Getting Back on Track Guide
So here’s something you’ve probably noticed: One of the trickiest aspects of working on your relationship with food is that you can be completely dialed in and being smart about everything, and still things might occasionally not go quite as you thought.
It may be that an unforeseen work or life stress is so jarring that it sends you straight to the ice cream aisle or, on the flip side, that what felt like a less-than-perfect choice you were okay with winds up being a tipping point that sends your mind into a spiral of negative thinking. The bottom line is that we all have moments where even the best techniques are no match for the failure stories we’re capable of telling ourselves. And that’s when a good get-back-on-track strategy comes into play.
How to frame the situation
After a slip-up (which we are defining as a big binge, or a complete deviation from your plan—an off-the-wagon kind of thing, not the occasional extra snack), it’s very normal to feel a swirl of unpleasant feelings. Guilt, shame, and regret are the big ones, and it’s easy to fall into thinking that you are somehow atoning for your sins by making yourself feel terrible. Diet culture has programmed a lot of us that thinking this way helps us regain control. But the truth of the matter is that the guilt-shame cocktail is profoundly ineffective, often counterproductive, and will only increase your misery while moving you further from progress.
Research shows us that guilt and shame tends to spiral downward toward more bingeing. That’s because when your body feels wretched and your mind is emotionally ragged, it’s incredibly easy to reach again for food, this time as comfort.
For this reason, experts stress that moving on quickly is critical to your continued success. Sure…but how? When you’re sitting on the couch, feeling defeated and dusted with doughnut crumbs, it’s hard to see the way. It’s okay if you don’t yet know how to pivot into positive action—reshaping your reactions and moving on are skills that can be learned. You can practice with tools we’ll lay out for you with an action-based protocol for your approach, your thinking, and your behaviors.
Setting your approach
After a slip, think of your first meal as a recovery meal. No matter what time of day your slip happened, how long it went on, what or how much you ate, your next meal should be at your normal mealtime and should be a standard portion for your plan, with all the food groups you would ordinarily eat. No skipping the meal “to feel empty again,” no tiny fruit plates “to make up for your slip.”
The reasoning behind this is both psychological (you want to regain steadiness, not swing the pendulum all the way in the other direction) and physiological (an empty belly or plain fruit won’t allow your blood sugar to stabilize, which in turn will make cravings worse).
You’ve heard it a million times before, but your plate should contain protein and some healthy fat—for example, full fat yogurt, eggs and avocado, or smoked salmon. Fill half your plate with high-fiber vegetables and you’re set. That being said, for some of us, that desire to “do something” in the wake of a slip-up can be tough to shake. If this is you, try adding some high potassium vegetables like asparagus, sautéed spinach, or zucchini (one to two cups, ideally), which will help flush excess sodium that might be making you feel bloated. Asparagus is also a great source of prebiotics, which can help calm gut distress in the gurgling aftermath of a less-than-settled stomach.
Aligning your thinking
Your thoughts are a huge part of how well you’re able to get back on track. It’s absolutely key not to let slips suck you in- it happened, and now you’re ready to move on. You are unable to change the past or to control the future, and this is okay because you do have control of the present moment. Not only is that entirely enough, but focusing on the present is much more manageable than trying to master all aspects of everything at once.
This in mind, borrow from the framework of addiction recovery and start applying some one-day-at-a-time thinking. Spend your focus and energy on succeeding today, rather than staying bogged down in remorse and self-judgement about yesterday. This approach doesn’t just help psychologically, it’s also a reflection of how the whole Calibrate program is set up. It’s okay if one day doesn’t play out perfectly. What we want to ensure is that every month is better than the month before. That’s how we shift from a short-term, damage-control perspective into a sustainable model that we can carry with us for all of our days.
You can support this perspective by reminding yourself out loud that you are struggling with a difficult challenge and that your slip was just a human moment. You are not bad, and you do not deserve counterproductive guilt about your actions. And there is no place for soul-sucking shame that pulls at your sense of worth and worthiness. You have a healthier life to live! It’s simply time to start fresh, giving yourself an assist in the form of more vigilance and structure for a little bit—and you’ll find plenty of behavior tips to help with that in the goal section of this lesson.
Practicing your behavior
Once you’ve set your strategy and aligned your thinking, the next step is doing—and here, you’ll find a series of tips to take the guesswork (and stress) out of your action plan. Think of these as your standard protocol for slip-ups.
- Plan, prepare, and eat your first post-slip meal. Protein, healthy fats, half a plate of fiber in the form of vegetables. It’s okay if you don’t want to eat it (though do listen to your body, and don’t force yourself if you’re truly not hungry). It’s okay if it feels pointless, or like Groundhog Day. You are changing your habits and your life—and small as this action seems, it’s exactly how you’re going to do it.
- Don’t do anything weird. No restricting or skipping meals, no cutting portions, no heroic five mile trudges. Reframe the idea of “earning” your food by saying this to yourself: “My body deserves healthful nutrition every single day.”
- Start your day with a cup of warm water with lemon, which will help get your digestion back on track.
- Have a plan for your next three days of meals. You’re vulnerable in the days after a slip, so take extra care of yourself by eliminating the need to make in-the-moment food choices, which are the most challenging kind. Feel free to opt for convenience during these days (prep a bulk batch of not-exciting but nutritionally sound protein, like baked chicken, or if you have a set of Calibrate-consistent, healthy, go-to takeout meals, give yourself permission to just order for the next few days.)
- Close your kitchen after dinner. If the urge to poke around in the snack cupboard is strong, try cleaning your kitchen before you eat and leaving your dinner dishes in the sink—that way, you won’t have to spend any after-meal time in the kitchen.
- Replace avoidance goals, or “won’ts” (“I won’t eat dessert today”) with approach goals, or “wills” (“I will hit my water target today”). When our urges are activated, it can be easier to do something than to not do something.
- Follow each meal with a cup of warm water with lemon, which can help with oral fixation and the desire to end the meal with a sweet.
- Skip high-stress food situations for a few days post-slip. This is not the best time to pick up the doughnuts for your work meeting or volunteer to bake a birthday cake. This tip is not about deprivation—it’s actually about indulging yourself in some ease, rather than pushing yourself into challenges.
- Instead of those high-stress situations, enlist a trusted and supportive friend to be your meal buddy for the next few days (live, or on a video platform like Zoom or FaceTime).
- Don’t skip snacks, and make sure you’re working healthy fat, fiber, and protein into them so your body feels sated and fueled.
- Keep hydrating. Remember, half your bodyweight in ounces, up to 120 ounces.
- Use your mindful eating tools during your first few meals post-slip. Eat slowly, and really taste and experience your food. Try to make your meal last at least twenty minutes.
- Get moving! Take a walk around the block. Get some sunlight and fresh air. This is not “exercise,” and it’s not “making up” for anything—it’s about getting your digestion and mood working for you rather than against you.
- Use your journal to process your feelings about your slip. Once you’re not trying to use your emotions to shame yourself into eating better, you may find you have more mental space to really examine your shame, remorse, guilt, or anger. Give yourself 20 minutes to dwell, then leave those feelings there. Congrats—you’ve now unloaded a tremendous mental burden, and now you’re ready to work!