When we have “bad days”, we (usually) lose motivation because we are overwhelmed and doing anything that requires the least bit of effort is like contemplating adding that last straw that will break our (figurative) backs. Your nervous system feels stimulation when physical or emotional discomfort are being endured. It's one of the reasons people who are in pain have less patience than people who are not. At these times, making any effort is hard.
Most people define “effort” as movement or activity, but even thinking about something when you're having a bad day is going to require energy. Your brain, after all, requires an immense amount of energy relative to other organs. Incidentally, this is why college students tend to gain weight. It's not the stress so much as the studying. The brain makes them want quick energy, and they often turn to quick and dense delivery systems like candy.
For women, myself included, menstrual cycles and pre-menstrual cycles tend to be the times when it becomes very difficult to stay on plan. It's not only that your bodily systems are disrupted and its energies diverted to monthly regulatory processes, but also that we tend to develop cravings and want to eat more. Again, this is not weakness, but a function of biology. Fighting back against such strong impulses when you're feeling poorly is an order of magnitude harder than on those days when you're doing well.
Today, I'm having a “bad day” because of my period. I feel foggy, impatient, have a headache, and I want to eat rather than resist when I'm hungry or having a craving. I feel like the least little bit of effort including having to think in any way about what or how much I'm eating is too much and I'd like to just put my head down on the desk and withdraw from everything. All of my understanding of the underlying factors doesn't change the fact that I feel like crap and that resisting any urge right now feels like it's going to take a Herculean effort which I cannot muster.
So, how do I cope? I start with acknowledging that this is going to be a hard day, and that I may end up eating a few more calories, and it's going to be okay if I eat up to 2000 instead of sticking to 1500. It's also okay if I decide not to exercise because I feel bad. And I'm not lying to myself. One of the things which I think people on “diets” tend to do is never let themselves off the hook, push themselves every single day and berate themselves when they “fail”, even when they feel like crap. I think that we have to be reasonable with ourselves and our lives. By giving yourself permission to eat a little more and do less when you feel bad, you take the pressure off of yourself for the day. You immediately improve your chances of coping effectively during the short period of time when you are doing poorly. While there is a chance that you will suffer from a “lack of progress” during the days you do this, you at least will know that you will not suffer a serious setback or suffer needlessly for incremental gains.
The result of consciously cutting myself slack early on when I feel terrible is that the sense of being overwhelmed immediately is reduced. Instead of feeling the crushing weight of my physical difficulties coupled with my mental fog and having to deal with my eating and exercise goals, I only feel the first two. I take away some of the stress that I can control so that I can more effectively deal with the ones that I can't. I actually feel relieved just by giving myself this permission. And if I need to act on that latitude, I will, and I will absolutely not feel bad about it. It's important to remember that one day a month, one day a week or whatever is not going to sabotage your progress, especially if you're not pigging out on far more calories than you could burn in two days. This isn't permission to go crazy, but rather to be more flexible. And that is generally “enough” if you're not in the very earliest stages of your plan (when it's harder to stick with it).
When you're trying to lose weight and doing poorly, you tend to focus excessively on the part of your life which is the hardest to stick to, the diet and exercise. It's the first thing you want to jettison and start over again tomorrow, but there is much more to life and making it easier to cope when you're not doing well. Rather than focus on the part which is hardest to follow, focus on the other parts which may tax you on a bad day but are effortless on other days and determine how you can improve your circumstances throughout the entire day by letting any non-essential activity go. Plan to procrastinate and indulge wherever you reasonably can.
For each person, streamlining your day is different, but I'll give some examples:
- If it is a hot day, give in and use the air conditioner. If it's cold, turn up the heat. Choose the luxury setting just for this day and go back to enduring things for the good of the environment tomorrow when you feel better.
- If you had plans for cleaning or cooking that are not absolutely essential, abandon them. Laundry can wait.
- If you have errands to run which can wait, do not do them. This includes things which may seem innocuous like going to the hair salon or shopping.
- Turn off your cell phone if you can. Turn on your answering machine. Don't risk having to deal with people who may add stress to your day.
- Don't check your e-mail or social networking sites.
- Laying around in your pajamas all day (if you're not working, obviously).
- Playing mindless games.
- Watching stupid television or movies that make you happy.
- Drink diet soda or tea or coffee with sweetener when you want them as often as you want them.
- Don't force yourself to eat things you aren't really interested in eating for health purposes. I know this may be a controversial thing, but if you don't feel like eating a damn vegetable today, don't. It's not the end of the world if you go a day here and there which isn't nutritionally stellar.