you have to start all over again?

The Fix: Changing behavior is a process — it's ongoing. There is no real official start date or finish date for a diet. Make sure to account for slip-ups and not see them as disasters. Come up with a specific plan if you overeat — perhaps it's exercising more the next two days or avoiding dessert. Something that will make you feel as if you're compensating for the slip-up. Just don't punish yourself for the behavior. That's never good.

It’s fate

Problem: You have no power to control your behavior — it's fate. You've tried, tried before, and failed.

The Fix: Build confidence. Feeling confident that you can change a behavior is one of the single biggest predictors of the ability to change. It's called “self-efficacy” — the belief in your ability to “organize and execute” whatever behavior you would like to modify. It's the confidence that you can attain what you want — and it's especially important if you want to control your weight. Any behavior change is hard — and thinking you can't do it even before you start makes it harder. So, avoid thoughts like “I can't lose weight — it's in my genes,” “I'll never be able to exercise three times a week,” “I can't eat at a restaurant without pigging out.” To build confidence you need to use affirmations. Telling yourself you can do something is half the battle. Build confidence by educating yourself. For instance, try taking cooking classes.

It’s not my fault …

Problem: You blame everyone and every situation for where you are and why you've strayed from your path.

The Fix: Recognize that you are the only one who can make something happen in your life. People love to blame. We blame situations, circumstances, events and even ourselves for where we are. Blame lets us avoid taking a necessary action. It excuses us from acting responsibly. In terms of diet, it lets us avoid focusing on controlling our weight because there's nothing we can do about it. Keep in mind, however, that one of the key characteristics of all successful weight-losers is their ability to avoid blaming and accept responsibility for whatever trips them up along the road.

I have no willpower

Problem: You believe that you don't have the willpower or energy to change your behavior.

The Fix: Willpower is not really the issue. What you need to do is develop effective coping strategies. Accept responsibility for your situation and realize that you can control the outcome. Again, this is not a willpower game — it's more about developing techniques than telling yourself you are strong and will not eat unhealthy foods.

Weight loss is not as simple as willing yourself not to eat that cookie. It's about preparation, personal diet detective work, and being realistic and honest with yourself about your behaviors. Think in advance about uncomfortable eating situations and create a plan for how you're going to overcome them. (For Calorie Bargain ideas, see www.DietDetective.com) Make sure the types of food you want to avoid are not even in your sight. These are just a couple of the techniques that will help you to practice so-called “self-control.”

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.