“Diet Starts Monday"
By: Josh Dempsey
How many times have you uttered the following phrase, “diet starts Monday!”, or “[insert new workout routine/lifestyle change] starts tomorrow!”? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably uttered some variation of those phrases countless times, typically after a day / weekend / month(s) of less than ideal lifestyle choices. One of the hardest things people struggle with is getting back on the wagon after they’ve strayed from the clean, healthy living path for an extended period of time. The thought of heading back into the gym after taking a few weeks or months off can be daunting. The same can be said for getting back onto a structured nutrition plan after indulging in cheap calories and junk food over an extended weekend getaway.
Our lifestyle habits, for better or worse, tend to be largely influenced by momentum. When you are in a positive feedback loop of working out regularly, eating healthy, and going to bed at a reasonable time, it seems to require very little effort to keep the good times rolling. This concept also applies to when we are in a negative feedback loop of eating crappy food, staying up late watching Netflix, and skipping the gym due to lack of energy and motivation. Breaking out of our well established pattern requires a massive shift in momentum akin to stopping a freight train barreling down the tracks. So, the question remains: how do we get back into the positive feedback loop after say a weekend bender of junk food, sleep deprivation, and ample amounts of “12 oz. curls”?
Getting back on track is as simple as returning to your normal routine as quickly as possible. Presuming you were on a quality routine prior to your most recent departure from the norm, simply pick back up with the things that made you feel great in the first place. When Monday morning rolls around, force yourself to get up at your usual time, eat your normal meals, go to the gym at your normal time / frequency, and try to get in bed at your usual time at night. Regardless of whether or not you are still feeling the ill effects of the weekend, restore normalcy as soon as possible. By all means, feel free to back off the intensity in the gym, drink more water, and attempt to get a little extra sleep if possible. However, in order to get back on the wagon, you don’t need to do a “cleanse” or a “detox”, a crazy diet, 2 a day workouts, or any other ill-conceived ideas to somehow mitigate your choices the past few days. Don’t beat yourself up about eating pizza or having that extra glass off wine; shake it off and focus on doing your best in the present, as this is the only thing you can actually control. As an aside, depending on how you deviated from the norm the most (lack of sleep, too much sugar, etc.), you can make a targeted effort to get back to baseline quicker by prioritizing that area. So, if you were on team no sleep all weekend, get to bed 30 minutes early for the rest of the week and see how you feel. Personally, I like to kick off the week with a day or two of low carb eating if I was a bit too indulgent the previous weekend, focusing on high protein, high fat, some leafy veggies, minimal starch (if any) and no sugar. This, coupled with getting back into the gym, seems to bring me back to baseline the fastest.
What’s the strategy if we are hoping to get back onto a healthy routine but haven’t had one in months or longer? We want to follow a similar approach to the tips outlined above, with a few differences. For this individual, I would start with re-integrating exercise first as the initial catalyst for other lifestyle changes. Start walking daily, and try to make it to the gym or a group exercise class 2x per week. Start here, and keep this up for a month or more before tweaking volume or intensity at all. Once exercise becomes routine, start making dietary tweaks, eliminating the low hanging fruit – sugar, processed foods, grains, alcohol, etc. and see how your body responds. Around this time, I’d also be looking at sleep, and making every effort to optimize quality and keep 7 hours as the daily minimum. In time, exercise frequency can increase, dietary parameters can tighten, and sleep needs can be tinkered with as well. Don’t try to do this all at once, as this can be too much for most people to sustain. Take a very reasonable approach, and focus on consistency and slowly building positive habit change. As is the case with everyone, progress isn’t linear – there will always be setbacks, vacations, injuries, illnesses, etc. When these things invariably happen, don’t stress. Why? Because your diet starts Monday!