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How a Weight-Loss Setback Is Just a Setup for a Comeback

womanOnScale_400As I write this, I’m six pounds heavier than my lowest weight. It’s three days after Thanksgiving, and I’ve spent the better part of the last week drinking wine and eating baked goods. Of course, I didn’t plan to spend the week gorging myself, but I was hosting twenty people for the holiday and doing all of the cooking this year, and “one little taste” (to ensure the food was right for my guests, naturally) led to a daily eat-a-thon. From Thinspired: How I Lost 90 Pounds—My Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Self-Acceptance.

Now I feel physically disgusting: bloated, sluggish, and nauseous. Thanksgiving night I woke up several times with a terrible stomachache. I’m always amazed at how the food I used to subsist on almost exclusively now makes me literally ill. Some things really are toxic for me and I need to stay away from them.

Mentally I don’t feel great, either. I’m irritable, cranky, and really discouraged, feeling as though I’ve undone all of my progress. Of course that’s nonsense. I know that you don’t undo years of changes in just a few days. But it’s easy to feel like a complete and utter failure, even if you’ve already accomplished a lot.

I’m sharing this because while I’d love to pretend that I’m a perfect model of change, that would be an outright lie. It’s really important for me to share my struggles as well as my successes, so that you know you’re not alone in yours. We all fall short of our goals from time to time, and that definitely includes me. I’ve had several setbacks since I started this journey, during holidays, birthdays, or just general moments of weakness.

Over time, I’ve found that the tools listed below help me get back to business right away.

Facing consequences is tough, in all aspects of life, from finances, to relationships, to weight. It’s much easier to stick your head in the sand than to look the truth in the eyes. Besides, when it comes to a weight setback, you’re already feeling bad enough. Maybe your jeans are confirming your fears, squeezing you extra tightly these days. Why compound your misery with a great big number on the scale telling you just how much you screwed up?

When I’ve really been counterproductive—falling short of my nutritional goals, not making it to my workouts—I’d rather not face it. I keep telling myself that I’ll confront the numbers after I’ve gotten back on track. The problem is, I find it absolutely impossible to get going again until I know exactly where I stand. Waiting only prolongs the process and leads me to fall further and further behind.

At the beginning of this I mentioned that I’m six pounds heavier than I should be. How do I know that? Because I weighed myself this morning. I also took my measurements. It’s not where I want to be. It sucks. I’m disappointed in myself. But this is the first step toward redemption.

The important thing to do right away is not make things worse. No matter how bad it is now, it can always get worse. You should have some gratitude for wherever you are, even if it’s not where you want to be.

For me, “stop digging” means doing the bare minimum, focusing on maintaining my weight, not losing. This could mean getting back to my dietary guidelines, but not worrying about portions just yet. It might mean a modified exercise schedule, or relying on more of my food substitutes than I should.

It’s basically a more relaxed approach that gives me a little bit of time to lick my wounds, regroup, and get back up. Sometimes it’s based on logistical challenges, say if I’m traveling, or in the middle of the holidays. I try to do the best that I can until I can fully get going again.

Like I’ve said, baby steps have been the key to my success. I never set out to lose ninety pounds. I set out to lose five. Then five more, all the way down to ninety. Small goals are key. That’s as true as ever when you’ve just had a setback. Once you’ve surveyed the damage and you know where you are, you can get back to the work of rebuilding.

Having a goal is the key to getting out of your stall and moving forward. It creates a mental shift. Now you’re focused on the positive again, not the negative. You’re looking forward, not backward. Hopefully, you have a new motivation.

It’s important that your new goal be based on where you are now, not where you were before. If your goal is based on the past, it still forces you to look backward. Where you are now is your new reality, your new baseline, so build on that. Let’s say you’ve gained thirteen pounds. If your goal is “I want to get back to where I was,” then after losing three pounds, you’ll still be thinking, I’m ten pounds from where I used to be. But if your goal is to lose three pounds, when you’ve done that, you’ll think, Hooray for me! and set the next one.

Sweat is like an instant reset button. It does wonders for the mind. I have found that absolutely nothing makes me feel better than a really tough workout. It makes me feel strong and empowered. It puts me in a better mood and gives me the healthy perspective I need. Most important, it starts that positive feedback loop. One good workout makes me want another
one, and another one.

After a setback, I often don’t feel like working out at all. If I’ve spent the last few days without exercising, a lot of my energy and motivation seems to evaporate. Plus, I often won’t feel very sporty, with all the bloating and self-loathing going on. This is where my mind has to trump my emotions. I know with 100 percent certainty that a workout will make me feel better. I also know the first one back is always the hardest, so I might as well just go and get it over with. I force myself. I put on my gym clothes, I grab a banana and a pre-workout drink, and I just go. I always feel like a new person afterward.

Early on I mentioned that I wrote this book for me, so I wouldn’t forget what steps had helped me change my life. I wanted to make sure I would always remember the basics so I could go back to them, because my old way of doing things continually tries to creep back into my life. That’s why I remind myself often of exactly what works, so that I can keep doing it. It’s all about the basics and that’s never more important than during a setback. For example, I’ve stayed up way too late almost every night over the last week, ignoring my own rules about getting enough sleep. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, you rebel, you! But in all seriousness, I know exactly what happens when I don’t get enough rest. I don’t get up for my workouts and I compound the problem by making bad food choices because I’m sleepy. So as I pick myself back up, I’m going back to basics. Tonight I will go to sleep early. Before I go to bed, I’ll pack my gym bag and figure out what I’m going to eat tomorrow. I’ve already ordered my groceries for the week. I’ve gone back to the formula, and the formula never fails.

The basics are the basics for a reason. They are the building blocks for everything else. But because they are so simple and elementary, we often assume that once we’ve been doing them for a while, we’ll never need a refresher. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Old habits die very hard. In fact, I think they’re immortal. You can’t kill those suckers off. They just
go hide and then try to creep back in again and again. Keep those old habits at bay with the basics. Remind yourself of what really worked in the first place, and recommit to it. There’s never a bad time to return to your foundation.

What would happen if you drove a car while looking only in the rear-view mirror? You’d crash. You can’t move forward while you’re looking backward. It’s something I’ve found to be true in many areas of my life. For example, in my job, if I make a mistake on live television, like stumbling or stuttering, I cannot spend any time thinking about it, not one second, or
I’ll just keep screwing up over and over again. Focusing on one mistake will only cause me to make several more. It’s just as true in life. You must keep moving forward, or your past will destroy your present.

Recounting what you’ve done wrong is useless. If there’s a way to learn from your mistakes, that’s great, and it can be very instructive. But rehashing your shortcomings just to beat yourself up over and over again is pointless. Everyone falls. Get over it. Besides, what’s the alternative? Be sad forever? Return to your old lifestyle? Of course not.

I have a saying: The best way to move forward, is to move forward. Just get up and look ahead of you, not backward. Don’t think about how many slices of cake you ate. Don’t dwell on all the exercise you didn’t do. Don’t count yesterday’s calories. It’s over and done. Forgive yourself and move on.


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