The road to a life of fitness has detours now and then. This is normal. We may have the best intentions and, maybe, even if we've been doing a great job with our weight goals for some time, life presents challenges that make us have to take a different direction or come to a complete stop.
It could be a physical or mental illness, recovery time from surgery or an injury, a job with a lot of travel demands, a new baby or an emotional upheaval like the loss of a loved one.
Getting your momentum back is more than a matter of getting your body back into physical conditioning. It also involves mental conditioning.
Many people find getting their mind back on track more difficult than getting their body back in shape. Just as it takes more energy to start an object moving from a full stop, it will take more mental energy to get yourself going again once you've been derailed from your fitness program.
How much mental energy it will take depends on whether you take the longer, roughest course or you choose the shorter, smoothest route.
Karen, an active and health-minded individual, was used to getting out every day for an hourlong workout and eating well. As a result, she was quite fit. Then she developed a health problem, and after many months of appointments and tests, she learned she needed surgery. Recovery lasted several months, keeping her from working out the way she liked.
By the time she was well enough to start the old program again, she found it difficult to get to the motivated frame of mind she used to have.
Karen could have given in to feelings of discouragement. Instead, she took the following steps to get her head, as well as her body, back in shape:
Keep the whole journey in mind
Karen reminded herself that her goal was to be fit for a lifetime, not some short-term whim. "I only need a good average, not perfection," she told herself. "Things happen. I'll get past this if I just keep moving forward."
Always start where you are
"I may have been able to do more before, however, there's a logical reason why I can't expect that now,'' Karen said. "I know how to get back to where I was. I've done it before. So, I'll do it again and not worry about it."
Take it slowly
Especially when recovering from an illness or major injury, it's important to accept that taking it slowly is the right way to go. If you try to go faster than you're able or your expectations are overwhelming, you'll probably make yourself so miserable you'll quit. Karen encouraged herself by saying, "This is good. Slow, easy and comfortable. As long as I'm moving forward on my whole journey, I'm doing the right thing."
Focus on consistency, not intensity
If you engage in healthy behaviors on a nearly daily basis (consistency), even if you're not doing it perfectly or at the intensity you might like, the behaviors will turn into habits. When something becomes a habit, that's when you get momentum, and it gets easier to continue. It's consistency that does this — not intensity. And a lifetime of consistency equals more than sporadic bursts of intensity. Karen tells herself daily, "It's good that I'm out walking even if it's not as much as I used to do. Before long I'll be able to get back to the level I had before."
Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce
You wouldn't hesitate to encourage someone else, so why not do the same with yourself? The more difficult the endeavor, the more praise we need. "What I'm doing is great,'' Karen tells herself. "Every step I take is another step closer to getting my conditioning back. I'm making my own healthy meals again, I'm walking 15 minutes each day, and I've started to do a bit of core work, too. Keep up the good work — you're a trouper!"
There's no doubt that resuming healthful habits after taking a detour isn't easy. But focusing on your attitude as well as your actions will make it much easier. With this tool, before you know it, you'll be looking back and saying, "I did it again!"
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.