So, you're lying in bed, with your eyes still closed. The sunlight is playing against your closed eyelids and your mind is just beginning to stir back into activity after a full night's rest. And then you remember. Yesterday, I ate a whole pizza. Or a cheesecake. Or a giant double bacon cheeseburger. With fries. Or all of the above.
Perhaps it hits you in the middle of the day: "It's lunch time," you think, "and it's time to eat again, but I had two cinnamon rolls for breakfast. And a donut at the morning meeting." Maybe your diet-goal-oriented conscious doesn't kick in until a few weeks after the fact, when you pull on those jeans that you wore a few months ago and notice that they're a bit snug.
The sense of hopelessness, guilt, remorse and frustration that precedes the "Well, since I already blew it..." thought that trails listlessly through our minds as we reach for that next unhealthy choice, or resolve to skip the gym (again) is a feeling that many, many, many seasoned "dieters" are all too familiar with. How do you get back on track? How do you recover after you've over indulged for a meal or three, skipped a few workouts, or even completely abandoned your healthy lifestyle goals entirely for a few months?
One step at a time.
Recognize Your Mistake
Acknowledge the choices that you have made that have taken you farther away from your goals, and acknowledge that it's OK. No amount of guilt, negative self-talk, or self-shaming is going to change the past. You have no control over what has already happened. But you have complete and total control over what you do from this second forward. Every new day, new hour, even new minute is an opportunity to start moving forward towards your goals again. I'm sure everyone has long-term goals, but what are your short-term goals? As you sit and think about the distance between where you are now, and where you want to be, have you established small, attainable victories along that path?
Set Realistic Goals
One of the best motivators in returning to a healthy diet and fitness routine is the feeling of accomplishment and empowerment that accompanies successfully completing a goal. If your long-term goals are numbers-oriented, focus on the small stuff...resolve to lose five pounds this month instead of 50 this year. If you're more focused on ability and physical progress, pick something you can measure. If you currently run a mile in 12 minutes, give yourself a month to try and make it in 10. If running a mile isn't even something you think you're capable of right now...think of how proud you'll feel if, after three weeks of dedicated walking and interval jogging, you're finally able to make it the full mile!
Or perhaps, in the beginning, make your goals even more attainable by making them day-by-day goals. For example, if you can't break the fast-food habit, decide today that instead of going through the drive through twice, you'll only go once. Every time you say "No," it gets a little bit easier. Maybe next week you'll only sit in that drive-through line on three days instead of five. Maybe next month you'll only visit that fast food stop twice total. You can do it!
Remember that Setbacks are Normal
Life happens. Setbacks occur. No one is 100 percent dedicated 100 percent of the time. A life without chocolate, red wine and the occasional slice of pizza is not a life I personally want to live at all, but taking a day, week or even a month off from your journey towards a healthier lifestyle does not make you a failure. It does not make you a bad person. It absolutely does NOT mean that you're not a strong, capable individual. It just means that you took a break, and now it's time to find your groove again.
Remember that your health, fitness and nutrition goals should be a part of your life, but they should not dictate your life. Every morning, when you first feel that sunlight hit your eyelids and your mind begins to stir back into wakefulness, open your eyes and greet the new day for what it is: a wonderful, brand new opportunity to move forward towards your goals. Leave yesterday where it is, grab an apple, go for a walk, and decide to make today a day that brings you one small step closer to where you want to be.
Dani Russell is a freelance health and fitness lifestyle writer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is currently working to complete a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a practicing student therapist. In her free time she can be found playing in the ocean, hiking and weightlifting. You can keep up with her daily quest to balance multiple jobs, fitness and graduate school via her tumblr.