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Does this scenario sound familiar?

It’s a Monday. You recently embarked on a new challenge with a dialed-in exercise or eating plan. You’ve been excited, motivated, and dedicated. Things have been going well for a few days or weeks — but today, an inevitable roadblock has surfaced.

Perhaps a work deadline was moved up, a family member got sick, or a household plumbing emergency erupted. The situation needs to be managed, and as a result, there’s no time to go to the club for your workout, and pizza delivery or a drive-through seems to be the most practical option for dinner.

Within a day’s time, the plan that you were on moves to the back burner, and you feel like you’ve fallen “off the wagon.” You wake up the next day feeling like your plan is ruined and you’re back where you started.

You’re Not Alone

Over the last 15 years of working as a nutrition coach and trainer, there’s not a single client I’ve coached or supported who hasn’t fallen off plan at some point.

In fact, as a coach, I expect it. It’s why we at Life Time feel so strongly about striving for progress, not perfection — we’re all human, and an always “on the wagon” plan is just not realistic. Or frankly, any way to enjoy a health journey.

When that inevitable roadblock comes for you, try to follow a version of the guidance below. My clients who do are the ones who reach their goals, and ultimately, remain successful long-term.

Revisit your “why.”

We often get stuck in the “what” of our plans: what workout we’re supposed to do, what meal we’re supposed to eat, what habit we’re supposed to focus on. When things get tough, the “what” might feel easy to give up on.

However, what’s not as easy to give up on is your “why.” For any goal you go after, it’s crucial to pinpoint the real driving force behind the changes you’re making. Perhaps you hope to be healthier than your parents so you can be more involved with your kids. Or maybe you want to prevent or overcome a chronic illness. Or possibly you’re looking to regain your confidence and energy after a hard time in your life.

Whatever that force is for you, it’s useful to remind yourself of it regularly, but especially when you feel like you’ve fallen off plan. Bringing it to the forefront of your memory might be exactly what you need to shake off the misstep and keep going.

Chug some water, break a sweat, and make a healthy choice.

From a practical standpoint, the best thing to do is to try to get out of your head and pick right back up with the healthy habits that are part of your plan. Not tomorrow, but today.

Shift the time you would’ve spent dwelling on your perceived slip-up to instead use it to take real action. Get hydrated by chugging some water, do a 15-minute body-weight workout (even if it’s not “the” workout for the day), or grab a quick and healthy option to refuel, such as a low-sugar protein shake.

It might sound easier said than done, but it really can be that simple. Make one positive choice, and you’re back on the wagon in no time.

Track your habits.

I’ve learned from coaching clients that it’s often human nature to gloss over our own wins with a sentiment of “I should have been doing that anyway.” And conversely, we can be too quick to commiserate on misses and self-shame.

Using hard data can help display the likely insignificant context of the “off-the-wagon” situation you’re experiencing in that of your broader progress. One great tool for this is to commit to tracking your habit consistency over the course of your program duration. That way at a glance you’ll be able to stack up today’s misstep against several days’ worth — or more — of regular and steady change.

If you track your habits on a calendar or chart, it can be especially useful for some to have that visual. It’s unlikely you’ll want to disregard all of the tracked wins you’ve accumulated when looking at just today’s veer.

The crazy schedule, family emergency, or plumbing issue that snuck up on you all seem to shrink in significance to your program when you view it as one day on the calendar.

Reframe as a situational failure, not a personal one.

Life happens to all of us, and any rigid approach free of flexibility is bound to crumble at some point. I like using times where things unravel as a learning opportunity to spur on long-term change.

It’s likely that the situation you find yourself in will come up again at another time or in another form. Instead of mentally bashing yourself for not “powering through” and living up to unrealistic expectations, fill in the blank with “I wish I would have had ________ on hand.”

For example, if your workout consistency was broken and caused a deviation from the routine that you found hard to course-correct, perhaps you need a go-to routine to do at home with dumbbells as a substitute. Or if it was nutrition that fell to the wayside, having a healthier plan B option — such as frozen leftovers or a grocery store salad bar and rotisserie chicken run — may have been a big help.

Whatever you fill in the blank with, make a purposeful effort to have that thing in mind or on hand for next time.


One of my most often repeated coaching phrases is, “It’s not about if you’ll fall off the wagon, but when. What you choose to do when that time comes will determine if you’re ultimately successful.”

Having a set plan to follow — along with support from coaches and just-in-case tools in your toolbox such as do-anywhere exercises — is a pivotal piece to ensuring you stay “on the wagon,” even when the bumps in the road do happen. If you’re looking to find a plan that suits what you need, check out the suite of program offerings included in your Life Time membership here.


Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Samantha McKinney, RD, CPT

Samantha McKinney has been a dietitian, trainer and coach for over 10 years. At first, her interests and experience were in a highly clinical setting in the medical field, which ended up laying a strong foundation for understanding metabolism as her true passion evolved: wellness and prevention. She hasn’t looked back since and has had the honor of supporting Life Time’s members and nutrition programs in various roles since 2011.

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