3 Ways to Get Back on Track During an Off Day

By , Haley Perlus, Ph.D.
We’ve all been there. We had a few fabulous days of eating healthy and exercising and then—BANG—all of a sudden life happens. A late night out with friends, a last-minute business trip, a sick child at home. You’ve either missed your designated time for fitness or you simply don’t have the energy to prepare a healthy meal. Either way, you’ve hit a wall and are having an off day. Sometimes it can take several days before you find yourself inspired enough to give your nutrition and exercise program another shot. It’s the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting at its best, but it can be stopped.
As an expert of sport and exercise psychology, one of my objectives is to help my clients work through the off days we all inevitably experience from time to time. Here are three techniques you can use right now to not only get switched back on during an off day, but also to limit the amount of off days you have altogether. The end result is that you’ll give yourself the greatest opportunity to follow through on your daily goals and achieve your personal best mind, body and overall spirit. 
1. Undervalue the bad days and overvalue the good ones. Many people have been conditioned to harp on their mistakes while quickly moving forward from their successes. Consequently, this way of thinking and behaving robs them of the opportunity to develop maximum confidence—a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.

In sports, professional athletes and coaches will often say that the person who wins is usually the person who can best recover from errors. Top athletes have learned to identify their mistakes, but instead of dwelling there, they quickly learn from them and move on. They also take the time to pat themselves on the back for all of their achievements.
It’s okay to strive for perfection, but as soon as you start demanding it, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. When life gets in the way of following your diet and fitness plan to a ''T,'' take five minutes for personal reflection. Remind yourself that it’s OK if things don’t go 100 percent according to plan. It's helpful to identify the things you could better control for next time, but then quickly move on and focus on at least one achievement you have already made that day (or yesterday if it’s first thing in the morning). Taking your focus away from the negative and toward your personal strengths and accomplishments will create a boost of positive energy for finishing the day with a success.

2. Change your environment. When people have an off day, they are experiencing a reduced level of motivation for healthy living. Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this problem; research continues to prove that motivation and productivity increases when our environment changes. In fact, a commonly-used phrase in sports psychology is, ''A change is as good as a rest.''

Any type of change, such as stepping outside for some fresh air, turning on motivational music, finding a new healthy recipe, or getting off the treadmill and onto the elliptical can generate fresh motivation to help you stay on track with your diet and fitness plan. Whenever you feel a lack of motivation for your healthy lifestyle, change up at least one aspect of your environment and experience what it’s like to have your batteries recharged and motivation restored!

3. Just move. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is get off the couch and just start to move. However, once you start moving and the dopamine kicks in, you’ll find it much easier to keep going. During off days, it’s less important to stick to the pre-planned exercises or routine and more important to just get up and do something. If you really don’t feel like lifting weights, get outside and go for a walk. If you don’t feel like spending 20 minutes in the kitchen preparing a healthy meal, choose something simple to eat (that’s still healthy).
The next time you experience an off day, challenge yourself to commit 5-10 minutes to taking action on one of the three techniques above. Once you start moving, you’ll experience an amazing shift in energy, focus, confidence, and overall commitment to your healthy lifestyle.

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Great ideas. Easy to do too. Report
Great ideas here. I especially like the idea of undervaluing the bad days and overvaluing the good ones. That's something I need to work on. Report
All good pieces of advice. We just have to utilize. Report
Fabulous short article that I used today to motivate our 5% Shooting Star team! Thanks so much! Report
Great article. I needed this! :D Thanks!! Report
If only reading about something would make it so.......... Report
The holidays are over. The resolution to get back on track and motivation is high. The problem is being at home. The weather is getting colder, and I crave sugar more than ever.This is the hardest obstacle. I am on track right up until Christmas, and then the brick wall. Any suggestions? Report
A very much needed article, thank you. The holidays, though they're supposed to be a happy time, are not for me for various reasons. One is the food! I love to cook, but the holidays brings out more "junk" food, and I don't need that. And it's hard to convey the fact to the rest of the family. Make them happy, or make them suffer with me? It's not an easy choice. Report
It's a very good article. It's good to know I don't have to beat myself up if I'm
having a bad day. I beat myself up so bad that I give up. Report
I suffer with depression and it makes it difficult some days to do with what I need to do Report
I really needed this article today. Thanks! Report
Wonderful! Speaking from experience the "get up and move" is probably the one that works best for me. #1 reminds me of a spark quote "Persistence rather than perfection"
Keep on keeping on works. Report
thank you. This was exactly what I needed to hear! Report
Thank you all for sharing, my personal problem is procrastination, But the excuses stop today I have to get my joy back, and my sexy back, so that I can be the best me mind ,body, and soul!! May God bless us all! Report
When I am feeling really low and as though any movement is nearly impossible, I force myself to do a ten minute walking workout indoors. There are lots of these online that you can stream. It's easy -- and since it's only ten minutes, I can face it even when I am depressed. I always feel better afterwards, and often feel like moving on to a few minutes of light weights and then a stretch. Before I know it, I've done a small workout and my mood is much better. Report
On the surface there are some good points. But.......
"Change your environment". It's over 90 degrees with the heat index in the 100s. Get outside? You must be kidding.
"Get up and move". Sounds so simple. It's not when you're depressed, grief-stricken or just completely worn out. The very thought of getting up and moving is paralyzing. Report
What a good article, I love that the suggestions are clearly doable. Simply moving or changing the setting are clutch for me. The willingness to change things up is key...if we want change, we have to be willing to change. Hard yes, worth it? Absolutely! Over time I have come to understand no matter what kind of day it may have been, I end the day doing something that is good for me. I refuse to end the day thinking negatively. This alone helps me flip the switch in my brain so I wake up ready to take on a new day. Report
Need to read this again--starting over once more trying to get it right this time. Report
I had to really force myself the other day to exercise even for 10 minutes. I felt much happier. It was tough to fight through the sadness, but it was worth it. :) And totally true about harping on your bad days. That has tripped me up more times than I can count. Report
This article is exactly what I needed. Tough weekend, both in-laws hospitalized, then kids ball games, then Mother's Day, long tough weekend. I did push myself yesterday, and got in a great workout of jogging, abs and weights. But yes I had to really push myself to do it. Report
Sometines we get to caught up saying tomorrow, I'll start over and it never happens. This article is very helpful to my situation. Report
This was my story yesterday! Am so I am glad I found this article today. Went to work the other night thinking I was only going to be there for a 4 hour evening shift and ended up having to stay for a full 12 hour night shift. That meant I was up for 36 hours, didn't have food packed and was at the mercy of the snack cart for my meal. Came home exhausted, made some poor food choices and fell into bed. Thankfully I was able to start over when I woke up! Report
This was good advice. I'm pinning this one. Report
And if you need some more motivation, how about this great story: pazoo.com/fitness/boston-bombing-vi
ctim-makes-amazing-recovery/ Report
Thank you dr haley for your inspirational article. This will help my wife and I as we get healthy for our children.

Just fyi the link here to your website does not work? I had to paste it into a browser - Nice website too (btw)! Report
Hi, Dr. Haley Perlus here. I have read all of your comments and I'm happy to have been able to provide you with some helpful tips for achieving your SparkPeople goals! I have personally used all of these tips for my own success which is why I trust they will work for you too:-). Report
Thank You! Great information to know and utilize next time I experience an off day! Report
Need to come re-read this from time to time! Report
Easier said than done. I will give these a try though. I know working out in the morning is best for me. Harder to do when I have to be to work at 7am though Report
I really need to pay close attention to both of these. I am in such a rut right now. I feel like I am at loss. I feel like I have failed myself. Report
Today I experienced the shift from a change in environment! #1 seems brilliant to me and like Beingerin, love it! Report
I love the "Undervalue the bad days and overvalue the good ones," tip. This is what I have been striving to do since I started with Spark People. This gives me a great mantra-style encapsulation of what I am working toward. It feels SO much better than focusing on the negative.

Rock on Spark People! Report