How can I prevent a relapse?

Everyone has experienced a relapse, where despite your good intentions, you return to your old, undesirable behavior. For example with dieting, an exercise routine or quitting smoking. Earlier I explained why people often fall back into their old behavior.

As you have been able to read, one way to prevent a relapse is to prepare yourself for a high-risk situation with the help of an effective coping response. A relapse often begins with excessive demands on ourselves and not being able to adequately get to moments of relaxation. To prevent a relapse, it is wise in the first place to work on a proper balance between stress and strain.

Make sure you have enough balance

I see many women making high demands on themselves. For example, they have to be a good mother, wife and employee and also have a killer body. Striving for all those things at the same time costs a lot of energy. It is therefore important to ensure that you relax sufficiently and do not make too many demands on yourself. The following questions will help you with this:

What are the most important things to do?


What 3 activities can make you relax more? Consider sports, yoga, or relaxation exercises.


What helps here is to think about what activities put you in a flow. In other words, a situation where you forget about time and become completely absorbed in that activity.


When are you going to do this throughout the week and make time for it? Write this down specifically.


What are the three aspects in your life that cause the most stress? Can you do something about this (for example, say no more often)? Or is it possible to deal with them differently (delegate more, make fewer demands on yourself)? What is needed for that? Can someone help you with that?


Are you rested during the day? If not, what can you do about this?

………… (write this down for yourself)

Dealing with cravings

We see many people combining stress or feeling unhappy with overeating or cravings. Of course, it’s not a bad thing to eat a few goodies every now and then. But prevent this from happening too often. Therefore, it is important to think of strategies to effectively deal with a craving.

Dealing with a high risk situation

Many people who have managed to change successfully have prepared well in advance for difficult situations. In this way you avoid having to come up with a plan on the spot at a time when you are having difficulties. At that point you are often already too late to make the right decision. The following questions will help you better prepare for a difficult situation.

What are high risk situations for you?

In what situations or places do you notice that your willpower is not strong enough?


What are warning signals for you?

Warning signals are signs that you are in danger of relapsing.

I myself notice, for example, that when I have been sleeping badly for a while, I feel more agitated and experience more tension, which makes it wise to get more rest. These are signals that indicate that I am working myself over the head. You can keep this up for a while, but not for very long.

When you know better what your warning signals are you can intervene on time. It is much more difficult to control your behavior when you feel very stressed than when you intervene early on.

Examples of warning signs:

  • Getting snacks in the house more often.
  • Sleeping more poorly.
  • Eating in a less structured way or skipping meals.
  • Exercising less.
  • Eating irregularly.
  • Dissatisfied with your appearance. Not accepting yourself.
  • Having to do too much for yourself.
  • Feeling rushed.
  • More cravings for treats.
  • Suffering more often from irrational and negative thoughts. Like “I’m not good enough. I’m a failure”
  • Tension in your body.
  • Less desire to exercise because you are too busy or have less energy.
  • Forgetting things more often.
  • Less focus on your work.

How do you become more aware of your warning signs?

It’s not surprising that you don’t know exactly what warning signs are for you. There are a number of ways that will help you discover them:

Keep an (eating) diary

It helps to keep an eating diary to become more aware of warning signs. Mention eating moments and what you feel and think about them. This will give you more insight into what are difficult moments for you. Pay attention to the following points:


  • What is the eating moment?
  • What is the trigger?
  • What did the day look like? (stressed? etc.)?

Example: “I bought and ate a bar of chocolate when I got home from work. I was feeling stressed and I got the thought that I deserved it”.

You can also keep a journal to track other behaviors.
Eat/live with attention

Throughout the day, we largely take our thoughts for granted. In itself, this is helpful, but it can also work against you. For example, if you see the thought “I do deserve to snack” as being true, you will be more likely to snack. By being more aware of what you are thinking and experiencing, you can prevent this from happening.

Train yourself therefore to be more attentive to what you think and experience. For example, every hour I take a few deep breaths and a short walk, consciously paying attention to what goes through my body and head. I also meditate for 3-5 minutes every day. This helps me, among other things, to distance myself more quickly from (negative) thoughts and not to get too carried away with them.

What is your effective coping strategy for dealing with a high risk situation?


“When I’m at parties I stand a greater distance from the snacks. I also decide in advance what I am going to take. For example no more than 2 wines and 2 handfuls of nuts”.
“When I eat I keep my attention on the food. I taste well, chew quietly and drink some water after 3 bites. I also keep my attention on what I am thinking. If I get a thought like “Oh it’s so cozy” or “I’ve earned it, 1 extra glass of wine will do”, I say, “No I’ll keep it to 2, as previously agreed with myself.” This gives me more advantages.
“If I am experiencing a conflict with my partner I am extra vigilant about not snacking and look for distractions, like going for a walk”.

After you have experienced a relapse (misstep)

It is normal to make mistakes. Don’t prejudge yourself, but take a step back. Let the guilt come and don’t get too caught up in it. It will pass. Also, feel free to leave a message in our FIT Forum if you need support.

In addition, it’s important to reach back to the reason you want to change. What are the benefits of your healthy lifestyle? Put this clearly on paper for times when you have experienced a relapse to remind yourself what you are doing it for.

For example, list the benefits of a healthy lifestyle:


Analyze the relapse and come up with a new plan

Furthermore, I recommend learning from each situation so that you can deal with such a situation in a more effective way next time. What helps here is to analyze the (one-time) relapse and see the situation as a learning process. The following questions will help you with this:
What was already going well and what caused that?

There must have been times when things went better. How did that happen? What did you do before that? These can also be very different situations in which you have relapsed but have picked up the thread. By looking at the situation this way you train yourself to think in solutions.

Moment(s) when it went wrong:

  • What did the situation look like? Who were there?
  • Where did it go wrong? What thoughts went through your mind? How did you feel? How did you behave?
  • What were the warning signs? For example, what did the day and the days before look like? Have you been out of balance lately?
  • What was your strategy? Or maybe you didn’t have a clear plan laid out. What could you do differently next time? Who can help you with this?

Devise new strategy(s)

Next, formulate what you will do the next time you find yourself in a high-risk situation. I recommend you do this using an if-then plan. An if-then plan is a powerful method for learning new habits.

Formulation of an if-then plan goes as follows: “If I end up in situation x I will then do y”. Write this down as concretely as possible. For example: “If I feel frustrated and come home from work, I call a friend instead of opening a bag of chips”.

Write your if then plan down in your mobile for example so you can easily grab it when you are struggling.

Avoid a situation temporarily

Sometimes it can also help to temporarily avoid certain situations or sit at a greater distance from snacks. It may also be wise to build up exposure to temptations slowly.

What are alternatives to compensate your emotions with?

If you do want to compensate your condition with a reward, check with yourself: could there be another way? What else helps you, besides snacking? What is the cause of my emotion eating?

Celebrate small successes and reward yourself

After a setback it is important to celebrate small successes, so that your self-confidence increases again. Therefore, set small achievable goals. Read more about an if-then plan and setting realistic goals here. It is also important to reward yourself when you have achieved a goal. But do not reward yourself with unhealthy food or cheat meals.

Dealing with the all-or-nothing principle

It can also happen that you relapse several times in a row. Again, it is important not to judge yourself. Try to see your self-image as separate from whether or not you succeed in losing weight. This gives you much more peace and focus to focus on what you can do better next time. After all, these mistakes are not a personal failure or a demonstration of a lack of willpower, but rather the result of a wrongly chosen coping strategy.

Keep a close eye on your behavior

It is also important to continue to monitor your behavior, especially for the first 2 years after you lose weight. In doing so, pay attention to the following points:

  • Continue to exercise regularly.
  • Keep weighing yourself regularly and intervene in time. Have you gained more than 2 kilograms? Then raise the alarm.
  • Be alert to changes in your eating habits and living situation. Especially vacations, moving house, irregular eating and stress in your personal life can increase the chance of a relapse.
  • Try to be realistic. An unrealistic view and lack of self-acceptance can be a trigger for relapse.


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Start working on your weight loss goals

How would you like it if you

✓ Could be less dissatisfied with your body?
✓ Spend less time on your body and be able to do what you really care about?
✓ Learn to deal with that voice in your head?
✓ Stop letting your body image determine your day and emotions?
✓ Really change your relationship with food?
✓ Learn to appreciate your body, which will make you take better care of it?