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Relapses: a Gift, Not a Reason to Give Up

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

As you move through this journey, it is important to know something: you will not be perfect at this. You will stumble, need to pick yourself back up, and find a way to keep going. It is the only way to get to where you want to be. That is okay! We anticipate these challenges or relapses, and they become fantastic learning opportunities.

I spent almost three decades of trying, falling, and getting back up before I figured it out. I said falling not failing because as long as I didn't give up, I wasn't failing. I was learning. Each time I tried something and then hit a bump in the road, I learned something new. I discovered what did or didn't work for me. It gave me chance to reflect and tweak what I was doing. I discovered what would work long term because I was learning what didn't work. I lost weight many times in many different ways, but the way I defined "success" was being able to keep the weight off and not feel like I was on a diet.

Even now that I have crafted a lifestyle that works for me and my goals, I still fall from time to time. For example, I get overwhelmed with pandemic life and stop tracking accurately, my daughter makes three dozen of my favourite cookies, I get busy with work and forgo a good lunch leaving everything in my path vulnerable to being devoured. In the past I would see this as a sign that the program was flawed (which sometimes it was) or that it wouldn't work for me, or that I didn't have what it took to stick with it. Any way I sliced it, it was a fail. The last time I set out to tackle this mountain, I looked at it differently. My social work training taught me that there are different stages of change and that relapses are a part of the change process. Relapses are not a reason to give up but a gift that helps us refine our process. So, with this shift in mindset, off I went to try yet again.

Relapses are not a reason to give up, but a gift that helps us refine our process.

Now when I stumble I follow a simple set of steps that get me back on track:

  1. Stop and identify.

  2. Reflect.

  3. Get real.

  4. Tweak.

  5. Carry on. with new information.

Let's use the cookies example I mentioned earlier. My daughter has made 3 dozen of my favourite cookies which I consumed too many of (my stomach told me so) and I decided not to log them because frankly, I'd rather not know. This carries on for several days of me living in blissful ignorance of the caloric damage and gastrointestinal distress that I choose to ignore. I also feel guilty for eating so many but cannot seem to stop. Every time I pass the glass baking dome on our island I can hear them calling to me, whispering my name, "...Andrea....ANDREA..." If I don't sort this out soon I am heading in the wrong direction.

Here is the process:

  1. First, I stop as soon as a recognize what is happening. In this case the concern isn't actually eating the cookies. It is me not being real with the fact that these are not magical cookies, they are likely a higher calorie choice and the only person who is negatively impacted by my lack of honesty is me. Also, my guts are not happy.

  2. Next, I reflect - what is going on here? Is this a crime of convenience? Am I just a opportunist? Is it because I see them so many times as a walk through the house? How are my sleeps, am I stressed, am I eating well?

  3. Time to get real - I admit that I have been particularly stressed and busy with work. Longer work days has meant shorter sleeps which may be affecting my energy levels and appetite. Also, I know that my caveman brain wants a cookie it sees, so perhaps putting them away in a cupboard will help. Lastly, it's time to run the numbers to see what these cookies are actually worth so that if I choose to have more, I am doing so with all of the information. I will not live a life without cookies, but I owe it to myself to make informed choices.

  4. Time to tweak -Cookies are now in the pantry in an opaque container out of sight, I have spoken to my husband about needing to get to bed earlier, and I have delegated a time consuming task. I have also promised myself that if I choose to have anymore cookies, they get logged in the tracker, all of them.

  5. Now, I carry on. I keep up with everything that was working and choose to enjoy two small sugar cookies with my latte in the afternoons.

In so many other areas of our lives we do not expect things to go perfectly from the get go. We give ourselves room to stumble and learn from our mistakes. Let's do that with this part of our lives too. A baby learning to walk doesn't fall down a handful of times and decide that walking isn't for them. They get up hundreds of times and try again. We know that relapses are part of the journey, and we will keep trying until we find a way.

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