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The Key Ingredient to Turn Relapse into Recovery

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

The Key Ingredient to Turn Relapse into Recovery By Tony Vassallo
The Key Ingredient to Turn Relapse into Recovery Tony Vassallo

Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be part of the lifestyle transformation of hundreds of men in multiple environments. I’ve stayed connected with many of them at practically every stage of their journey: the apprehensive early days, the gut-wrenching resonation of their why that ignited the yearning for change, the sorting through the dietary confusion and misinformation, the setbacks, the rebounds, the many self-discoveries along the way, the splendour of successes, and the ever gratifying I get it moments.

What I have also witnessed is the frustration of relapse and exhilaration of relapse-turned-into-recovery. For the record, I much prefer referencing the term ‘recovery’ as it best characterizes the overall wellness objective at hand. It represents that a lifestyle change is a continuous process that distinguishes itself from a typical diet approach of having an end date.

Recovery: “The act or process of getting better; improvement.”

Cambridge Dictionary

What I have come to conclude is turning relapse into recovery or getting back on the wagon comes down to mindset: are you in a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

Carol Dweck, a prominent Stanford psychologist, has devoted much of her career to the two mindsets theory. What was thought to be hard-wired genetic coding such as intelligence, creativity and abilities are not fixed. They are developed and improved by adopting a growth mindset. Those who believe their abilities are fluid and malleable are more likely to grow and change. Benjamin Hardy refers to a growth mindset as “They are clay that can be transformed through experience, especially in challenging times and new experiences.”

A growth mindset brings openness to learning from others on a similar path, self-seeking of information, a curiosity to discover a new self, an inspiration to genuinely improve for themselves, an engagement in the effort, a keen focus on the tasks required to succeed, a readiness to make self-care a priority and a desire to thrive rather than to simply survive.

In many circumstances, a growth mindset will require an understanding of what may have led to the relapse: for example, did you choose a weight loss method that was sustainable and current? Did you experience a major and disruptive life event, such as loss of a loved one, relationship changes or challenges, career changes, the birth of a child, new caregiving responsibilities, financial woes, a move, and so on? Sometimes the relapse may have been a result of a gradual shift of habits and a lessoning of self-care rituals over time. Similar to the light of a dimmer switch, you may not notice the change until the light is near dim or dark.

Recidivism: “a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior.”

Merriam Webster

A growth mindset requires a deeper determination to see if there are certain foods that are best avoided, typically the highly palatable ultra-processed stuff, fried foods or confections; they are triggers to consumption in ever increasing amounts with greater frequency. It includes a brutally honest examination at existing habits, food intake and a person’s surrounding environments to determine if further changes are needed. A growth mindset will allow a person to objectively observe the results.

“Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it.”

Carol Dweck

A growth mindset will allow for alternate approaches. I don’t mean fad diets. I mean that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; there is no exact road map to a lifestyle transition. I raise an eyebrow when I see people preach the “follow the damn plan” mentality to losing weight. You’re not a widget, are you? If you are following an exact road map approach, it's likely just another diet. A growth mindset will allow a person to find a path, method and pace that works for them, while being honest to themselves about the state of their health and their dietary intake.

A growth mindset realizes it’s not how many times you may drift off course but the ability to auto-correct. Or in the words of Vince Lombardi and Rocky, “it’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.”




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