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Strategies to Help when the Going Gets Tough

There is a famous expression in English: When the going gets tough, the tough get going – meaning when the situation becomes difficult, the strong willed will work hard to meet the challenge. And whether you’re ready and willing to persevere through obstacles by nature does not matter as much as you may think. Working to improve the situation by building habits – with an attitude of persistence and patience – will foster this intangible aspect of goal achievement success.

Let it be known that the journey to achieving our physical and health goal(s) comes out of a sustainable habit/ lifestyle shift. If you take nothing else away from this article, we hope that the above point is understood. In the grand scheme of things, making changes that will help you reach [and most importantly maintain your goal(s)] comes down to building largely enjoyable – and majorly sustainable – habits. It’s about cooking and eating better consistently, incorporating exercise into your routine, and sticking with positive behaviours that support you on the journey to you goal(s).  

Now, an important thing to realize (that is a stumbling block for many on the journey to goal achievement) is that every choice, every day likely will not be one that moves you closer to your end goal. Especially during unpredictable times like we’re facing today. Life happens, and not everything that happens is in our direct control. These positive behaviours just need to be practiced consistently enough to support the desired results over the long term.

But sometimes, even with all that effort to look on the bright side and push forward with your healthy habits, you hit a point where you just feel … stuck. We understand. Because some of you may be feeling this way now (or could begin to soon) we’ve generated a summary of our favourite ways to push forward in times of doubt with all-round tenacity. You may choose to use one suggestion or a combination of a few to help combat the challenges you face.

Let’s add a few techniques to that knowledge tool box and build on that goal conquering skill-set:

1. Be Flexible

As you’ve very likely experienced (either first-hand or in observing others) saying “No” often just makes us want the thing we’re passing up even more… The reason being is informally referred to as “naughty child syndrome.” Let me explain.

Imagine for a moment a child is playing happily with one of her toys, and you tell her that she can’t have another toy that’s on the other side of the room. Up until then, the child likely had no interest whatsoever in the newly banned item, but now with this new “off limits” rule she wants it more than anything. The same thing can happen with dieting – replacing the toy with a specific food or food group. All of a sudden, once we tell ourselves we can’t have something, the urge to have that thing becomes overwhelming. And once we get our hand on this “forbidden” item, fixation (over-consumption in the case of food), is much more likely.

Turning to diet specifically, if we have no food restrictions, we won’t really crave things the same way – simply having the possibility for consuming the food if we want to has a significant impact on our relationship with said food. By giving ourselves unequivocal choice, the cravings lose their power. We may find that we really don’t want the food, and if/when we do have it, we can stop after enjoying a small amount.

This is where tracking macronutrient (and inherently calorie) consumption comes in. Once specific nutrient targets are established with a view to moving you closer to our goal(s), no specific food or drink is off limits. This flexibility aspect is encouraged as you choose the foods you’ll eat to meet the intake targets laid out for goal progression.

2. Incorporate Maintenance Phases

Research tells us that people who diet regularly with weight loss or weight control in mind demonstrate much higher tendencies toward disordered behaviour around eating. And this does make sense – the ongoing commitment and dedication needed to follow a specific set of diet principles – no matter how flexible – takes a good deal of mental energy for most.

Case in point, we should not plan to diet forever. Instead, it’s crucial to have a timeframe in place to reach our goal(s) – keeping in mind that this goal achieving journey is rarely linear. While setting out to achieve a body composition or health milestone it is important to plan for healthy living maintenance periodically throughout the journey. Keeping in mind that we’re aiming to establish lifelong habits that will carry you forward in health once we get to that end goal.

Specifically, to maintain progress and support an ongoing healthy relationship with food, your body, and yourself as a person we’ll need to incorporate calorie maintenance phase(s) (or a slow, steady reverse where calories are gradually increased) prior to reaching the goal achievement finish line.

For those interested in the specifics (if this isn’t you, we recommend skipping to the next point): looking at the maintenance stage following a period of eating at a calorie deficit to promote fat loss, the goal is to eat and move in a way to keep your body weight stable and to slowly recover from any accumulated diet fatigue. Increasing calories slowly with a reverse diet approach as metabolism returns to more sustainable pre-diet levels allows us to maintain an isocaloric condition (you eat just as many calories as you expend – leading to neither a gain nor loss of net tissue weight) across the post-deficit recovery period. The purpose of this period is also to reset metabolic and psychological homeostasis at a new lower body weight and establish these new settling points. This likely does not sound exciting to you – but this strategy is a critical one to support achievement of the ultimate goal; namely, lasting results.

3. Assess Barriers and Strategize

So you splurged … now what? Should you just throw in the towel and continue on with your day of indulgence… Not so fast. This all or nothing mindset is one to work hard to avoid – it doesn’t serve you well in most aspects of healthy living. When you blow your calorie budget (yes unfortunately we’re saying when – it happens to most everyone at one time or another), it’s important to assess if external pressures are a factor and if so which ones.

If the cookies in your pantry are too tempting (for example), don’t bring them inside the house. If this isn’t possible due to the food preference of others in your household, see if a variety sold in a smaller pack is available to help. If you find yourself eating (or drinking) for social reasons in the company of those you live with, maybe it’s time to embrace the power of “no.” This assessing barriers and strategizing piece is highly personal to the individual; it is something you will have to explore for yourself or with the help of qualified others.

4. Make Your Next Meal Healthy

One meal or day of overeating won’t have a big impact on progress, but a week or month of splurging can definitely set you back. Instead of tossing in the towel and starting over tomorrow, begin eating in-line with your physical and health goals at your next meal. The whole day or week isn’t a wash out because of a little indulgence—just get right back on track if you slip-up with your plan; you will feel very good that you did after the fact.

Now often times, eating something highly palatable in a small quantity just makes you crave it more. A slice of chocolate cake could have similar macronutrients/ calories to a baked potato with some cheese for instance, but you’d get a much larger volume of food with the potato and feel more satisfied. The chocolate cake might taste great, but it’s unlikely you’d be able to fit a large enough piece into your day of eating to fill you up until your next meal, which may kick off cravings. So when attempting to get swiftly back on that metaphorical wagon, turning to meal(s) that are high protein & fibre (such as chicken breast and greens) is encouraged to dampen the craving and support your efforts.

5. Avoid Mindless Eating

Real Talk: we’re all guilty of mindless eating on occasion. Whether that’s picking at food while at work, snacking in front of the TV, or simply not savouring and enjoying what we’re eating for a number of other potential reasons.

This lack of awareness while eating can easily override feelings of fullness, leading to an accidental binge. Aim to eat every meal at a table with family, and take your time over it, enjoying the smell, taste, and texture.

6. Realize There’s Always Tomorrow

Realizing that there’s always tomorrow has two hugely positive outcomes (and likely more, but we’ll cover two now): (1) it reminds you that tomorrow is a new day (a new day in which you can plan to fit a treat that you may not have the space for in your diet today), and (2) it helps you practice the skill of delayed gratification. What is this last concept you ask?

Delayed gratification is when you put off short-term pleasures in the pursuit of a greater long-term reward. This is an important skill to develop for many areas of happy and healthy living, not just regarding food and lifestyle habits. To use this concept around diet, ask yourself what will feel better—over-indulging now, or that feeling of pride, accomplishment, and satisfaction you’ll get when you reach your goal physique or health marker outcome? Doing this is rarely easy, but using delayed gratification to your advantage can be a game-changer if you can apply it to your life consistently.

7. Stay Positive

If you slip up and fall off the wagon, regain focus on the reason you’ve set these goals in the first place. Are you training to be able to complete a 5K run by the end of summer? Is it to look stunning as you walk down the aisle at your wedding in the New Year? Do you want to be fit and healthy to chase your grandkids around in the coming months? Keep a positive outlook!

Remember that this is a journey, after all, and it will be full of peaks and valleys.

8. Get Support

Lifestyle changes are not easy, so make sure that you have enough support to create lasting change. Maybe you need to consult with a professional like a Dietitian to address your nutrition habits or a Counselor to discuss emotional eating and barriers to change (both options are available virtually). Or maybe confiding in a friend that you trust over the phone regarding your goals and action plan to get there will be enough to make you feel supported and accountable. Many also find it beneficial to engage in a community on a related goal oriented site to get virtual support from like-minded people. Again this support piece is highly individual; the goal with whatever approach you try is to motivate you to stay on track.

In summary:

  • Don’t ban any foods
  • Include diet breaks and weight maintenance phases
  • Honestly assess barriers and strategize
  • Swiftly get back on the wagon if you fall off
  • Don’t eat mindlessly
  • Remember that there’s always tomorrow
  • Stay positive
  • Talk to others if you’re struggling

Above all, what’s important is that you keep your end goal in mind and have failsafe strategies in place to beat the urge to veer off course. Know that splurges are a normal part of a healthy living routine; just keep their frequency and nature in overall moderation so that they don’t notably hinder your progress.

Having some structure, routine, and a realistic and flexible action plans that makes us feel a little more in control at this chaotic time is important. Now more than ever, our dietary, physical activity, and recovery practices are of fundamental importance. Both persistence in our actions and patience with our results are paramount.

Stay healthy friends.