How not to fall down after a slip up
May 30, 2012 8:03 AM   Subscribe

The bf and I have been working on establishing healthier patterns (eating better/exercising/drinking less alcohol) and have a question about slip ups. We'll be going along fine for several weeks to a month, then go to a party or whatever, have a night of drinking and eating junk, then get off track for several weeks to a month. How can we minimize the damage from slip ups?

I know that having all-or-nothing thinking is part of the problem, as is the fact that a night of drinking makes you feel crappy in the morning, which makes it that much tougher to get up and make a healthy breakfast rather than picking up some delicious migas. We also tend to go from one extreme to another (super healthy to really unhealthy foods/drinking patterns), and I know that we should probably try to be less rigid, but I guess I'm not sure how that looks.

The ultimate goal for drinking would be to be able to moderate it, perhaps just drinking when with friends, or on weekends. Historically when we've tried to cut down on drinking we avoid it all together, which leads to avoiding hanging out with friends, which leads to depression, which leads to drinking. We have been able to hang out without drinking on a few occasions, but that requires a certain mindset that can be challenging to get into.

So I guess the question is two-fold. How can we try to be more moderate while still making healthy choices a real part of our lives, and not let slip ups totally derail our efforts. Is there a good way to do this with alcohol particularly? Or would it be better to try to get used to not drinking at all?
posted by odayoday to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Schedule off-days.

Like, "Mary's birthday party on Saturday is an off-day. We can eat and drink all we like, and then the next day it's back to the plan." This contains things and gives you a relief valve. You've also got the expectation that you'll get back on track the next day. And I mean, actually put the off-day on a calendar so you know that it's coming and that the days after are back on the plan.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The answer might be 'slip up more'.

Allow yourself one night a week (cheat night!) where you can relax your diet/alcohol rules. Let's say Saturday nights, with the understanding that you will resume your healthy plan the next day.

Once you can do the weekly cheat easily, relax it to once every two weeks, then every month, to whatever.

We are all creatures of habit, big lifestyle changes are hard to pull off all at once.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:13 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmm. When you go drinking, how are you drinking? Another thing that might contribute to this slide is what you're drinking. Thinking of alcohol as cheating lets you kind of really binge on the unhealthy side of things. Thinking of alcohol as a planned for, moderate-healthy choice may make it less likely to contribute to an "off the diet" binge.

Along those lines: diet mixers if possible, hard alcohol rather than beer, is what I used when I was trying to do this a few years back.
posted by corb at 8:17 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Plan for slip ups? If you know your going to a party the next day and are going to get drunk stock the fridge with healthy food and prepare breakfast for the next day ahead of time.

Of maybe slip up more. I don't drink often and i find it easier to do so if i have 1 or 2 drinks every few weeks than if I have no drinks for 6 months. For some reason its easier to really slip up if i'm feeling deprived.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:18 AM on May 30, 2012

I think all-or-nothing thinking is probably a big part of your problem, as you seem to have noticed. So stop doing that! Go ahead, have the migas, but then have something healthy for dinner. If you're too hungover to go to the gym, go for a walk around the block. That's what that looks like.

If one night of drinking can throw you off track for weeks, maybe your "healthy" patterns are just too rigid for you to stick to. Maybe you need to lay off just in general. My motto is "Moderation in moderation." Excess is OK once in a while.

As for drinking, I think the question of how to be social without drinking comes up a lot here. But two simple strategies are alternating nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks (this is very subtle and most likely no one will notice) and hanging out with friends in non-drinking or low-drinking situations (requires cooperation from your friends, may be difficult if your entire social life currently revolves around bars/clubs/house parties).

Oh, and I take the exact opposite strategy as corb when I'm being moderate in my drinking - beer and wine only, no mixed drinks! So I guess maybe that's a personal preference thing.
posted by mskyle at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

not let slip ups totally derail our efforts. Is there a good way to do this with alcohol particularly?

When you get up on the morning after heavy drinking, you will feel like crap. YOU WILL FEEL BETTER SOON. Have some caffeine, some B vitamins, and an aspirin, along with a pint of water, sipped slowly enough that you don't vomit or anything.

Move around a little, just walking around and doing a wee bit of stretching. After a half hour or so, the chemicals will have been absorbed into your system, and you'll feel a little better. Now: go for a run outside.

I know, I know, you're thinking "Run? FUCK YOU, I'M HUNGOVER." I know. But the run need not be long or overly-strenuous; just enough to get sweating and to let the sacred light of the sun recharge you, so that your body pushes out the post-alcohol crappiness. Remember that at the end of this, YOU WILL FEEL BETTER.

When you come back from the run, drink another pint of water. Now you can flop back down into bed. You can go back to sleep if you want! Or you can just lie on your back, tired as heck, moaning, "MURDER MY BALLS" over and over again. But as you lie there, and the water seeps into your system, the endorphins you've created by running will slowly be felt, and now you will feel better.

The whole process, from wake-up to finish, should only take about an hour. This is your healing hour. Thank the water and the glorious sun for its help in burning off your feelings of grossness. Go on, say it out loud: "Thank you, great sun, giver of life; thank you, great water, restorer of health."

That was a terrible hour, I know, but! Now your blood is flowing and your pores have opened and you can say, "Okay, let's cook something healthy"


You can say, "Let's cook something that is greasy as FUCK, but whatevs, we deserve it, look we even got out and exercised like Real Badass Humans, good job, us, I'm'a have a croissan'wich"
posted by Greg Nog at 8:26 AM on May 30, 2012 [29 favorites]

I'm this way. I've seen allowing yourself one cheat day (24 hours/3meals) a week recommended in various places, so that's what I do. As to how to stay on track, for me it's a time issue. Like you say, the next day after the cheat day, you often feel too sluggish to cook (a gentle reminder that the cheat food is not great for you). I try make sure I have some premade healthy stuff that can just be microwaved or whatever. For exercise, sometimes, I'm too tired the next day to go to the gym. So, I don't, but I make darn sure to do some form of exercise the day after -- I don't require the gym, but I at least try to walk a few miles. Usually after a bit of a rest, I can get back on track -- the trick is not to completely go off the deep end to start with.

I hope you notice that I used the word "try" a lot. Nobody is perfect, and I'm happy with about 90% compliance. I don't think of it as a "slip up." Just part of that 10% of my life that doesn't follow the rules. That's ok. I joined Health Month a while back, and there are lot of nice people on the Metafilter team who offer support in staying the course as well.
posted by bluefly at 8:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't think of these events as "slip-ups." It's just life. My mentality is that everyone has those days and you just need to make peace with it and not see it as a mistake or an error. I try to eat healthy when I can because I know that there are going to be times (like at a party or eating out), when I'm not going to be eating well. I try to work out when I can because I know that there are going to be days where I'm too busy or where I just feel like I need to go home and lay on the couch for an evening. I'm thinking about these "slip-ups" long before they might occur, and working the understanding that they will occur into my healthy activities.
posted by Nightman at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2012

My general rule is that if I'm going to slip up, I'm going to make it count. It's not so much an all-or-nothing, but a quality issue. Going to have a meal out? Fine, but it'd better be a nice meal, and not just Taco Bueno. Going out for drinks? Cool, but I'm getting nice beer and not the swill.

This is a lifestyle change, and a lifestyle change that doesn't allow for any slip-ups is unrealistic. This includes productivity, health, or diet. You're human, and you're not perfect. So you fuck up, and it's fine. Get back onto it, and keep going. Check in every once in a while to make sure you haven't completely moved off track, but otherwise, you're trying to craft a different, sustainable lifestyle. You don't want something extreme that's just going to snap back the minute you look away.

...and if my wife reads this, she's going to call me the biggest hypocrite in the fucking world, because I definitely don't follow my own advice.
posted by SNWidget at 8:42 AM on May 30, 2012

I do this exact same thing, and it's maddening. Here is what I've found has worked best for me:

I try to hold onto at least some part of the original plan and stick with that even if everything else has gone to hell. That way it seems much less like I've gone off track and lost all momentum.

For example, if I have a weekend where I eat terribly, I make sure I still get to the gym. That way I'm still keeping up with the exercise part of the plan, even if the eating part has gone awry. It's so much easier for me to get back in the eating groove when I haven't skipped workouts. Another example would be if I had a bad eating day but still tell myself to make sure I get at least my minimum amount of protein in for that day, so before I go to bed I drink a protein shake. This way I still feel like I'm working toward my goals. I think the trouble comes when I feel like I'm moving away from my goals rather than toward them.

So, I'd recommend trying to find one or two parts of your plan that you can still accomplish even on days when you feel like you've screwed everything else up.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:52 AM on May 30, 2012

I cut back on drinking by establishing that I would only drink while eating--can be snacks or a meal--but always with others, at home or out. I eat low-carb and fatty, protein-y meals fill me up quickly, and also slow down the alcohol absorption rate. I also alternate drinks--1 glass of wine, then 1 glass of fizzy water. A cheat day is fine, but I don't vary the situation for drinking.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:55 AM on May 30, 2012

I've dieted a lot in the past, and I've learned that for me at least, the "scheduled cheat day" has never worked. It causes lingering feelings of guilt, physical discomfort, bloating and cravings long after the cheat day, and it also does not help me develop a sense of balance to shun all sweet things 6 days a week and go nuts on the 7th.

But the super-rigid, super-ascetic diet mode does not work for me either. I find myself in genuine physical distress, with anxiety, painful hunger pangs and constant food cravings, if I impose that kind of system on myself.

Instead if I find that I am really craving something, or if it's a special occasion, or whatever, I will just have 1 small portion of the "forbidden" food. So at the weekly morning meeting, I'll have one mini-muffin, and not the big monster muffin I would have had before. I put a cap on it, enjoy it, and then don't worry about it.

Yes this makes weight-loss slow. But it controls my anxiety about food, and stops me from considering a particular food to be "forbidden". I think this would work with drinks too. Have a drink. Tell yourself exactly how many alcohol units you will have. Consume them, enjoy them, then stop.

All-or-nothing thinking ("I can never touch carbs again!") has never helped me. It has only created a sense of horrible anxiety about food. Cultivate a sense of balance. You don't have to pig out on sweet stuff, or get paralytically drunk. Allowing yourself to enjoy nice things in moderation will be good for your health and more importantly show that you're the boss of you, not the food or the drink.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:06 AM on May 30, 2012

I almost never "slip up" if slipping up is defined by eating typical junk food fare. If by eating better you simply mean more whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, there is definitely room for convenience foods that are better than others.

If after a night of drinking you can't muster the energy to make something from scratch, there are lots of whole food alternatives that are pre-made. If I'm going to eat cake, it's not going to be some high-fructose corn syrup-ridden monstrosity, but real cake. If I'm going to eat fries, they're not going to be from McDonalds. If I'm going to eat pizza, I get tons of veggies on it, etc, etc.

Part of making a life-style change is that you no longer slip up in the sens of eating crap because crap does not taste good. This doesn't mean always eating a head of kale a day, but rather eating all the yummy things, but made from yummy, good, whole ingredients.

And if after a night of drinking, you pick up some migas, which is not the unhealthiest thing in the world either, you still have lunch and dinner. Every meal is a new decision, unaffected by what you ate previously, or are going to eat after.

I eat chocolate, cake, ice cream (can you tell dessert is my thing?) all throughout the week, but the key is in how much of those things I eat, and what types of those things I eat.
posted by DeltaForce at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2012

The best way to curb this is to really think of every day as a new start. Yes, it's cheesy, but it makes a huge difference. Every morning, when you wake up, look at it as a new opportunity to make better choices. Those choices don't last beyond today, it's just new ones that keep coming.

Yeah, maybe yesterday wasn't a great day as far as making choices. But, you get to start over today!

As for the practical, create a "hangover survival kit" which includes a few healthy breakfasts that you've made and frozen. (Breakfast burrito, maybe?) No matter what state you wake up in, you can probably nuke something for a minute or two to have for breakfast. By the time you have your senses back, it'll be lunch. Then, you can get back to making better choices.
posted by Citrus at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2012

I know exactly where you're at. Me and Mr. Pony have had to make some major changes around here, because it just got to be too much. Too much drinking and too much crap food- and it was starting to take a toll on my mental health...

I had tried doing it by myself, but it really wasn't enough..I'd always scheduled days not to drink, but like you- the second day I'd slip and end up drinking too much for the next couple weeks.... or I might have decided to have a night with no alcohol, but the minute mr. Pony poured himself a glass of wine, that was it- I would have one too, and lots more.

I meant business though.... I had decided to myself that I was no longer going to live in a house in which there was always alcohol there tempting me... I'd tried to, but it was proven that I couldn't say no for a meaningful length of time. and I deserved a healthy environment where I could have a nice routine, nutritious food, and restorative sleep. (none of which happen when drinking too much)

And in the end I had to impose a complete alcohol ban in the house during the week.

And its worked- YAY!

Basically, if we feel like we'd like to have a couple beers during the week we go to the pub... which is too expensive for us to do more than once a week... Or we'll have a bottle of wine watching the sunset. But that shit is not coming back to the house... its time limited... and its intentional.

Weekends are fine because they're the weekends.

And the other areas have improved... we have more time, energy, and money...
posted by misspony at 9:13 AM on May 30, 2012

I'm not a big fan of scheduling off-days, but I do only expect myself to be 80-90% compliant with my diet goals. Assuming 3 meals a day and no snacks, that gives me about 4 meals a week that I don't have to worry about staying on-track. Most of that honestly gets devoted to alcohol for me, but I do make an effort not to drink too much so I don't have to waste a noncompliant meal on greasy breakfast (I like drinking more than I like delicious bacon...YMMV). This ends up meaning that there's quite a bit of flexibility in my otherwise really restrictive diet.
posted by mchorn at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2012

This is easy to do when you come home late from a night out or from traveling and have work the next morning, which happens to me at least twice a week. I do my best to always have acceptable and easily-prepared foods in the house.
Monday morning's lunch after a weekend trip? Ravioli in the fridge, 15 minutes boiling and I am in bed.
Breakfast after a night out? Apples, maybe peanut butter. (I am most vulnerable to giving up if I come home from work later than I want to cook dinner).
posted by whatzit at 11:17 AM on May 30, 2012

Avoid thought patterns like "ugh, I feel awful, I deserve to indulge in X" or "I've already screwed up, I might as well enjoy myself a little while longer" or "this diet sucks, I can't wait until I have an excuse to go on a donut bender".

The way to recover from slip-ups is to have a routine, and get back to that normal routine as soon as you are done.

The way to have a normal routine is to decouple "going out with friends" from "getting drunk and eating a three pound burrito at 4am". If you can't go out without your friends forcing you to drink, they might not be the greatest friends to have.
posted by gjc at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2012

Having a "cheat day" must work for some people, as it's been suggested umpteen times already. My mind just rebels at that kind of thinking, though. At the same time, huge lifestyle/habit changes are very difficult to implement and stick to.

What I find works better is to start with one smallish thing, and make that the thing. Maybe for you guys it could be "no more unhealthy breakfasts." Then you have to quit unhealthy breakfasts cold turkey. You can backslide all you want elsewhere, but the first food that passes your lips every day has to be fruit/yogurt/oatmeal/toast/etc. (There are lots of healthy breakfasts!) When you've got that nailed down (give it at least a month), you get to set a new goal -- maybe "every other drink at parties will be non-alcoholic." Keep the goal train going until you're where you want to be. This way of thinking lets you indulge a tendency towards absolute thinking without the shock of trying to change everything at once.

Another thing is, it's really wonderful that both you and your boyfriend are on the same page about this. If you haven't, you should definitely make plans for how you can support each other in weak moments, and how you can share the load. Continuing the breakfast example, if you alternate days cooking breakfast, it will be really difficult to slip up gorge yourself on pop-tarts and ice cream, because half the time you're not even supposed to be in the kitchen in the morning, and the other half of the time your boyfriend is counting on you to feed him something healthy.

I don't know if I have much advice about the drinking aspect of things particularly. It might be a sound idea to check in with a counselor or psychologist with experience in addictions. There are a few signals in your post (depression leads to drinking, difficult to hang out without drinking) that there might be more going on than just overindulgence. Of course, it might not be a serious problem, but telling you one way or the other exceeds my Random Internet Person paygrade.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2012

Slip ups really do mess you up for awhile, and I've struggled with this exact issue a lot lately (food more than drinking related, but still, a visit from out of town friends will get me off track for weeks). I find that the thing to do when you get a bit frustrated with yourself is to recommit to the project and remind yourself why you're doing it. And change something about the rules/plans, even if it is minor. Maybe introduce some rewards for good behavior. If I change up the plan I feel much better recommitting to it because I don't feel like I am continuing something I've repeatedly failed at already! Good luck.
posted by lovingkindness at 8:27 AM on May 31, 2012

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