Blame it on the holidays. Or maybe you just got too darned busy to think about what you were eating. Perhaps you threw caution -- and calorie counts -- to the wind during a fancy-free vacation.
Whatever the cause, it happened: you went off your diet (maybe even stayed off it for a few days, or a few weeks). It happens to all of us eventually, experts say. The important thing is to stop beating yourself up and jump right back into your healthy eating plan.
Here are 10 tips to help you get back on track:
1. Don't turn the relapse into a moral issue. You're not a bad person or destined to be fat just because you slipped up. Think of the setback as a way to develop coping skills.
2. Learn from your experience. If you don't recognize what led you to fall off the diet wagon, you'll probably react the same way the next time the situation arises. Write down a list of the situations that trigger you to overeat, and plan an alternative for each. For example, if parties are your downfall, have a healthy snack beforehand to keep your appetite in check.
3. Don't try to make up for the slip with a punishing regime of diet and exercise. You may lose weight this way, but you're almost sure to gain it back. This will only set up an unhealthy pattern of gaining and losing, and create anxiety about your relationship with food.
4. Look at the big picture. Realize that weight loss requires a decrease in calories over time, but it doesn't matter what the exact time period is. So consider your food intake a week or a month at a time instead of every day. Chances are you'll have good days and bad days, and slipping up once in a while isn't that big of a deal. You can always make up for it later in the week, or at the next meal.
5. Renew your motivation. Going off your diet is a signal that your motivation has veered off track. So sit down and take stock: When you were following your program, how did you feel? What was motivating you then? Recreating those feelings can help you get your incentive back.
6. Plan ahead to keep hunger at bay. When you let yourself get too hungry, it's all too easy to overeat. To avoid that, plan nutritious snacks into your day. When you're away from home, carry a "snack pack" filled with healthy options: things like dried and fresh fruits, baby carrots, nonfat yogurt, trail mix, whole-grain cereal, nuts, and baked chips.
7. Don't deprive yourself. Cutting out all your favorite foods is a sure-fire way to trigger feelings of deprivation that can lead to a binge. Instead, choose healthier options: have a half-cup of low-fat frozen yogurt instead of a pint of ice cream, a bite-sized candy bar instead of a whole one.
8. Don't stop moving. Even if you can't make it to the gym, duck out for a 20-minute walk. Exercise not only helps you burn the extra calories you took in while you were off your plan, but it also relieves boredom and stress that can trigger overeating.
9. Find an "accountability partner." This can be a fellow dieter, or just a friend or family member who'll provide encouragement for your efforts. Tell your partner your intentions and goals and check in regularly to help keep you on track.
10. Change your routine. Use starting anew as an opportunity to try a new exercise class -- maybe belly dancing -- and add some new, healthy foods to your regime (visit your local farmer's market for inspiration). It will add spark to your routine and keep you from getting bored.