How to get back on track after a break from your healthy routine

This post is inspired by reader questions, and I think it’s something we can all relate to.

Guess what? Nobody is perfect. Being perfect with your nutrition and fitness every single day shouldn’t be your goal, because not only is perfect boring, but there is also more to life than health and fitness. And sometimes, things in our lives get in the way of how we want to be eating and moving, and that’s totally fine and expected. 

Rather than dwell on what happened to derail your goals, let’s talk about getting back to healthy and how best to do that when (and not IF, but when) it happens to you next. 

How to get back on track after a break from your healthy routine

How to get back on track after a break from your healthy routine by A Lady Goes West

First of all, what took you off track? Was it a vacation? Did you start a new job? Did you lose your current job? Were you sick? Were you caring for a sick family member? Were you just plain busy and unmotivated?

Whatever it was that happened, think about it, process it, and move on. You don’t need to beat yourself up at all about skipping the gym and eating crap. We all have times in our lives when we get to the bottom of the bread basket at a restaurant meal multiple times a week and our only fitness is getting in and out of an Uber. Been there and done that. 

So just know what happened to put you off your routine and accept it. Knowing and being self-aware is half the battle.

If you had a big presentation at work and put in so many extra hours you barely left the office, then when you see another deadline approaching, which could bury you in work again, make sure you have a plan in place for your nutrition and movement ahead of time (whether that’s a lunch-time yoga session or just doing a few flights of stairs before you go home at the end of the day, as well as having some make-ahead meals on hand in your freezer).

And if you are a caretaker for someone else, make sure you have YOUR meals prepped and ready before exhausting all of your energy and time on the person (or persons) you are caring for, if at all possible.

Or maybe you just went on vacation and forgot about healthy eating and fitness. That’s cool too. No shame in the vacation-eating-game.

Quite honestly, I like taking breaks from my routine. Whenever I go on vacation, MOST of the time, I don’t exercise. Occasionally I will try to take an outdoor yoga class or go for walks, hikes or bike rides a couple of times, but I very rarely take time out of my vacation or time away to go to the gym. Why? Because I like to soak up as much vacation as possible, and I think it’s good for the body to have a week break here and there to totally recharge. I also veer off my eating quite a bit. While I almost always eat salads and veggies for SOME of my meals (because I actually really like salads and veggies), I never say no to plain white bread, dessert, the bun on a cheeseburger and yes, even some french fries. And that doesn’t mean I’m totally derailed.

When I went to Atlanta for my brother’s wedding, I ended up taking four full days in a row off of exercise entirely, and it was no big deal at all. I got home on a Saturday evening, and I booked a SoulCycle class for late morning on Sunday (giving myself enough time to sleep beforehand), so that I had a good sweat session on the calendar to get back into the swing of things. In addition to that, on Sunday afternoon, I went to three different grocery stores to make sure I could fill my fridge and pantry with all of the delicious and healthy and easy-to-prepare food that I needed. I also went to bed early each night, and next thing you know it, I was feeling back to myself after a very indulgent trip full of wine, cake and all of the buttered dinner rolls. And there was no juice cleanse required to rebound.

Here are the first things you should do to get back on track …

When you’ve taken a break, here are the first things you should do. 

  • Sleep. If you are coming off of a work trip or a vacation, make sure you get to bed earlier, practice great sleep hygiene (sleep tips here) and get as much quality rest as you can — this will ultimately help your body to restore itself better and get you back on track. It’s essential. You must sleep.
  • Hydrate. No big secret here, but oftentimes when we’re out of our element and routine or something bad happens in our lives, we totally forget to drink water. Grab a water bottle and keep it stocked with high-quality room temperature water, and chug away. I find that room temperature water is not only easier to drink, but it’s better for your body to handle too.
    • Bonus points: If you really need to hydrate, drink coconut water or add some electrolytes to your water bottle. I’ve actually been traveling with Nuun tabs, and they totally work to restore me with extra hydration.
    • MORE bonus points: Start your day with warm lemon water to really kick-start the hydration process.
  • Grocery shop. While you don’t have to meal prep, you do need to fill your fridge, lunch box and purse with healthy snacks and foods. You can buy pre-washed veggies, frozen veggie burgers, single-serve packets of raw almonds and nut butter and super-clean protein bars. If you don’t have healthy food on hand, you will probably eat a lot of crap. And if you have a ton of junk food leftover from a party at home or something like that, donate it. After we have parties, I ALWAYS send Dave to work with the extra food we don’t want around. He puts it on a communal table at work, and it gets eaten. No food wasted on my watch!
  • Schedule your workouts. Next up is getting back into the workout game. If you’ve taken a long time off of fitness, then plan to start back with some power-walking, light jogging and easy intervals. Do NOT go crazy and book a hard-core Barry’s Bootcamp class as your first workout back after a break. You will not feel so good during or after that workout, so plan to ease back in. Moral of the story — you want to plan out a few workouts for the first week and stick to them. You can even write them into your calendar and adhere to the appointments like you would any work meeting.
    • For your first week back, if you took a long time off of exercise, plan to go on a power-walk every day for five minutes longer each time, swinging your arms and bracing your core. Then the next week, alternate your power-walks with some light strength training, for instance, planks, knee push-ups and air squats every other day or even use resistance tubes or dumbbells at the gym for a lighter resistance workout, in addition to your power-walks. Once you’ve worked out a few times, you’ll be ready to get back to classes, running, sports and other higher-intensity workout sessions — (with moderation).

Healthy groceries by A Lady Goes West

Here are the things you shouldn’t do when you are coming off a break …

Now we’ve talked about the should-dos, but let’s cover the probably-shouldn’t-dos …

  • Do not tell yourself that you will start being healthy “next week” and continue on with your bad eating and sedentary lifestyle putting off the return to normal. If you’re coming out of the event that caused the break, take a small step toward healthy the very next day — don’t put it off. Putting off healthy habits for too long is what gets us into trouble.
  • Do not plan to starve yourself, do a juice cleanse or eat only salads for every meal. Just because you’ve been eating a lot of junk lately, doesn’t mean you should suddenly do a juice cleanse or eat only salad (or skip meals!) to lose a few pounds and de-bloat. That’s going to set you up for a binge or rebound. Instead, plan to eat big healthy meals, which are totally satisfying and leave room for tiny treats here and there, and salads may be part of that equation. For instance, I ALWAYS have 1-2 almond-covered dates after lunch and dinner for a sweet bite, because I love them. If I tried to eliminate sugar or only eat veggies, those dates would have to be gone, and that would be sad, because I’d be left wanting them. And because I always eat ice cream on Sunday nights, I still had my ice cream on Sunday after my Atlanta trip, because I wanted it. I knew that I had a salad for lunch that day and also knew that restricting my ice cream would not be good for my mentality — so I ate it. No juice cleanses either, because they just aren’t good for the system. Moral of the story? Don’t restrict too much, or you’ll end up wanting to binge, and it won’t be maintainable.
  • Do not plan to work out super hard every single day. Ease back into it. If you go full-force into tough workouts every single day, you’re going to wind up injured or overstressed and overtired. Try a shorter workout first, and make sure you properly warm up and cool down and stretch at the end (foam roll too — here’s how to do it), to give your body a friendly transition in and out of the movement. Also, see the last bullet above in the “should dos” for some ideas for easing back in. Also, don’t forget your rest day.
    • Bonus points: Try to work out first thing in the morning for the amazing hormonal benefits and also try to add walking and organic movement into other parts of your day to stay active.
  • Do not tell yourself that you failed and “punish” yourself for your actions. Eating unhealthy food, skipping the gym and being lazy happens to us all sometimes. There’s no need to panic, and if you’ve let that sort’ve routine go on a little too long, it’s never too late to change course. Once you make a plan to get back on the healthy train, no punishment or regret is needed, just move forward on a positive note. We’re all human here! 

That about does it! 

As a reminder, healthy living is about balance, moderation and leaving room for cake, wine, french fries and lazy days regularly — while trying to eat pretty good and exercise a few times a week the majority of the time. Perfect isn’t attainable, and it’s not the goal either.

The longer I write this blog and receive reader questions, the more I realize that a lot of you are pretty hard on yourselves. And I TOTALLY get it, because I can be that way too. But I want to be here to remind you that you’re still an awesome person even if you haven’t eaten a veggie in days and haven’t taken more than 1,000 steps in a day either. Be a nice person, be grateful for what you’ve got, and if you need to get into a healthier routine slowly after some time off, maybe consider some of the steps above.

Thanks for reading, friends! Have a GREAT day! 🙂 

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Questions of the day

What’s something that has derailed your health and fitness goals?

What makes you feel better after time away from the gym or good nutrition?

12 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed his post, Ashley, so thank you for taking the time to write it and to provide us with all of these very useful tips.

    I love that you emphasize getting back into a normal, healthy eating routine as opposed to doing some sort of juice cleanse or restrictive diet. I don’t do juice cleanses, but I do often feel the tug towards restricting after a vacation or prolonged period of “bad” eating. But that never gets me anywhere.

    Happy Monday, friend!

    1. Hi Courtney! I think it’s pretty easy to want to go HARD in the opposite direction if you feel you’ve been loose with your eating and workouts, but — you’re right — it’s not going to get you anywhere other than frustrated and hungry eheheh. A big Happy Monday to you too! 🙂

  2. Great post! I’m just over one week into a 2 week vacation (in Peru!) and other than some lunges and air squats when I felt like it, I haven’t worked out once. We’ve been pretty active on this trip and have been walking all over the place (Cusco is very steep, like SFO). I was feeling bad about not working out and worrying about losing muscle definition I’ve worked so hard for… but I will be back to my normal routine soon and it will bounce right back.

    Thank you for reminding us to be kind to ourselves!!

    1. Hi Jessie! Traveling to a place like Peru and being able to walk around and soak up the sights and try new foods, etc. is SO good for the soul and body! Any muscle you lose, you are gaining in perspective and entertainment, and it will come RIGHT back — so don’t even think another minute about that. Have SO much fun! Jealllllous of your travels!! 🙂 (but also happy for you haahah)

  3. Ahh yes this is such a great post, I agree with all of this! It’s so important to get a change of pace with a vacation or just taking a break from your schedule. Sleep and hydration are so key. And easing into things….I always see people do a cleanse or a whole30 month and then once it’s over they go immediately back to their old patterns. Lifestyle and indulging is so key!!

    1. Seriously! I wouldn’t want to live a life with indulging and taking breaks from fitness. It’s essential! 🙂 Thanks for reading, Marielle!

  4. Ashley I really enjoyed this blog. It was right up my alley. In fact I will be under going lot of those things you wrote about as we head to Indiana for a week to visit with family and friends. Anytime we are staying away from home I find a way to get to a gym. I will have a good gym facility at the local Y. They open at 5:30am so I will be there to help open the doors. Of course got to get a run in every morning. I do it this early so it doesn’t interfere with any of my wife’s plans for our vacation. My workouts at the gym won’t be as intense as at home since they don’t have nearly the equipment I use at home gyms. This being my old home town I have plenty of old running routes that I follow. I may even hook up with an old runner companion to get in a run for old times. Eating!!!! We will eat out so much as we visit with family and friends.
    By time we get home I will feel I have lost so much of what I accomplished in the gym and running. That’s how I often feel after being away from my normal routine. But in a few days I will start feeling normal again.

    1. Hi Richard! It’s totally worth it to catch up with old friends and visit family and see your old home though — so it’s okay if you lose a little fitness and maybe put on a little water weight from extra food! Enjoy your old running routes and have a great time! 🙂

  5. Sleep is so underrated! I notice I feel “better” in my body when I prioritize my sleep. Thank you for writing this article. I appreciate your intelligent yet practical recommendations!Staying “in shape” doesn’t have to be so arduous! Also, I really like your leggings pictured at the beginning of the article.

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