Are you filled with food-regret, feeling ashamed, and ready to hit the ‘Refresh” button on your diet? Have you eaten so off plan you cannot fathom how to get back on? Or are you waking up each day committing to starting anew only to eat something you didn’t intend and by evening you’ve totally blown it? Have you vowed that this time will be different?
“I just have to get serious! I’m really gonna buckle down and do it once and for all!”
As a health coach, these words make me a little nervous, because they are the sign of someone relying heavily on willpower to make a lifestyle change, and willpower is a finite resource that rarely, if ever, is enough to carry us through the long-haul that is meaningful and sustainable weight loss.
If you have ever said something similar, or perhaps at the moment you are, despite your best intentions, in need of a diet reset…again…then I offer you a way out of the never-ending cycle.
While eating off plan is not something to be actively encouraged, if you find yourself in that situation, by using it as a learning experience you can begin to build up resilience and flex that tenacity muscle, a crucial component to long-term success.
Tenacity, one of the six tenets of the system of defenses we employ to protect diet and lifestyle, is defined as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” In dieting terms, it means recovering fast and “failing” forward. It means stepping out of the obesity trap by avoiding all-or-nothing thinking and understanding our mistakes, so we are not doomed to repeat them.
Full disclosure: on my journey to 220+ pounds lost, I have been in the need for a re-set more times than I can count. Usually, now, it looks like too many keto snacks, grazing rather than sitting down to eat satiating meals, and too many convenience foods from a package. In years past, it looked more like high sugar/flour indulgences that led to days-long binges and giant leaps up on the scale. The perfect storm for diet disaster: holidays, vacations, an overly stocked fridge, non-stop eating opportunities and the notion that I need to eat everything now because Monday, the first of the year, or ”After Vacation” are looming and I will be cut-off forever from all food enjoyment.
Since starting on a ketogenic diet years ago, I would plan for an occasional low carb “cheat” day, but there have been points where they become unnervingly reminiscent of my pre-keto days — too often, no planning, no control, leading to all out bingeing in preparation for the Day of Reckoning where I am cut off and “start over”…again. Though a better option and not as unhealthy as if I were gorging on high carb foods, the low-carb graze can be a slippery slope from a winning strategy into one that just doesn’t feel quite right.
Because I still carry the battle scars of living life at over 400 pounds and what it felt like to “fail” over and over, it feels normal to me to not trust that even though the behavior isn’t ideal, it can be a part of the “good-better-best” strategy that helps make this lifestyle realistic.
The problem with the overindulgence on the keto stuff is that it can kick in that old mentality that makes me question myself and doubt that weight loss is really, truly sustainable because I start to believe it is only a matter of time before it all comes piling back on. Panic sets in and I am stuck smack in the center of the trap of obesity and learned helplessness.
As this takes root, it brings shame and fear, more overeating, which, left unfettered leads to more weight gain and the perpetuation of the vicious circle I was caught in for decades.
If you have found yourself in this never-ending spin cycle at any point and are looking to “Start Over,” here is a chance to recover forever instead of just the first two weeks of January or the week after vacation. Get out of the endless binge-diet/restrict-binge cycle for good by incorporating the building blocks of resilience:
- Clean Up; Stock Up. Get all triggering foods out of your home, and bring in safe, low carb options; stock your pantry, your car, your office, your purse. If the decision is between throwing the carb-laden holiday foods in the garbage or throwing them in your mouth, what exactly is the message you’re sending yourself about your worth? You are not a garbage pail. Throw it away, and if you feel guilty about hungry children, write a check to the charity of your choice.
- Keto 101: Focus on hunger and satiety and be aware of the foods that impact each. Intuitive eating, only so much better. With laser-focus start with the basics: prioritize protein, eliminate processed foods that stoke appetite and are easy to over-consume, pay attention to when you’re drawn to eat for any reason other than hunger, and move your body —because it feels good rather than as a punishment for some ill-perceived failing.
- Avoid Crash-and-Burn: Eat whole, real, nutrient-dense, and satiating foods. Lots of them. If it is meat, fish, chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, green leafy vegetables? Eat as much as you need to be reasonably full, and as often as you need to squash hunger and cravings. Do not worry about meal timing or frequency. Eat more, not less: resist the urge to over-restrict or limit intake. This flies in the face of every diet rule you have ever heard, but it is a means to an end. You will never get where you want to go if you are chronically hungry, hangry or feeling deprived. Eat more to weigh less. You’ve tried over restricting and it hasn’t worked. Try a new way.
- Meet Yourself Where You Are. Stop comparing yourself to a previous version of yourself. It is shame in disguise, and it will only serve to keep you stuck. If you had been regularly eating low carb, practicing intermittent fasting and your exercise routine was on point before you took the “scenic route,” remember that getting into ketosis and its appetite suppressing effects is a process and you may need to take a few weeks to get yourself back. Take a slow, gentle off-ramp to getting back in gear instead of rushing towards a finish line and over a cliff.
- Quiet the Enemy Within: You are likely telling yourself messages that your own worst enemy would deem too mean to say. The way out is not through self-loathing. You cannot hate yourself thin. If this worked, you would have reached your weight goals and stayed there a long time ago. Nope…self-hatred has never, ever sparked meaningful change.
- Right Here, Right Now: Focus on what you know for absolute certainty to be true, not some random predicted catastrophe in the future (“I’m gonna gain every ounce back!” I’ll be a complete failure!” “None of my clothing will fit!”) and instead go back to what you know to be true, what has worked in the past. Conversely, recognize the things you have done before that may not have worked and decide to forge a new path. Remind yourself that this time does not have to be like all the other times because you are going to change the pattern rather than repeat it. And then set about taking a focused look at what those patterns are. You cannot begin to change something when the only part of it you recognize is the end result. Look at the before-during-and after of what led you astray and use that as data to help defend yourself next time.
- What Would It Take to Make This Easier? Get real with yourself about what you will need. Chances are you don’t need more information, gimmicks or social media gurus, but do need systems in place that will help you stay on track when the going gets tough and when those patterns reemerge.
- Safety Nets: There is no shame in needing help, only in not getting it. Do whatever you can to put supports in place to get you through the difficult times beforeyou need them, and get comfortable using that support. Those of us who have been doing this a long time are here to tell you that the old demons will show up — it’s a normal part of the process — and being ready and well-protected is crucial to long-term goals.
- Choose Your Hard. Success is the result of a lot of demanding work, so take off the blinders and take a good hard look at just how hard it has been to live a life of discomfort from the burden of disease and obesity. Choose your hard and show up for yourself: one meal, one workout, one minute at a time. Why do you want to do this? What is the life you want for yourself? At any given moment you are, literally, one meal away from being closer to it.
- Take the Next Right Step: Weight loss success is a marathon not a sprint, and there will be days where it feels like you cannot go on one more minute, the finish line so far away you’re not even sure it still exists. Doubt, fear and stumbling are a normal part of the process and when your body, mind and spirit are screaming at you to quit, that is precisely the time to kick everything into high gear rather than retreat. Motivation will fade, willpower will be nonexistent. What will you do then? You’ll remember that failure is not predestined if you keep showing up, even in imperfect ways. Success isn’t always pretty, and it is rarely perfect. Sometimes you will have to do the bare minimum and it will not feel like enough. Do it anyway. The difference between success and failure? Consistency. Teeny, tiny baby steps. Make the next right decision. And then another one. Not forever, just right now. Just today.
Resiliency, like any muscle, gets stronger when it is worked, and success is self-perpetuating. Learn from your setbacks and turn them around quickly. Not tomorrow. Now. Do this regularly and success will come.