Relapse Is Part of Recovery

Teaching at CrossFit Full Potential

Over the past 2 weekends I have had the pleasure of helping more than 60 people jump start 2012 into their healthiest year yet, leading 2 different Paleo Challenges, one at CrossFit Route 1 in Saugus and the other at CrossFit Full Potential in Newburyport.

At the kick-off of each Paleo challenge we look at the nutritional needs of human beings from a biological and evolutionary perspective, answering the question, “What are we designed to eat?”  We discuss which foods best meet our needs to increase our health and how those foods carry out that role in the body.  We also identify those foods which ultimately erode our health, despite conventional wisdom, and how they do so.

Over the course of the Paleo Challenge, participants adhere as strictly as they can to a Paleolithic Lifestyle which includes movement and sleep parameters in addition to diet, earning points for their daily compliance.  Traditionally, at the close of the Paleo Challenge, the participant earning the most points – meaning strictest adherence to the Paleo lifestyle – wins the challenge.

But, just like with any new habit the hard part is sticking to the change – no matter how big or small.  Sure, it may be a whole lot easier when a pot of cash is on the line, like in the Paleo Challenge, but that doesn’t mean there may be days where we just can’t be as good to our bodies as we want or need to be.

Often, when we make a mistake concerning a new habit we punish ourselves for our inability to stick perfectly to our plan.  We may continue to make poor decisions throughout the rest of the day because we “already blew it.”  We decide maybe this is new change is too much, it’s just too hard, we can’t be perfect 100% of the time so why even bother.   But, should a relapse into old behavior, no matter how big or small, be the signal to throw in the towel and walk away?

There are 2 major reasons why NO should be the obvious answer.

First, don’t get down on yourself about a relapse; it is part of the recovery process.  Ok, so the words relapse, recovery and by association the word addiction, may seem a little dramatic when talking about food.  But, as science has discovered, food substances like sugar have highly addictive properties.  That is why they are so difficult to give up.

What is most important is to learn from the relapse and to correct your behavior as soon as you can. Just because you relapsed for one snack or one meal  doesn’t make it okay to go on a bender! Ask yourself questions about what led to the relapse; was I prepared with healthy food options; am I eating in response to an emotion or stress; what did I tell myself in the moment I decided to relapse? The answers to these questions will help the next time you are faced with a similar situation.

Second, when it comes to your health what you do most often and over a long period of time has the greatest impact.  Sure, something like a Paleo Challenge is a great way to kick start healthier eating habits the same way a couch-to-5K program is a great way to ease yourself into exercise, but all benefits are lost when those new habits are not maintained.

When it comes to diet, what you choose to eat 80% of the time – the day, the week, the month and the year – has the greatest impact on your overall health looking long term.  Chronic conditions do not develop over night and we can not expect them to resolve over night either.  Consistency is the key and variety is the spice of life.

The same goes for exercise.  The benefits of exercise last only as long as you make exercise a priority in your routine.   The novelty will wear off the latest exercise craze and if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will get bored.  Exercise with a friend who will hold you accountable, hire a professional who can program workouts that will keep you coming back for more, or join a community based gym like CrossFit.

Notice that no where above does it stay 100%.  We are human and we are not perfect.  Life will get in the way.  So, when it does cut yourself a little slack and get right back on it at the next possible opportunity.  You are a work in progress and any step in the right direction, no matter how small, is reason to celebrate.

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