Well, this is in no way an easy thing to deal with. Sometimes my first reaction to this, whether it be in myself or a client, is to just say toughen up, stop being such a pansy, put the cookie down and get to work! But then I realize the actual effects of forcing yourself or others into doing something that, honestly, at the time, you/they really do not want to take part in. There is a place for standing up to those lazy thoughts, hell, I'm sure that most CrossFitters and non-CrossFitters alike face those feelings almost every single day. And when you feel the urge to just go lay down in front of the TV, or sleep in an extra hour or two, you have to give yourself a little kick in the butt and just get after it. But, that being said, there is also a place to understand that you actually might be burned-out, over-trained, and in desperate need of a little break. This is all a part of your process, how you choose to approach your journey into the fit life. However, there is a good and bad process; and from my experience (yes, I do struggle with this as much as the next fitness nut) most people choose the bad process.
The Bad Process
"Damn it, I feel so tired, lethargic, I don't want to go to the gym today, I want to crack open a drink, watch some crap TV and eat a couple hamburgers and a huge serving of fries!" Well, there are a few directions your mind can go after that thought, and one that is all wrong is: "god I suck", "I am so weak", "I'll toughen up tomorrow", "this is going to make me so fat", "why do I have to cheat like this!" So on, so on. Do you see what's going on here? Your desire to "cheat" is making you depressed. It's a double edged sword of sorts. First off, you are taking a step back from all the progress you are making; second off, you are punishing yourself for having feelings you feel you "should not be having". Man, this is a crappy situation to be in. I mean, if you're going to have a cookie, you might as well enjoy the hell out of it, right? What's the point of taking a day or two off of exercise if you are going to mope around while you SHOULD be relaxing and recovering, and wallowing in self pity about how lazy you are? Feeling bad about doing things you know are not perfectly in line with your fitness goals will do nothing but make things worse.
Don't Trick Yourself
Everybody knows the age-old concept of giving yourself a cheat day. Well I don't believe in this idea one bit. You are fooling yourself if you think your process deserves scheduled indulgence, you are forcing yourself into your process to hard. Isn't the whole idea of you changing the way you eat, increasing your activity level and leading a healthier life supposed to be to CHANGE YOUR LIFE? Choosing to make changes in your life so that they become a part of your life is the general idea here. So, if the idea is to change your life, and you schedule a cheat day, what you are really doing is convincing yourself that you are powerless to your own decisions. You are showing that sure, you can commit to something, but only six days a week. Allowing this of yourself is defeating the purpose people. Cheating is impossible if you are looking to make a legit change in your life. You should only have things that push you forward and things that set you back. Don't fall into a mind set of your process being something you need to "stick to or else". Don't force yourself into a restrictive, single-track lifestyle that limits your ability to actually enjoy the process. If you give yourself a cheat day, you are telling yourself that the process is something too hard for you to handle. Shoot, in a way, you are setting yourself up to fail because you are consciously predicting that you will be working so hard that you need/deserve a day of indulging in something different. We are smarter than this. Give yourself a little more credit than that and know that if you venture down the path of health and fitness, you are doing so to change your body AND your mind. If you commit to the process, you may have set backs, you may need to tweak things, but you will never stray from getting better and better.
Now there is a very fine line between what I just said and what I am about to say, and I want to make clear that what I refer to here is what goes on in your mind as you live out your process. A "cheat" day is pre-meditatively, allowing yourself to stray from your process. It also is a matter of semantics. To cheat literally means to be deceitful; and, if you are setting up a cheat day within your process, you are being deceitful to yourself, tricking yourself.
The Good Process
Think about this: when you decide on a goal, you proclaim a starting point, and that starting point can be considered Zero ("I will run a marathon", "I will power clean 250#", I will eat strict paleo for 30 days", etc). Once you've reached your goal (or goals), that can be considered 100. From 0 to 100 you must hit every number along the way, this is your process. I can assure you that it will not be a perfect progression, you will not hit 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, all the way to 100 without a mishap. There will be injuries, unexpected breaks, travel, family issues, holidays, stresses and so many other things that will get in the way of the process. All that matters is that from that starting point, to the day you achieve your goal, it stays in an upward projection. So, you might stay on 35 for a few days, you may even get pushed back to 34 or 33, but the process always stays in your mind as moving forward. If you can accept this concept, then you are already at a huge advantage. You already know that negative things are bound to happen, and you are accepting of that risk. So, when something DOES actually happen, when something stops you in your tracks, you are ready and OK with it.
This honesty with yourself and your process allows you to do one of two things: you will either be able to side-step the issue and keep driving forward (think: turning down that invite to happy hour, and accepting challenge to get to the 6am CrossFit class), or, you can accept that certain situations are inevitable and fully enjoy them (think: Moms awesome stuffing for Thanksgiving, and that unreal smelling pumpkin pie). You must consider the mindset that taking an extra day off, or having seconds at dinner is NOT going to destroy your process, it is PART of the process. Look at everything you choose to do, and make the best out if it, whether it be hoisting a heavy barbell over your head, cooking the perfect fish and vegetable dinner, or watching a movie with a bag of chips. If YOU make the choice to do something, accept, understand, and enjoy it.
This is where the "good process" and "tricking yourself" become very closely interpreted. But you must remember that it is about accepting the inevitable mishap, rather than actually planning it out.
Look At Your Process, I Mean, Really Look At It
So, what do you actually DO when you hit that potential road-block as you train and eat your way to perfect health? Shoot, make the best of it! You grab a seat for a day or two, enjoy in the calm of having some time off. Take that extra time you have to assess whether or not your process is the most effective one. Perhaps, if you are burned out, your programming is too demanding. Perhaps you are being way too strict, or restrictive with your nutrition. Perhaps you need to just run for a couple weeks, or just play pick-up basketball. Think of it this way: the closer you get to having health and fitness truly be a part of your life, the less often you'll get burned out. This seems pretty obvious when I write it, but honestly people, how often do we put too much pressure on ourselves to do, and be something we are not yet? What's the point in change if we are not aware of the process as we change? What's the point in becoming healthy and fit if we do not enjoy becoming healthy and fit? In fact, ARE we healthy and fit if we are not enjoying our healthy foods and active lifestyles? The people who are the most successful are not the ones who work the hardest; they are the ones who work the most passionately. Having a sub-3 minute "Fran", a 450# deadlift and 7% body fat mean nothing if you are stressed, have no friends, and can't sleep at night. If you do not enjoy your process, if fitness is not truly PART of your life, you are just forcing it, and you will never be as healthy as you could be.
Remember to take a step back every now and then to assess what you are doing and where you are heading. If you need to take a week off, take it. If you need to do a week of yoga and easy hiking, try it out. And maybe you are craving some complex carbs, shoot, have some bread. Stop being so damn hard on yourself and you will be amazed at how quickly you will change for the better. Nobody likes a jerk, and your body and mind are the same way. If you are nice and honest to them, they will reward you indefinitely.
Don't avoid challenges, and by no means am I saying give in to every little craving you have. What I am saying is that the more naturally you allow health and fitness become a part of your life, the more effective your efforts will be. You can not force change, that will almost always fail at some point or another. You got to want it, understand it, believe in it, then, just take a step forward every day.
Never Stop, GET FIT.