10 Ways I Survive a Slump

The path to fitness and a healthy weight is not always a smooth one.  Periods of low (or no) motivation shouldn't disappoint or surprise us, they are normal, and are to be expected.  I've been known to struggle for weeks at a time sometimes.  When that happens my normal pattern gets flipped upside down. Instead of mostly good days with a not-so-good day thrown in it becomes mostly not-so-good days.  By "good" I'm mostly talking about my attitude and how well I follow my plan.  So low periods happen to all of us, and they will come and go throughout our lives.  What can I do to get through those times? Here are my ideas.
  1. Start each day fresh no matter what. I have to let yesterday's mistakes go. If I carry them into my new day they have a chance of tainting my attitude. You can't undo past mistakes, but you can learn from them.
  2. Accept being less than perfect. If anything has been my biggest challenge on this journey it's rigidity. I used to think if I couldn't go to the gym for my full workout then there's no point in going. If I don't eat a healthy lunch, then why care about dinner? This is something in which I've put a lot of mental work. I challenge my rigid thoughts, I acknowledge my small successes and I consider a goal half-met better than a goal never met at all.  Two steps forward and one step back will get me there eventually.
  3. Think lifestyle changes. This journey is NOT about losing weight.  You might be saying, "Uh, yes it is Michelle, I'm here to lose weight."  No, you are here to change your lifestyle, losing is weight is just a byproduct of that change.  I used periods when I wasn't losing to practice maintenance. The time will come when you won't get the reward and motivation that comes from a weekly weight-loss. How will you motivate yourself then? What will be your reward? So try to view slumps as a period of maintenance, to, at minimum, maintain your weight. If you don't go backwards, you're still ahead.
  4. Wait it out. I know my fire will come back, it has every time. As long as I don't give up altogether I will be here, ready to go, when it does. If I give up, when my fire comes back I'll be somewhere back behind the starting line. I don't want to have to say, "I feel great but I have to lose 10 (or more) pounds just to get back to where I was."  I've done this before and a mistake isn't worthwhile if I don't learn from it. So, just sit tight, try not to judge, and be patient.
  5. Remember where I came from. I spend so much time looking forward that I sometimes forget to look back. I look forward to my next mini-goal, to my next 5-pounds lost, to my next clothing size, etc. But it's just as important, and at low motivation times more important, to look back. Looking back I see that I was over 233 pounds when I started this journey. I see that I wore a size 22 and could not shop in most clothing stores. I couldn't walk briskly for five minutes (can you believe that?!), I had no goals, no plans, no adventures, and very little fun. My confidence was in the toilet and my stress-level was sky high. Rather than focus on the goals I'm not meeting right now I will focus on the goals I have met, and want to maintain. I once told a friend who was struggling, "Maybe you're going to stay this weight all summer and not lose again until winter. Would that be such a bad thing?" And I remind myself during low times, No, it would not be a bad thing. After all, I'm here.
  6. Change things up.  You read this one a lot, and there's a reason for it.  Try new foods, take a new class at the gym.  Maybe it's time to buy some new clothes?  And what about some of the other goals in your life?  Are there other things you'd like to accomplish aside from weight loss?  Maybe tackle those for a confidence boost.  Clean out that closet and really organize it, cut your hair - make some changes and accomplish some other goals while you wait for your fitness motivation to return.
  7. Use support. I just mentioned a supportive friend. Find people that inspire you, that are on your same journey and share your commitment to change.  I learn so much from my "fit" friends and I get a lot of support. I know they understand and that's important. And then there's online community forums.  Find one you like and log on for support whenever you need it.  Weight Watchers has a community forum you can join even if you aren't a paid member.  I also like Active.com's community forum, particularly the "Newbies" running forum. I also get a lot out of reading blogs of folks who are doing it, living it, and loving it. Fired-up posts about their training, events, and challenges, keep my embers burning. Some of my faves are The Athena Diaries, and Magazine Smiles.  Finally, fill your Facebook wall with motivation by "liking" fitness/health oriented pages like MINE (!!), active.com, c25k, weight watchers, and runner's world.
  8. Routine, routine, routine:  Keep doing what you've been doing as much as you can.  Pack those healthy snacks, eat your healthy breakfast, take the stairs.  Fake it 'till you make it is a good phrase to use here.  You may not be feeling that same drive to eat healthy, wholesome meals, you may not want to pack that apple and string cheese.  But when 10am rolls around, if you have it in your bag you're more likely to eat that than the donut in the staff office or heat up the kids' leftover mac-n-cheese.  Your healthy routines will eventually become second nature but until they do, focus some energy on what those routines are and how you can keep doing them during this low period.
  9. Go to the gym and do nothing.  Huh?  Do nothing, you say?  Well, you have to do something otherwise you might look silly but what you do doesn't matter, it's the visit, it's the habit of going, it's maintaining the routine that's important.  I call these "habit workouts" because they are about maintaining the habit of exercise, not actually about exercising.  Walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes at a leisurely pace while you flip through a magazine or watch TV.  Do some gentle stretches while you listen to your ipod.  Don't think about minutes or calories or heart rate or any of it.  Just get there.  And then leave.  And you can just as easily do this at home or outside.  Set aside some time to focus on your body, get in touch with it, relax and enjoy.  Do some stretches in your living room or go for a stroll, ride your bike around the corner, it really doesn't matter. It's just a placeholder to keep the habit until the motivation to do more returns.  Once you experience the power of the maintenance workout you'll see what I'm talking about. 
  10. Compliment yourself.  During periods of low motivation it becomes even MORE important to pat yourself on the back every time you make a good choice, eat the best food and follow your plan.  Did you eat your planned lunch?  Pat on the back.  Resisted the candy bowl at the bank?  Pat on the back.  Say positive things to yourself.  Remind yourself why you started this journey.  I have a list of the reasons why I want to lose and maintain weight loss.  Make your own list, from the serious, "to live long enough to see my children grow up" to the less so, "to happily wear shorts in the summer".  All these things are why we started, and they are easy to forget when our motivation is down and we are feeling less than perfect.  But it's the journey, not the destination, and periods of low motivation are part of the journey.  They are unavoidable, so learn to deal with them successfully - and by success I mean not giving up - and you have conquered one of the biggest hurdles to meeting, and maintaining, your goal.  And you can give yourself a big pat on the back for that one too.  Hang in there!  You can do it!
Alright, there you have it. My plan to ride out periods of less motivation.  I hope it helps when you have a low moment, day, week or month.  And remember, sometimes in life the shit will hit the fan and all hell will break loose.  Maybe your mother is dying and you're in another state caring for her.  Maybe you lost your job and you're not sure how to keep a roof over your head.  Maybe the death of a loved one has left you reeling.  During those horrible times, do what you can.  Hang in there, try not to throw all your goals and desires out the window but know that if you have to shift your focus for a while, all is not lost.  You can come back when you're ready. 

Here's a post from 2013 in which I followed my own advice during a slump.