Overcoming a Workout or Diet Setback: From Just a Plain Old Girl Who Deals With Them, Too

I am by no means a workout or dieting expert, which is why my advice on overcoming a workout or diet setback may work. I read so many articles about setbacks in working out from fitness instructors that are written from the point of view of someone who works out for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I know that many fitness instructors are former out-of-shapers, but most are people who are naturally driven to workout. They were thin and active all their lives, or just had an athletic inclination. Hearing advice from them on dealing with workout setbacks is like hearing a male ob/gyn talk to you about menstrual cramps and childbirth.

I’ve struggled with weight and food most of my life, even when I didn’t need to do so. My first weight issue began at the age of eight, when I was still in ballet. I was dancing the Nutcracker Suite with the Empire State Ballet in Buffalo, NY and the monstrous choreographer, Barbara Striegel, told me I was too fat and had to lose weight. I remember being crushed, going home and telling my mom, who promptly flipped her lid and went down to the ballet studio to give Ms. Striegel* a piece of her mind. But it was too late, the damage was done. Looking back on it now, I realize how idiotic her statements were. I was petite, lean, and had excellent muscle tone. Oh how I’d kill for the body I had when I was still dancing. Other events occurred in my early life that left me feeling like I had no control over it. My way of controlling things became food. When I learned that other women controlled situations with food by *not* eating it (anorexics), I became insanely jealous that I had not gone that route instead (hey, I never said my relationship with food was healthy).

Needless to say, I’ve had many setbacks when struggling to eat properly and exercise regularly. But it was only through growing up and learning more about myself that I was able to start managing these setbacks in a healthy way. So here is how I do it:

  1. Don’t indulge the baby when he falls – We’ve learned that gushing and cooing and being overly-dramatic when a newly walking baby falls only teaches him that it is a big deal. So what do we do instead when baby falls? We brush it off with nonchalance and a “Get up, you’re ok.” Stop indulging your inner-baby when you fall! Have you missed your workout the last few days? Eat an entire chocolate cake last night? Drink a little too much wine (guilty!)? Stop indulging yourself with gushing, cooing and being dramatic. Next time you fall down, give yourself a simple “Get up, you’re ok” and move on. Once you learn how to do this, you’ll be surprised at how liberating it feels to not beat yourself up. It has helped me learn portion control because not getting into “self-trouble” has made over-indulging feel far less “fun” and “rebellious.”
  2. Recognize if you are a perfectionist – I am a total perfectionist and it sadly took a long time for me to recognize. Why? Because I am the type of perfectionist where, if I am I am not over-achieving, then I won’t try at all. I realized that this was sabotaging my workouts. As always, I loftily planned ridiculous workout goals, and then when I didn’t achieve them because, uh, I have a full-time job and a life, I just stopped all together. How silly! There IS a middle ground. Find it and be happy with that.
  3. Ignore the people on Facebook – If I read how about how many burpees someone did on Facebook one more time, I am going to find the sound clip of Christian Bale shouting at the lighting guy, “Oh GOOD FOR YOU” and put the link in the comments section. Then I’m going to start posting status updates of how many satisfying hump-seshes I had with CAH that week, or posting obnoxious pictures of my feet on the beach. With the exception of those who are truly fitness professionals, those other people are just looking for a pat on the back – so ignore them and don’t feel like you have to do what they are doing. Also remember that doing anything in excess, including working out, is often a way to avoid something else in their lives that is paining or bothering them. Kind of like how guys workout more when they are trying to get over a breakup, or how women clean their house from top to bottom when something is stressing them out.
  4. Go back to basics – Has it been a few days since you’ve worked out? A week? TWO weeks? Remember that going to the gym, or working out in other ways, is a habit. We are creatures of routine and if we break that, we have to start again. If you haven’t worked out in a week and you think about hitting the gym as hard as usual, that might actually unmotivate you to go back. So start again with a scaled back workout, even if it’s a walk on the treadmill. When I do this, 9 times out of 10, once I start my workout I feel inspired to give it my all. And when I don’t, I’m still much happier that I went to the gym rather than staying home.
  5. YOU know YOU – I’ve been given so much crappy fitness advice by “professionals” over the years. I’ve also been given great advice, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing myself. Remember that the goal of fitness professionals is to get you in shape – they are not your therapists. If you know that there are mental and/or emotional reasons that are keeping you from making a habit of working out, then be sure that you are addressing those.

That being said, I have come across some great trainers who, not only have the goal of getting you in shape, but know how to work with the emotional/mental blocks that keep people from reaching their goals. If you find that trainer – CLING TO THEM WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.

*In writing this article, I found out that Ms. Striegel has since died. I am not totally without feeling, even towards such a vapid person. So Rest in Peace, Ms. Striegel. I hope whatever demons made you such vitriolic, vile person, died before you did, allowing you to find peace in your life.

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