Why setbacks are important in long-term weight loss

M&Ms in a large bowl

M&Ms in a large bowl tempt me to no end.

Two posts ago, I started a conversation about relapses and setbacks in long-term weight loss. I am in this weird place where I am doing really well for short stretches; making the right choices and eating well. Mainly this means I am eating protein, carbs, and fat in balance five to six times a day. Doing well also means taking my supplements and getting enough sleep.

Then, after days of great eating, I find myself eating handfuls of M&M’s during a Friday afternoon meeting. Not just a few. But HANDFULS. This precipitated a severe headache that lasted for two days. I felt really gross after doing this.

When this type of setback happens, it drudges up a lot of old feelings and habits. I think, “Who cares? I screwed up, so I am just going to forget it. I will eat pizza for dinner because of the mistake I made this afternoon. It really doesn’t matter anyway.” We all know where this all or nothing thinking leads to. It was a big part of why I gained an extra 100 pounds in the first place.

How I was successful this last of many times to lose weight was by getting excellent nutrition advice coupled with allowing myself the occasional food setback, so that a full blown relapse (of the sort I am contending with now) wouldn’t come. This worked really well. The few times I “fell off the wagon” were minimized by all of the good eating and living I was doing. And low and behold, 90 pounds is gone.

So, it is weird to me that when I have only a bit more to go, I have a full blown relapse. Of the kind I haven’t experienced for two years (i.e., eating until I am literally sick).

I think what this relapse is trying to teach me is that it is necessary and serving an important function. It is reminding me of what worked in the first place. Rather than trying to control it, I am trying to make peace with the relapse. It is giving me a change to revisit my issues with weight and eating and to deal with it all over again, just at the point when I was feeling I had this problem licked. I think the relapse will help me reinforce the skills I have gained to manage my weight problem over the long term. I think without this period of time, I may be stalled in my progress for a long time.

To support my ongoing inner dialogue with myself and my body, I need to eat foods and take supplements that will support my brain and help me manage my cravings.

What are your struggles with setbacks and relapses? Leave a comment.


10 Comments on “Why setbacks are important in long-term weight loss”

  1. Lynn Terry says:

    Hi Nell,

    I think I found you on Twitter, and what great timing! I really enjoyed your two posts (and all the comments) on this topic. So much I could relate to myself. I got within 10-20 pounds of my ideal weight (not 100% sure what that is, but figure I’ll “feel it” when I get there) and started struggling with cravings & thoughts I haven’t “heard” since I started! Frustrating…

    I’m now subscribed. I look forward to following along 🙂

    • This is so great! I love that I am not the only one. It is a really weird phenomenon and not one people talk about. It’s as if we feel like, “OK, I am done with that” and stop doing the things that made us successful in the first place. Keep reading and commenting!

  2. sarahsmum says:

    Found you through LLVLC – Jimmy Moore. Very timely as I keep falling off the wagon and climbing back on. I’ve lost 70 lb and struggling to maintain 60 lb of that off (Atkins/low carb). I keep slipping and sliding and am sick of myself. I know I have ‘issues’ and that being thin(ner) isn’t the only goal. I need to make peace with myself or this weight will never stay off. I’m not sure how to do this though. I hear of people ‘doing the work’ – meaning getting into their head but I’m just now sure how to do that. Like yourself I take my supplements and try, oh lordy I try, to eat the foods I know my body needs. Thanks for blogging of your struggles, it helps the rest of us realise we are not alone.

    • This is such a great comment! It is funny that the closer we get to “losing the weight” is when the real struggle kicks in–that of maintaining what we have lost. I continue to struggle with the scale and eating the wrong carbs. I love that you are so honest, and believe me I have been there. I am still there. The relapsing stuff is so real, isn’t it? I will keep going with the setbacks stuff now that I know it helps you!

  3. ok, not related but wanted to see if anyone can suggest a non-egg breakfast? (no yogurt/smoothie since we use it as our morning snack).

  4. Barb says:

    I think Kate nailed it. I am doing the same thing and also losing very slowly this time around. But I have found that when I get to a certain weight, psychologically I start to feel a little uneasy and kind of out-of-body and then I put on a few pounds only to start the same cycle over again. Your post makes me wonder, do I put it back on so I can deal with the issues that caused me to gain? Is it like when someone keeps picking the wrong friends, mates, etc. because they have their “unfinished business” they haven’t dealt with? At any rate, I like what you said about supporting this time with the food and supplements that will help you. I plan to do the same and keep plugging away. I am finding that gluten free eating is much harder than I thought–only because of the time it takes to plan and prepare. It really feels so much healthier. Thanks for your thoughtful post Nell and hang in there!

    • Thanks so much Barb! I think there is this belief that once you get thin, all is well. Not true! The problem is so much more complex than that. I think there is a lot of stuff around identity that people just don’t talk about.

      Thanks again for your post!

  5. Kate says:

    Could it be your head doesn’t really feel you’re the thin person your outside shows? As one who made it to goal weight for mere minutes before packing back on all the lost weight and much more, I now realize that’s what happened to me.
    This time around the weight is coming off extremely slowly but I think that’s helping me adjust to my new lifestyle, new size. It’ll probalby take me at least a couple of years to get where I should be (I’ve lost over 30 since February. Whoo hoo!) but I now know more about what got me to this weight and because of the changes I’ve made I feel so much better. That’s what I’m focusing on. Since going gluten-free and dairy-free my joints are so much better, less pain, and I know my insides are healing.
    Keep up the good work!

    • I just love your comment. Yes, it is a bit of not seeing what is reality. I think the losing the weight very slowly helped me to deal with a lot of the identity stuff. Congrats on the 30! So glad you are FEELING better. That is really a huge piece!

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