Relapses in Your Weight Loss Regime

Updated: Mar 25


I have some clients that are consistent with their fitness and weight loss programs...


They come on time; they only miss their sessions in emergencies; they keep up their food journal, they persist year round. Of course, these clients take vacations and go to visit relatives in the holidays, but afterwards they come back to their program.

Some of my clients, however, start out with the best of intentions, but essentially they are only in it for short term and are inconstant about their fitness and weight loss efforts. Unlike the first group, they sometimes don’t arrive on time to sessions; they clearly don’t look forward to being assessed; they don’t keep track of their food. They mean well, but they are not disciplined. Once their contract is finished or even before, they stop coming, but, interestingly, they often turn back up later requesting my services again. And the cycle starts over again. What makes the second group of clients not consistent with their program? The answer is very simple: relapses.


People relapse for many reasons...


Stress is the number one reason; other reasons include injury, illness, finances, and family or addiction issues. Also, among the people who do relapse, some relapse faster than others. People have different attitudes towards adopting new behaviors. This is why people have different levels of relapses: why some individuals are more focused and resilient than others. Psychologists have to say much about this. They call the process of learning new behaviors Stage of Change Model. The stages are divided into five phases: Precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

In precontemplation...


the individual isn’t particularly interested in a new set of behaviors, but he or she is aware that an activity exists. Such a case would be when a sedentary person has peers who are also sedentary and do share the same negative habits, so the individual is comfortable with a non-energetic lifestyle. The individual sees his or her lifestyle as reasonably healthy since he or she hasn’t really explored other alternatives. The individual may note that a close relative is an active person and seems healthier, but she or she won’t weigh the positives effects of themselves taking on a new behavior. I have had interviews with people in this stage. Sometimes a close relative has brought them in to me, so that I can help them. I’ve learned that the only effective action that I can take at this stage is just to inform them of about the negative consequences of a sedentary lifestyle and hope that the idea percolates. Usually the person is not very attentive to what I have to say in such interviews, however. And if someone forces an individual into a weight loss program, the person will usually relapse since he or she does not really care. Pressuring an unwilling person into a new behavior doesn’t work.


Contemplation...

Is the stage where the individual starts to pay attention to the benefits of a new behavior, but they are not actually ready to change their lifestyle. For instance, the sedentary person begins to notice what the active relative or friend is doing, and observes what benefits they have from exercise, such as having more energy, higher self-esteem, more endurance for physical tasks, and fewer visits to the doctor. The individual may now start to fantasize about having the same benefits as their active peer, but the appeal of their sedentary habits is still stronger than his or her desire of changing. To people in this stage, I share information about the long-term effects of inactivity versus how they might begin to feel if they started exercising. The sedentary person often will pay more attention to my words at this point, and he or she will have questions about exactly what kinds of exercise might interest him or her. I figure that they won’t sign up for a program yet, but I can tell that they are thinking about it. It takes time for them to get ready; much depends on what type of experiences and data comes along in their lives. Also, much depends on what type of peers he or she has. As the person in precontemplation, the contemplator is not ready to get involved in a weight loss program; if he or she does, he or she will probably relapse.

I love to interview people who are at the preparation stage. It give me energy seeing people who wants to progress, who wants to change their life, feel better, and extinguish many of the destructive behaviors. This is what keeps me motivated. In the preparation stage people are ready to change. They are preparing to enjoy the challenge and results of a new behavior. Most of my clients were in this stage when they first came to me, but they needed someone who can explain them how to break the barriers to self-improvement. In the preparation stage, people want to know the difficulties ahead, to avoid any unpleasant surprises on the journey to acquiring new behavior. Here people have a high index of relapse; they can return to the precontemplation stage due to injuries, boredom, inaccurate information, or unrealistic goals. Because they are only in the preparation stage, and not yet enjoy many of the benefits of the new behavior, it is often difficult for them to return to the preparation stage and begin again.


In the action stage...

things get more exciting but more exacting too, not only for the individual who is adopting the new behavior but also for any person who wants to see the person succeed in his or her new lifestyle. The individual is now paying attention to his or her food intake, and is exercising and looking forward to seeing progress. Assessment is sought after, not feared. Here the person wants to see results as fastest possible. I usually share others clients’ testimonials with them at this point to make them understand that the more effort they put into the program, the better the results will be. Nevertheless, a newbie needs to be patience and take the program step by step. If their zeal and excitement cause them to want to do everything in the program at once, this may cause overexertion, stress, and in fact makes for possibility of relapse.


The last stage is maintenance...


The individual has worked to become disciplined to the new behavior acquired. People in this stage diligently work through all the steps of their weight loss program; eating right, showing up at the gym, keeping their eye on the prize. Even with this success, of course, relapses can happen. But the individual has gotten used to living with the benefits of the new behavior. They notice if they take a few days off that they don’t feel as good as they are used to. They come to understand that no matter what happens in their lives, including additional stress, injury, illness, or even family crises, their new habits will not hinder but actually help them cope with whatever it is. Their new found sense of well-being is a constant reminder of why they are doing what they are doing. Good habits are their own reinforcement to avoid relapses.


Figure out in which Stage of Change you are...

Study yourself, make a plan, put it into action, and try to avoid relapses. If you do relapse, however, just get back on the wagon. Give yourself as many opportunities you need and persist in your new habits and behavior. Here are some tools that may help you stay on track, tools that are often more appropriate after you’ve gotten to the preparation stage. First get support: get your family and friends involved in your goals. If they are too busy or disinterested, hired a personal trainer who knows how to support you. Make new friends at the gym or in exercise classes who can cheer you along and share your triumphs. Find supporters and confidents who are interested in your new lifestyle. Next, create a manageable diet and exercise schedule and stick to it. Be flexible only in real emergencies. Stay away from places or if possible from people who would reinforce your old bad habits. Seek out new activities and people which are part of a healthy lifestyle. Understand that high risk situations will come along in life where you can’t keep up your new habits, but remember that abandoning them will only aggravate any situation. Keep in mind that relapses are not a failure. They are merely a reminder to get back on track. As Publilius Syrus noted over 2000 years ago, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

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