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Article authored by Readout Health with editorial oversight from Chief Medical Officer, Naomi Parrella, M.D.

Adopting positive lifestyle changes can be anything but easy. And this time of year it can be especially challenging, particularly when it comes to healthier eating. The holidays often means copious amounts of delicious high carb foods within arms reach, making sticking to a low carb way of eating all the more tough.  

If you’re personally experiencing a setback in your health journey due to the holidays or simply as a consequence of one of life’s many unexpected surprises, take heart! We’ve gathered five useful tips that you can follow to get you back on the right track. 

  1. Ditch the guilt and be kind to yourself. 

Unfortunately it’s all too easy to get down on yourself when you feel like you’ve indulged in behaviors that were not in your best interest. This can lead to feelings of frustration, regret, and judgment. But criticizing yourself doesn’t help. In fact, feeling guilty will likely cause you to feel even worse. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be kind. Accept what happened with grace, and remember that you are human. This is not a moral issue, and you’re not a bad person. It is simply a setback and a wonderful learning opportunity to develop and fine tune all the skills you’ve learned up to this point. Understand that the holidays can be a challenge for anyone when it comes to healthy eating, and that sticking to a healthy eating plan doesn’t just depend on knowing what to eat. Strong emotions like stress, anxiety and depression that pop up in life can often avert the best of intentions.

So rather than the harsh self-criticism you might be tempted to dole out, try something different: forgive yourself. This is called self-compassion. 

The practice of self-compassion incorporates three components. The first is mindfulness. You might be feeling some strong emotions as a result of your setback. To be mindful of these emotions is to allow them and to name them. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated, maybe you’re feeling defeated, maybe you’re feeling angry, or maybe you’re feeling sad. Whatever it is that you’re feeling, name it and say it out loud. For example, you could say, “I feel frustrated because I slipped.”

The second component of self-compassion is reminding yourself of your common humanity. Remember that as a human being, you, along with countless other human beings, are going to struggle from time to time. You are not alone in whatever it is that you’re experiencing. Knowing this will hopefully allow you to feel more connected in your experience rather than isolated.

Thirdly, treat yourself with self-kindness, the same kindness you would offer a good friend. If your friend told you that he or she is experiencing something similar, what would you say? How would you behave? Chances are you would treat them with understanding and grace. You deserve the same.

Some people worry that practicing self-compassion may lessen motivation and enable them to veer off track more often. However, research shows that in fact the opposite is true. Self-compassion is shown to actually support behavior change when it comes to eating in a healthier way.

  1. Remember your “why” to renew your motivation. 

When you first began your journey toward healthier living, you may have had a vision of what you wanted your life to look like after having accomplished your goals. Internalizing your reasons for changing is one of the key ingredients for success when it comes to making healthier lifestyle changes. 

When you get off track, it’s easy to get caught up in unpleasant emotions and lose sight of that vision. Go ahead and engage in the vision once again. Be as specific as you can. To visualize the different ways your life will change, see if you can include all five of your senses. What will you look like? How will your body feel? Which emotions will you feel? Also ask yourself, in the past, when you were following your program, what was motivating you? How did you feel day to day? Recreating those feelings can help you get your motivation back to where you’d like it to be. 

  1. Go back to basics. 

Not so long ago, you had the knowledge and the skills needed to start your journey toward health. You did what it took to make changes. And you can get back to that by going back to the basics. 

Reach out to your resources to help guide you. Maybe it’s a quick refresher on identifying high carb foods and low carb foods. Maybe it involves going back into your kitchen, pantry, and fridge to optimize your eating space for low carb living. Or maybe it’s a matter of hopping online and getting excited about a few new low carb recipes to try out. No matter what, you have the ability to brush up on whatever knowledge and skills you need to resume all the progress you’ve already made on your journey without skipping a beat. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again!

  1. Plan ahead.

You know what they say,“a goal without a plan is just a wish.” And when it comes to healthier eating, this most certainly rings true. Planning your meals ahead of time may seem like an inconvenience, but doing so will set you up for a much easier time making healthy choices even when life gets in the way. 

People plan ahead in different ways, but one helpful way is to plan out your meals and snacks for the week ahead. Bring a list to the store of all the ingredients you need for what you intend to eat that week, and try to stick to the list. And when you’re away from home, keep a bag of low carb snacks with you that you can have on hand when hunger strikes. Thinking ahead in this way will minimize the chances you’ll be caught off guard and in search of food you normally would not eat.

  1. Reach out for support if needed.

The road to better health isn’t always smooth, and sometimes a little bit of guidance can make all the difference in empowering you to get right back on track. While you can certainly reach your goals on your own, there are many benefits to relying on a supportive network of like-minded others who are on a similar journey. People who feel supported tend to have a higher chance of success because they can take advantage of the collective knowledge that others have gained from their own personal experiences. Checking in with others can also help keep you accountable and impart a greater sense of responsibility to follow through on your goals. In addition, feeling supported contributes to a sense of belonging and can offer a firsthand glimpse as to how others struggle as well, leaving you feeling less alone. So, call up your health coach, a mentor, or a friend who’s been there. It may just provide you all the encouragement you need to revitalize your motivation. 

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