Relapse Prevention: Making your lifestyle changes last

Relapse prevention

Setting yourself up for success!

Hopefully after reading the last couple of blog articles you have given your lifestyle the once over and identified areas that may need a little work. If you are happy with what you see, then fantastic! Well done! If not, you probably have some ideas of what you want to achieve in order to improve your health and general well-being. If this is the case, then you should have some S.M.A.R.T. goals in place to give you some direction.

But, what happens when life happens and the wheels come off? Do you abandon your plans and engage in destructive negative self-talk? Or do you have a strategy in place to help you deal with set backs, turning them around and making you stronger and even more likely to achieve your goals?

I have a client at the moment who is doing phenomenally well! She has almost reached her goal weight and she is still going strong. Her secret? She has spent some time thinking about what works well for her, what sort of works and what doesn't work at all. She has identified problem areas that are likely to derail her weight loss efforts and made a plan of how to deal with them. All of this she has based on an article on Relapse Prevention she read during her MBA studies. I asked her to share the article with me and I am very excited to share the information with you.
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Relapse Prevention


No, we are not talking about addictions or alcohol abuse. We may be dealing with a little bit of addictive food behaviours, but what I have taken from what I have read about relapse prevention applies to anyone who has ever struggled to stay focused on an end goal that seems to be a long way off in the distance. We are dealing with habits that have formed over a long period of time. They don't vanish over night just because you don't want them anymore. You can't just throw them in the bin. You have to work hard at replacing them with good habits. These new habits take time to form. Again you can't expect them to simply appear over night. So for me, and the weight loss goals, and the exercise goals, and the healthy lifestyle goals, relapse prevention is more about behaviour maintenance.

Long lasting weight loss and health comes from long term behaviours that support weight loss maintenance and health. A quick-fix fad diet does not teach you how to achieve long term success. These diets are often not sustainable, resulting in weight loss failure and yo-yo dieting. As a dietician, my goal is to teach you how to eat well. To establish a solid foundation based on healthy diet principles that can be sustained for the rest of your life. Sounds rather daunting, doesn't it?

It doesn't have to be. It is not all about the food! A lot of people are surprised when I say that. At the end of the day, we all know what we should be eating and if we go to the shop and buy the right food, it is there and we eat it. But that is not where the story ends. Food is an integral part of our work and social lives. We like to share a meal and a few drinks with friends or colleagues or clients or fellow mommies. Sometimes we have to travel for work, or we spend an enormous amount of time on the road between clients or extra murals with no access to food. The canteen may not offer the healthiest options, or in order to make the staff happier, there is a guy who comes around with a tray full of chocolates every afternoon. I certainly wouldn't be able to say no - not everyday!

So how do we manage these situations? We have to look at Marlatt and Gordon's Relapse Prevention Model from way back in 1980.
Relapse Prevention Plan Free Download

This model consists of a set of strategies designed to facilitate the maintenance of behaviour change by teaching individuals to understand and cope with the problem of relapse.


It has its roots in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - something I will let the psychologists explain to you. But to expand on what I said in the previous paragraph, it is not all about the food, it is about the behaviour.

Using the Relapse Prevention Model, encourages you to identify emotions and situations that may trigger a relapse in behaviour. Typical emotions that result in slipping back into your old eating habits are anxiety, depression and happiness. Situations that may pose a risk include social pressure, arguments and celebrations. I tell anyone who tells me how hard the weekend was because they had 2 birthday parties, with cake, and they were too tired to cook afterwards, that it is something we need to learn to take in our stride. They are isolated events and they do not need to ruin the plan.

The diagram below shows you how this plan works:
Relapse Preention Model

This does seem terribly technical. To start, use whatever makes sense to you. The bottom line is that we need to be able to identify what is likely to make us give up on our newly learnt lifestyle behaviours and revert back to our old behaviours, in order to overcome any barriers we have to weight loss.

Looking inwards can be very hard. But it is well worth it!

Wendy Signature
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