Never Back at the Beginning: Handling a Healthy Living Relapse

By Katie, 5:19 am

The term “relapse” is often reserved for people suffering from addictions or disorders, but the truth is that most of us have experienced some kind of relapse at one point or another. With the best of intentions we choose some healthy living goal – to heal our relationship with food, to start a running routine, to spend more time nurturing our spiritual selves – and all goes well for the first week, month, year, or decade.

But then, slowly but surely, the old habits begin creeping back into our lives. Emotionally overeating in front of the television. Trading in the daily jog for more time spent in front of the computer. Hitting the Snooze button over and over, instead of getting up and spending fifteen minutes in prayer or meditation.

For me, the toughest part isn’t sliding back into those old habits; indeed, that part is quite easy. The real challenge is when I decide to get back  on the healthy train, to again start doing the things I know make me feel my best.

And the reason it’s so difficult – at least in my case – is because I always compare myself…to myself. I see where I used to be, where I once was, and I moan that I am not that person anymore. I whine that I am (and I always use this phrase) “all the way back at the beginning.”

That is, until someone very wise heard me whining and said quite bluntly, “do you really think that’s true?”


It’s NOT true. No matter how far I fall, no matter how much I feel like I’m back-pedaling, I am not and never will be the person I was at the beginning of my healthy living journey. Even if I look exactly like that person on the outside – even if my behaviors resemble that person’s to a T – I am still not that person.

Going back to my earlier examples:

  • Even when I “relapse” and find myself turning to food instead of asking myself what I really need, I am still so much wiser and more in tune than the person who ate and ate and ate and had no idea why.
  • Even if you used to run marathons but now can barely complete a mile, you are still filled with the knowledge and understanding of running that only someone with experience can have (regardless of how long ago that experience was).
  • Even if I haven’t opened my Bible in weeks, I can still feel comfortable jumping right back into my spiritual practice; I can still learn from my “relapse” and use it as a new point of connection with God.

My point is this: when we decide to pick ourselves back up again after falling off whatever wagon we initially hopped on, we’re never starting from scratch. We may feel like we’re back at the very beginning, but we’re really not. In fact, the very act of falling off is probably a necessary part of the journey, and we’ll only be stronger for it in the long-run.

Have you ever felt discouraged when you lost touch with a healthy habit you used to have? Did you feel like you were back at the beginning?

Did you/can you find ways to turn that “relapse” into a learning experience, an opportunity for growth?

26 Responses to “Never Back at the Beginning: Handling a Healthy Living Relapse”

  1. I have definitely fallen off the wagon and felt discouraged, but I don’t know if I ever realized I was comparing myself to myself! It’s just so frustrating because once I’ve done something, I know I CAN do it, and that makes the falling back even worse.

    I will keep your words, “You’re never back at the beginning” in mind. So true! (Was that your husband? :) )

  2. I’ve found my running has recently relapsed somewhat – slower, harder etc. I was feeling discouraged, but now I think; heck , I’m training for a marathon! It’s tough, my body isn’t used to it, I’m allowed to slow down and feel tired! Without a doubt, a learning op :)

  3. I am queen of feeling that way. Especially after the first week of perfect intuitive eating, I slid back into some old habits. I knew it wasn’t as easy as i thought!

    The good thing is that It literally left such a big footprint in my way if thinking about my relationship with food that it will never be the same again, for the better!

    I also think that through slipping back, I have gained an inner voice that is observing all of these setbacks and makes me so much more aware if the underlying issues instead of just feeling unconscious about them and then feeling guilty.

    I’m not starting at the begginning anymore because i am learning from my mistakes :)

  4. This post could not have come at a better time! I’ve “fallen off the wagon” so to speak, and I am the person you described in your blog. I hit the snooze button repeatedly, I skip my runs in favor of sitting around, and I hardly ever reflect anymore. This has been going on for 2 weeks. When I woke up this morning I felt discouraged, and told my husband that I was just going to gain back all of the weight I lost.
    But that doesn’t have to happen. I’m not the same person anymore, I have an arsenal of healthy eating, and living techniques under my belt and I will use them.
    Thank you for this post.

  5. I definitely had a difficult time getting back to running after this summer. I knew that I should’ve been better about staying active, but life happens. I got back to it but it was hard. And kind of sucks.

  6. So true– I am so bad about thinking, “Man, I’m starting ALL over again,” whether it comes to my eating healthy, or ESPECIALLY my running. But of course, as you say, that just isn’t true!

  7. I feel like I have been in a year long relapse. Like you said though, that is not really true. Even if a person was to go back to the exact state they were in physically prior to beginning their program, their mental conditioning and experience are still there.

  8. you make a great point…i think there are so many times that “failing” makes us feel like we lost everything, but at the very least we’ve learned how to improve and learned more about ourselves along the way!

  9. Sarah says:

    You have great timing, Katie! I am jumping back on the wagon as we speak. I’m pretty excited about it, but I admit it can be easy to slip into discouragement over no longer being an “after.” However, with some support and a good plan (that includes stickers on my calendar for every completed workout), I think I’m going to do just fine.
    Such an encourager, you are!

  10. Tina says:

    After my competition I had a couple weeks where I had binged a few times once again. I initially thought that the disorder would always control me and I would never be free from it. I also had a hard time with having to take time off of the gym and put on weight. I felt like I would never be able to get even close to that shape again and I had wasted part of my life reaching it in the first place. I constantly was in comparison with myself.

    It really helped to remember that I HAD overcome binging and I could get past it again. That thought alone brought me to reality and I didn’t binge again. Then remembering that I got in shape after M a healthy way and that the weight I had to put on was temporary for conceiving and pregnancy reminded me that I could do it again. I know I can get back in shape and feel better, so that helps me take better care of myself physically and emotionally now.

    Great post! You always make me think.

  11. Elina says:

    Katie, as always, I can really relate. I keep comparing myself to my old self. I hate that I was so strong when I trained for my first half marathon and now I struggle finishing 3 miles without stopping. I guess I know that with training I can build myself up. Whether I want to dedicate myself to that that’s another story… but yeah, just the knowledge of the fact that *I* could accomplish certain things (no one else) is empowering and if you’re not in that place anymore, you know deep within that you can get there if you want.

  12. I’ve been slipping this week as school has gotten crazier. Ive had a candy bar twice this week, snoozing in the mornings, not sleepign as much, no workouts this week.

    But ya know why I’m healthier now, even though I’m do all those things. I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t feel guilty. I dont have anxiety that I will gain weight.

    I simply want to get back to a better lifestyle and find a nice routine. But I dont feel guilty and it feels great.

  13. Hope says:

    I can so relate to this post. I have been in kind of the same boat lately, where my eating has definitely not been the best, just because I like the taste of food, which seems silly, but it’s true. I feel like I can’t get back to where I used to be, it’s unattainable, so I needed a little encouragement today. :) Have a great weekend lady! :)

  14. Holly says:

    I have thought about this a lot lately! I have a HORRIBLE memory and am terrible at quoting things, but I read recently that recovery isn’t linear – it shouldn’t be a straight line. If we mess up, that’s okay. We just get back on the horse and keep on keepin’ on. I’ve definitely learned that it ebs and flows, and that takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of me. I think the key is to use those “slip-ups” as learning experiences, rather than beating ourselves up for them. I’m still working on that part. :-)

  15. Ugh, I feel this way a lot. I am very all-or-nothing when it comes to exercise and eating well, that if I fall off track, even just a little bit, I start overeating junk and not exercising at all. One little bar of chocolate that I didn’t “plan” for and suddenly I’m suggesting McDonalds for dinner.

    I need to get into a moderation state of mind — I haven’t moved backward, it is just life that happens! I haven’t lost progress! Each day is progress. Nice post today!

  16. Kate D says:

    I think the difference in this case isn’t to compare yourself to how things were a year/month/week/day ago, but to say “I did it before, I will do it again.” When we have a set back, we still have a frame of reference for how good things were. This will give extra incentive to go back to the healthy lifestyle. If there is any wallowing or hand wringing involved, for me at least, it becomes harder to jump back onto the horse. (So to speak.)

  17. Stacy says:

    Every now and then I experience what I call the food trance, where I partake in binge eating sweets. I will consume mass amounts of sweets and not even remember or realize that I am doing it. Then when I am snapped out of it, I initially feel guilty. But then reframe my thinking, and realize I can start over at my next meal. We will always have bumps in the road, and glimpses into our old selves. They are a part of who we were, not who we are and will become :)

  18. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I have been “off” lately. I was even considering deleting my health blog- I just felt like I am so out of the healthy living loop- hence no updates in a week. Your post touched me today and reminded me just how true it is that I’m not back at the beginning. Thank you, again, for this post. It is exactly what I needed.

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Stephanie! And please don’t delete your health blog – even if you feel out of the “loop,” you still have a lot of insight to share! :)

  19. [...] There’s a really good post about this on Katie’s blog Health for the Whole Self. [...]

  20. Sam says:

    Thank you, I needed this tonight!

  21. What a powerful post. We tend to be way too hard on ourselves and into our all or nothing thinking. But the truth is that life is about learning and forgetting, expanding and contracting. Once we have learned something or experienced something, we are never back to not knowing even if we “forget” for a while. This is a powerful truth that can help to propel us forward. Why do we tend to forget to see and remember just how far we have come? This is where a journal or list of all our accomplishments could come in handy to remind ourselves. Thanks again for being such a source of inspiration to all who are struggling to find peace and balance with their weight, health, and body image.

    • Katie says:

      You are so right that there is a big difference between “forgetting” something for awhile, and just plain not knowing it. I love the journal idea!

  22. McKella says:

    I used to feel bad because I’m not as skinny as I was three years ago. I read my journals from back then and thought “Wow, I never want to be this person again.”
    People change, bodies change, lives change. That’s the way it is, and comparing yourself to your past self can be just as bad as comparing yourself to others. Focus on who you are and what you can do NOW.

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