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How to Avoid Turning One Day of Off Eating Into a Pattern for the Long Haul

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How to Avoid Turning One Day of Off Eating Into a Pattern for the Long Haul

November 24, 2021 | NEWSLETTERS

We have all likely had the experience of discomfort after eating a larger amount of food than usual or eating something we know fully well our body does not tolerate. In some cases, it can be easy to move on from that one incident, but what happens when one meal or one day of being “off” turns into a pattern? For times that you have off eaten, here are a few strategies to implement:

Strategies for Off Eating to Get Back On Track

Avoid “All-or-Nothing” Thinking and the “Next Monday” Phenomenon

The body is in a constant state of homeostasis, as in, it is constantly working to maintain some degree of equilibrium. Many individuals notice that overeating one day may naturally lead to a decrease in appetite the following meal or the following day. This is your body working to achieve equilibrium.

However, if we approach our food choices as something that is “good/bad” or “right/wrong,” it can lead to feeling that if we mess up, it isn’t “worth it” to get back on track, or that it “doesn’t matter” what else we eat the rest of that day. And that isn’t the case.

One off-plan meal doesn’t have to mean that you throw in the towel for the rest of the day or week. You can always make a different decision for your next meal, or even reduce the amount of the less healthy option at that meal, and eat again when you feel hungry.

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.

Identify Your Triggers

Do you notice a pattern when you go off plan? Does it happen when you feel stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, happy, or bored? Is it because someone else is eating something? Or because the food is simply in front of you and/or available? Does it happen when you sit down to watch TV in the evening? It is important to be aware of your triggers.

First and foremost, be able to identify where you are struggling. Some of these situations may be subconscious, or you may have habits that have been practiced for so long they have become second nature.

It can also be helpful to work on changing your mindset. Consider telling or reminding yourself that you can eat/do whatever you want because you’re an adult, but that you’re choosing not to eat X food because you know it doesn’t serve you in the long run. Thinking about how your future self would feel can be a helpful strategy.

You can also work to minimize your exposure to certain trigger foods or situations. We already make so many decisions on a daily basis, that throughout the course of the day our willpower naturally decreases.

Therefore, at the end of a long day, if you are exposed to your personal trigger, it can be harder to avoid that temptation. Storing certain foods on a higher shelf in your pantry (or in a place you don’t see as often), or not buying those foods and keeping them out of the house can be helpful. Consider making less healthy options inconvenient and healthier options more convenient.

Forgive Yourself & Make a Plan to Get Back on Track

If you happen to have an “off” meal or an “off” day, get back on track as soon as possible. The longer we continue the unhealthy behavior, the harder it will be to get back into the healthy routine.

Did you stop at a fast food restaurant on your way to work because you forgot to prepare your food the night before? That’s okay. Maybe instead of the deep fried side item, you can choose a piece of fruit instead.

When you get hungry again, consider making a conscious effort to choose a meal that contains satiating protein and fiber from non-starchy vegetables or fruit to help you feel more full and satisfied and less likely to continue making less healthful choices.

And then forgive yourself and try not to dwell on the previous decisions you have made. Studies also show that the more stressed and anxious you are about a food or meal, the less efficiently you digest that meal.

Maintain Personal Accountability

Once you have returned to your usual healthy habits, implement behaviors that help to maintain accountability. Studies show that weighing yourself is helpful for maintaining or achieving weight loss.

However, there is controversy over how frequently you should do so. Some individuals find that weighing daily holds them accountable, while others find that to be too stressful. If the act of weighing yourself daily feels daunting, consider weighing just weekly, but try to do so at the same time of day.

In addition to weighing yourself, consider also keeping track of your measurements or taking progress pictures. Since muscle is more dense than fat, it is possible to lose inches and not pounds.

Also, consider keeping a food journal. Simply the act of writing down or logging everything you eat and drink, even if you aren’t counting grams of protein or other macronutrients, can hold you accountable to your daily food decisions and make you more aware of your choices.

You could also take it a step further and make notes of how you feel after eating certain meals or tracking your blood sugar after meals to really be able to assess how certain foods or meals affect your health


Michelle Bauche, MS, RDN, LD, CSOWM is a registered dietitian working for Missouri Bariatric Services in Columbia, Missouri. She is a certified specialist in Obesity and Weight Management and a member of the Weight Management Dietetic Practice Group through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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