Preventing Lapse, Relapse and Collapse

Far too often a minor slip propels a dieter to misery. The guilt from a slip makes a person susceptible to more slips and can ultimately lead to loss of all control. This is a gloomy picture, but good news is around the corner! There are ways to turn the tables.

Maintenance of weight loss may be the greatest challenge facing a dieter. Losing weight is difficult enough, but keeping it off ranks up there in difficulty with winning a lottery and finding a compassionate auditor from the Internal Revenue Services. Most dieters have lost and regained weight many times, so something must be done to interrupt these cycles. The trick is to prevent slips from occurring and to respond constructively when they do occur.

Every dieter makes mistakes. Some bounce back and use the slip as a signal to increase control. It is common, however, for the slip to cause a negative emotional reaction (guilt and despair) which builds until all control is lost.

There are two paths to success. The first is to avoid or prevent slips and mistakes and the second is to respond when a slip does occur with coping techniques that put you in control. I will cover each path separately. In this lesson, we will work on preventing slips and later we will emphasize recovery from slips.

Much of my discussion on this topic is drawn from the excellent work of Dr. G. Alan Marlatt and Dr. Judith Gordon, both psychologists from the University of Washington. They have studied the situations associated with relapse in dieters, alcoholics, smokers, drug addicts and compulsive gamblers. They have also proposed methods for preventing relapse. Their work is described in a book entitled Relapse Prevention (Guilford Press, New York, 1985)

Lapse Prevention

  1. Distinguish Lapse, Relapse and Collapse
  2. Identify High Risk Situations
  3. Outlast the urge
  4. Use Alternative Activities

Distinguishing Lapse, Relapse and Collapse

I have used several terms to describe deviating from your diet plan: mistakes, lapse, slip, error, etc. Relapse implies something different and collapse is yet another matter. We fuss with these words because the terms we use can be important.

In reformed alcoholics, one skip or lapse is considered by many to be a relapse (“one drink a drunk”). The same is true for people who stop smoking. Have a single cigarette begins an inevitable path to relapse. However, there is abundant evidence that this is not true.

Many reformed alcoholics have had at least one drink since their reformation and it is a rare ex-smoker who has not had a cigarette. Yet, they recover from their lapses and prevent a relapse. The same is unquestionably true with dieters.

A lapse is a slight error or slip, the first instance of backsliding. It is a discreet event like eating a “forbidden” food, exceeding a calorie level, or gaining weight. Relapse occurs when many lapses string together and the person returns to his or her former state. When relapse is complete and there is little hope of reversing the negative trend, collapse has occurred.

The most important message is that, A LAPSE DOES NOT A RELAPSE MAKE. The dieter who can view a lapse for what it is, an unfortunate but temporary problem, is prepared to respond positively to life’s inevitable setbacks.

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