How to take back control if you've fallen off the wagon

September 23, 2017

I can't help but notice the downbeat tone of my client. Usually Claire (not her real name) is lively and bubbly.


Claire is one of my Winning Weight Loss Programme clients and has been doing very well over the previous few weeks with her lifestyle change. Today though, she sounds different. 


Claire tells me how she has fallen off the wagon. I probe deeper to understand why someone who is doing so well with her weight loss has completely gone off the rails in the space of a month since our last conversation. 


Claire, like many others I have came across either as a private client or as a patient within the NHS, informs me it all started with a small blowout about a week after our last conversation. Claire, went out for dinner and had a dessert. The following evening, she went to the shop and bought a bag of chocolate and ate it all.


"I just felt I had blown it and so what was the point" Claire told me. 


What Claire and many others fail to realise is this is actually common amongst dieters. In fact, we even give it a name.  It is called catastrophic thinking. Essentially, you jump to the worst case scenario. A small blip is a catastrophe. This type of thinking often manifests despite the dieter only having one off day or even one indulgence. 


Claire is certainly not alone. Most of my clients report having felt like this during their lifetime. This kind of thinking can really be dietary suicide. This, despite the reality an off day or two really won't make much difference to your weight providing you return to your diet/lifestyle change and remain consistent. In fact, I encourage a blow out from time to time. It's all about recognising what you are eating and then adjusting your subsequent intake from there. 


What many dieters, like Claire, fail to realise is they are being hard on themselves. An all or nothing approach is doomed to fail. When trying to cut out all the 'bad stuff' you will only induce feelings of guilt the moment you indulge in even the most modest of treats. Essentially, you are aiming for dietary perfection and like anything, perfection is impossible to achieve. 


I have found once dieters do fall off the wagon a chain of events begins. The first thing is they lose control of their diet and become a passenger to their dietary intake. They become passive with their diet. This then reinforces the feelings of guilt and failure, which further spurs on the passive behaviour. As their weight gradually begins to increase they begin to feel they are further and further away from fixing this and therefore continue eating excess calories. This then either continues forever or until the next spark of motivation kicks in. 




It doesn't have to be like this. 


The truth of Claire's original situation was she had one or or two weeks of gaining weight compared with several weeks of losing weight. Granted, it is much easier to gain weight than to lose it but a relapse does not have to be a complete collapse. 


Like anything, dieting takes effort. The difference between the conventional dieter and personal trainers, dietitians, fitness models or those who maintain goal weight, is the latter have found a way to make their dietary intake a way of life whereas the serial dieter has not (all or nothing). Those who are able to maintain their goal weight consistently are able to factor in blow outs, relaxed days, holidays etc without feeling guilty because they know their lifestyle accounts for this. They may have a meal out with dessert and a bag of chocolate the following day but this acts as a cue to refocus the day after that. 


First of all, you need to accept you will not and cannot be 100% with your diet all the time. This is why plans like slimming clubs are good because they allow you a treat but only in moderation. 


Once you accept this, your feelings of guilt are eradicated. Without guilt, there is no catastrophic thinking. 


Therefore, step 1 is simple, plan for your treats, whether it's a daily allowance or less. Give yourself a break once in a while. As long as you are consistent most of the time, the weight will come down.  


Second, if falling off the wagon or getting feelings of guilt, this is not a sign to quit but to refocus. You had a doughnut, so what? Tomorrow is a new day and you can still make a big difference. Even if you have regained some or all of your weight, there is no better time to start again than now. 


Third, if you have relapsed completely and feel bad about it, here's what to do. Re- engage with your diet. Do not become passive. The first thing to do is to start monitoring what you are eating whether via a food diary, a slimming club, a mobile app or whatever works for you. You need to take back control and know what you are eating. 


The evidence in the dietetic literature when studying peoples behaviour consistently shows people under report, quite significantly, their daily calorie intake. This isn't necessarily on purpose but is the direct consequence of being passive. Those who are consistently good with their diet all share one common characteristic; they know exactly what they eat because they are engaged with it. 


Fourth, get organised. Plan your meals or at least your weekly food shop (this will become routine quite quickly). Do not buy the junk food for the house. Plan any activity you might do setting goals such as distance covered, steps walked, weight lifted or even just how out of breath you feel. 


Reengagement is the key. This is the diet equivalent of the AA's 12 steps. It is something you can revisit time and time again and it will help you focus you every time. 


Remember, a relapse does not have to be a collapse. 

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© 2015 by Mark Green.