It’s a tale as old as time: One minute you’re totally rocking your health routine — eating well, exercising, sleeping 8 hours a night, and even practicing mindfulness. And, the next minute? Well… not so much.
Often, it’s one small decision, a little bump in the road on the journey to metabolic health, that can send you flying off the proverbial wagon. One morning donut leads to the decision that it should be a “cheat day” (… or week… or month). Or, after one skipped run, your shoes gather dust in the corner for the next three weeks.
Pragmatically, letting one decision sabotage future decisions makes no sense. If you get one flat tire on the way to work, do you puncture the other three? Of course not! But, in the moment, it can feel right to lean into the idea that one decision sets the trajectory for the rest of the day, week, month, or even life.
The good news is, there are ways to reset so that one short-term indulgence doesn’t derail your health routine indefinitely.
In Your Health Routine, Mindset Leads the Way
Before we get into specific actions for resetting after a metabolic “slip up”, it’s important to first get in the right mindset.
#1. Let Go of Guilt
Food guilt, or the feeling of guilt for eating certain foods or eating too much, is both emotionally draining and more likely to result in overeating and other unhealthy eating behaviors. In one study, those that associated chocolate cake with “guilt” versus “celebration” reported greater difficulty maintaining or losing weight, as well as less perceived control over food decisions under stress. Therefore, try to treat an indulgence not as a slipup or a mistake, but instead as part of your sustainable journey to metabolic health.
#2. Recognize the Effect Size
One donut (or skipped workout, or late night) is, really and truly, not a big deal. There are 270 calories in the average glazed donut and 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. In other words, you’d need to crush 13 donuts to gain just one pound. While some research suggests the math may not be quite that simple, it’s safe to say that one unhealthy meal or missed workout in isolation won’t derail your longevity journey. It’s what comes next that matters.
#3. Make a Plan (or Plans!) to Get Back on Track
This step is critical; without a plan to execute, you’re likely to let guilt and remorse creep in and shove you further off track. The question is: What should that plan be? Ultimately, it depends on the challenge you’re trying to overcome.
“Resetting” Your Health Routine After a Setback
Here are a few of the most common challenges, along with specific strategies to helpyou re-establish your health routine.
Challenge #1: You Overate
Whether it was grandma’s homemade pasta or all-you-can-eat crab legs, we’ve all had that meal that left us yearning for sweatpants. So, what do you do with that uncomfortably full feeling?
Reset #1: Change Your Environment
Environmental cues as simple as putting your napkin on your plate, returning your dish to the kitchen, moving the candy bowl farther away, or taking a stroll around the block can signal the end of a meal and help prevent emotional reasoning from taking over (e.g., “I already feel crappy, so I might as well keep going”). Cues such as these can also act as a critical first step in the process of habit formation. The result? Healthier decisions that are less reliant on willpower down the road.
Reset #2: Have a Shot of Apple Cider Vinegar
Your blood glucose rises when your body breaks down the food you eat into sugars and circulates them in your bloodstream (until they’re absorbed into your cells with the help of insulin). Large, carbohydrate-rich meals can generate particularly high levels of blood glucose after a meal, known as the “postprandial spike.” In the short term, these spikes cause lethargy and hunger. However, over time, frequent blood glucose spikes can cause your body to lose its ability to lower blood glucose levels effectively, resulting in poor glucose control. The result is a higher risk of myriad health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. To avoid heading down this road, research shows that 1–2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar can help curb the postprandial glucose spike by 25–35%.
Reset #3: Get Up and Move
No, it doesn’t have to be a HIIT workout. Research shows that even very light activity like a mellow walk 30-45 minutes after finishing a meal can blunt your peak glucose levels by 20%. Exercise also reduces the amount of insulin the body needs in order to absorb glucose into the cells — a good thing, since high levels of insulin over time can lead to insulin resistance (which in turn is associated with diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic diseases).
Challenge #2: You Gave In to Your Sweet Tooth, But You’re Still Not Satisfied
You had the donut (yum!) . . . and now you’re ready for the whole box. If you’ve ever had this feeling, blame the postprandial dip (i.e., “sugar crash”) that follows a blood sugar spike and causes even more sugar cravings. The solution? Control the crash.
Reset: Grab a Handful of Almonds
It may seem counterintuitive to eat more after an indulgence, but reaching for a small handful of almonds or other nuts may be your best next move. Nuts are high in heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which helps to moderate blood sugar spikes and crashes, while the fiber they contain can help slow digestion and control that craving.
Challenge #3: You Drank Too Much Alcohol
Festive drinking often feels good in the moment, but you know you’re going to suffer tomorrow. How do you lessen the damage?
Reset #1: Drink Plenty of Water
Alcohol is a diuretic, and research suggests that dehydration can lead to impaired glucose metabolism, as well as reduced satiety. (It’s why you’re often scouring the cupboards after a night out!). Drink 1–2 glasses of water before bed — more than that is unlikely to be absorbed and may disrupt sleep with extra trips to the bathroom — but keep that full glass on the bedside table, just in case you wake up feeling thirsty. Focus on rehydrating in the morning by starting the day with a glass of water that includes a squeeze of lemon and pinch of sea salt to replace electrolytes.
Reset #2: Catch Up on Sleep
Even if you weren’t partying until the wee hours of the morning, you will likely need more shuteye after a few drinks. While alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it has a negative effect on sleep quality and can disrupt normal sleep patterns that are necessary for memory and brain development. Depending on the debt incurred, several days of going to bed earlier and waking up naturally may be needed to optimally restore sleep balance and circadian rhythm.
Challenge #4: You Skipped a Workout
Some days the snooze button wins out over the gym. But, don’t worry — rest days are necessary, too, and just because you didn’t do an official workout doesn’t mean you missed your chance to be active.
Reset #1: Be an Opportunist
Activities you don’t think of as “workouts” can still benefit your metabolic health. No time or motivation for the gym today? Maybe it’s a day for grocery shopping, cleaning your house, or chasing your dog/kids/partner around the park. These activities are examples of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which includes any energy-burning activity that’s not intentional exercise, eating, or sleeping. NEAT can have major metabolism-boosting effects and is positively associated with a reduction in obesity and chronic disease. In fact, the vast majority of people burn more energy through NEAT than exercise, even people who incorporate regular exercise into their daily lifestyle.
Reset #2: Turn to Intermittent Fasting
The benefits of intermittent fasting are well established and include improvements in immunity, inflammation, neurogenesis, and overall metabolic health. But, it can be tough (though doable!) to pair intermittent fasting with a workout routine. If you skipped your workout, maybe today is the day to postpone breakfast and aim for a longer fasting window. Of course, you don’t have to do this every time you take a planned or unplanned rest day, but it’s worth considering if you’re already fasting or “fasting curious.”
Metabolic health is about progress, not perfection. From time to time, we are going to stray from the “ideal” — and that’s OK! All is not lost. Sometimes, all that is needed is a simple reset to get back on track.
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