Bouncing Back: 3 Steps to Recovering from a Weight-loss Setback

Not long ago I woke up to find I had gained three pounds over the course of four days.  Although I was a little shocked, I knew that there were a number of reasons that could account for the weight gain – muscle gain, water retention and diet, for example.  I also knew that there was no reason to panic.  As I stood over the scale going from shock to calm within seconds, I realized something amazing had happened — I had learned to deal with a weight-loss setback both emotionally and psychologically.

In that moment, I also realized that developing this skill is critical to weight-loss success.  Just as an athlete can expect a loss, an injury or a plain ol’ bad day on occasion, those of us working toward health and fitness goals also must be aware that minor hiccups in our plans are inevitable.  But how does one cope?  Here are three steps to recovering from a weight-loss set-back.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Most people panic at the site of weight gain because they are afraid it’s a slippery slope to gaining all the weight back.  However, unless you know you’ve been indulging in hot fudge sundaes and slacking off on exercising over the last few days, occasional weight gain is, ironically, a normal part of weight-loss.  It’s important to remember that there are numerous fleeting conditions that cause minor fluctuations in weight – such as water retention and muscle gain – and these are, for the most part, unavoidable.   Keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of your life is your goal; and, as such, fluctuating a pound or two doesn’t make much of a difference in the big picture.

Step 2: Be Honest

There’s no point in lying to yourself or anyone else.  If you know you’re veering off track in diet and or exercise be honest about it and address it.  For example, you may have had a stressful week at home and engaged in emotional eating.  Or, you may have been exceptionally busy at work and been too tired to exercise.  Whatever the case, be honest with yourself and face whatever has created the setback.  Ignoring the situation only opens the door to sidestepping a factor that could continue to steer you off course.

Step 3: Objectively Assess the Situation

When we feel we’ve taken a step back from our goal, it’s easy to feel a sense of shame or guilt.  However, neither of those emotions is necessary or beneficial.  Instead, learn to assess the set-back objectively.  For one, take a look at the time frame.  Have you gained a pound overnight, or have you experienced weight gain over the course of the last few weeks?  In other words, is it a rare occurrence, or a pattern?  Approach the situation as you would a scientific study looking at cause, effect, and mitigating factors.  The situation may warrant tweaking your regimen,  trying a completely new approach, or simply waiting things out.

Weight-loss (especially through intermittent fasting) is rarely linear and most often occurs in a jagged decline with minor fluctuations.  Know that weight gain is an inevitable result of the normal process of losing fat and gaining muscle.  As you experience these, always keep in mind the big picture – a lifetime of optimal health during which there will always exist some flux.


Hi, I'm Mimi and I've lost 70 pounds (so far) through daily intermittent fasting or "scheduled eating." I'm committed to the fasting lifestyle and to making it as easy and fun as possible. (Yes, I said fun!) If you're on the fasting journey with me or if you're contemplating it, you've found the right place for information, tips, and support. You may also want to follow me on Twitter @foodcanwait or join us on Facebook at

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