How to Handle a Weight Loss Screw Up

September 7, 2016 8:49 pm
You need support. Just like this sleeping puppy

How many times have you said something like this:

“I haven’t trained for a month so I’m just trying to get back on track at the gym.”


“I fell off the wagon and ate horribly last week so this week I’ll try to get back on the wagon.”

And how often did you really get back “on track”?

If you’re like most people, chances are you’ve said something like that pretty often and struggle to make “back on track” stick (whatever “on track” really is).

There’s no goal you’ll reach without setbacks, screw ups, and plateaus along the way. How you handle them will determine how successful you’ll be and how quickly you’ll get to your goal.

What’s a Screw Up?

Before you know how to handle a “screw up,” we need to know what exactly it is. According to Google, to “screw up” means to “completely mismanage or mishandle a situation.”

For example, maybe a nutrition habit you’re working on this week is to get a serving of colourful vegetables at every meal. Let’s say you completely miss the mark three meals in a row.

Vegetables one of the keys to healthy weight loss

Colourful vegetably goodness (photo courtesy of

That’s a screw up.

It’s also important to know what a screw up is not. A screw up is not an indication that you are a failure, it’s not a judgement of your character, it’s not reason to start from square one again, and it’s definitely not a reason to quit.

A Slip is not a Fall

When you’re trying to eat healthier or exercise more, you’re changing your behaviour.

It’s just like a student trying to study more or a sibling trying to be nicer to her sister. You’re trying to make new habits that make you healthier. You’re ultimately changing part of your identity.

Behaviour change expert James Prochaska Ph.D. tells us that relapse is a part of almost every behaviour change journey. And in my experience, that’s true. I don’t know anyone who managed to change their behaviour successfully without screwing up, stepping backwards, and making a complete mess of things at least once or twice.

The key to overcoming these all-too-normal setbacks lies in how we frame the issue. Precision Nutrition, one of the largest nutrition coaching companies in the world (and also our partner at Thrive Fit), often asks its clients to focus on their habit change journey as an experiment, rather than a judgement.

Losing weight is like a science experiment

Losing weight is like a science experiment, not a character judgement (photo courtesy of

So… What does that even mean?

Be Like a Scientist!

When we screw up, we’re getting feedback. The universe is basically saying “Hey, that thing you did there… Yeah that didn’t work out so well.”

That’s useful information. If we can keep the open mindset of a curious, experimenting scientist, we’ll say “Great, Universe! That’s super useful information. Now I know that when I try to do things this way, it doesn’t work. Next time I’ll try a different way and I’ll keep trying till I get it right.”

But if we interpret that feedback as a judgement – “That didn’t work. That means I’m a failure. I suck and I’ll never hit my goals.” – then it’s easy to understand why so many people quit.

I know what you’re thinking…

“How the hell am I supposed to stay positive, when I’m busy, stressed, and I’ve already screwed up 5 or 6 times this week?!” 

I’m not going to stand here and tell you it’s easy. What I am saying is that it’s crucial. Things will get hard so get the support you need. Get as much support as you can handle.

You need support. Just like this sleeping puppy

Just like this lil guy supporting his buddy, you need support to get to your goals (photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)

  • Get a coach
  • Join a gym
  • Join or start a community group
  • Join an online forum

Make this journey bigger than yourself and start practicing your re-framing. Start thinking like a scientist. It’ll make all the difference between reaching your goals and being stuck in a cycle of getting on and falling off the wagon over and over again.

Over time, as you improve your re-framing, you’ll start to notice some cool things happen. Things like…

  • Recovering faster from a “screw up”
  • Screwing up less as you learn strategies that help you avoid making the same mistakes over and over
  • A more positive, experimental mindset that wants to take on new challenges instead of hiding and cringing away from them
  • A better sense of self-understanding and self-respect as you learn what your body is capable of and what it isn’t

Next week we’ll give you some strategies to help you reframe mistakes and get you to your goals faster.

Got a go-to recovery strategy that you use when you screw up? We’d love to hear it. Let us know in the comments below. 

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