Congratulations! You’ve lost weight. You’ve worked really hard and you probably achieved what you did by making some serious behavioral changes. Maintaining that progress may be just as significant. There are two keys to maintaining your loss: preventing “slips” from occurring and controlling your response to those slips.
A slip is a mistake, a lapse, a deviation from the plan, or an error. Slips are usually the first instance of backsliding. They are a brief experience and do not signal an inevitable downward spiral. For example, you miss your workout for one or two days on vacation, or you eat more than you planned at Thanksgiving. These are instances where you know you didn’t follow your plan, but afterwards you get back in the saddle.
Slips are almost inevitable, but they are also preventable. The first key is to identify high-risk situations. These are situations in which you expect to have difficulty, like dinner and drinks out with friends, or a planned vacation or cruise. Pay attention on the front end and avoid these situations when possible, but when not avoidable, make a plan to make the best choices you can. Second, it is important to learn from the past. Think back and identify situations where you’ve had problems before. Once the high risk situations and your history of coping have been examined, start planning for how you will deal with them in advance. Perhaps, plan to eat the prepared Thanksgiving meal, but promise yourself you will only have one helping—or, for a night out with the girls, plan to have a healthy snack beforehand so you don’t go in hungry. If you wait until you are in the midst of the situation, it is much more difficult to come up with effective solutions. Develop a relapse prevention plan to help you through it and enlist support people to keep you accountable.
Controlling Response to Slips
While it is better to prevent slips, you cannot prevent them all. The most important thing is to get back on track as soon as possible. The most important factor here is how you think about the slip. If you view it as a total loss, you are more likely to give up. This is akin to eating a slice of chocolate cake and thinking “Oh well, I may as well eat the whole thing now!” A slip is a mistake where you immediately get back on track and don’t go for that second piece. A relapse is a string of multiple slips signaling a return to your former behavior (i.e you eat the whole cake and a few days later you go out for donuts). So how do you keep a slip from becoming a relapse?
- Identify that you have slipped
- Recall what you were doing that was helpful before
- Go back to your plan
Any good relapse prevention plan needs to focus on what you say to yourself when slips happen. Messages like “I wish I hadn’t eaten that, but I can make better choices tomorrow,” or “I missed my workout today, so the rest of the week I’m going to add 5 minutes onto my run.” These kinds of thoughts are essential to getting you back on track and maintaining your progress for the long term.
Mistakes happen. With any behavior change, working to prevent mistakes or slips, responding appropriately when they occur, and managing the way you think about those slips, will prevent you from reverting back to old, unhealthy behaviors.
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