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I was doing SO well on my new diet eating clean, but then [insert one from below] and I fell off the wagon with my eating habits!”

[…I got sick]

[…I went on vacation]

[…I got lazy]

[…work got crazy]

[…I lost motivation]

[…I was tired]

[…family drama]

Can you relate? I hear this from people ALL day long.

They say how they look amazing and avoid junk food when they’re “on the wagon,” but usually some form of life happens – and they fall off of the wagon.

It usually starts by eating something outside their diet plan or self-imposed set of food rules and feeling like a failure, guilty, shameful, disappointed, or weak…and rather than having that be an isolated incident and getting right back in the habit of eating foods that make them feel good, it sends them into a downward spiral > reaching for all of the foods they were trying to avoid for comfort and ease is their new norm – for now.

This type of behavior is generally rooted in the belief that our interactions with food affect our own self-worth. Following the rules makes you a “good” person. And when those rules aren’t upheld, you’re bad. You’re a failure. Of course you can’t keep the weight off!

Any way of eating that can’t be maintained through the bumps in the road of everyday life is not an effective long-term sustainable solution.

It will keep giving you false hope, and dragging you down into this cycle of on-again, off-again (more on this later).

What if being on the wagon is actually at the root of your inability to remain consistent with your healthy eating food choices, and the overall pursuit of health and happiness?

“Ummm is she really suggesting what I think she is…to remove the wagon all together??!” YES I am.

If you’re anything like me – type A, loves rules – you’re probably freaking out a little. Thinking: if there is no wagon and there are no hard & fast rules to keep you on track, you’ll just go crazy and eat junk all day long.

Deep breath! Let’s break that down.

The wagon we all refer to is really just a strict set of rules we think and hope will give us more control of our health, body, or other people’s perception of us. When the rules are being followed, you’re on the wagon, and when a rule is broken — you’re off the wagon. Usually this means eating everything in sight that was previously forbidden.

This mentality can be incredibly ineffective at creating long-term behavior changes because it turns the pursuit of health into an all-or-nothing battle. Black/white thinking: if I can’t do it perfectly, what’s the point in even trying? May as well eat whatever and I’ll start again on Monday.

Instead of enjoying a cookie, and going back to eating the foods that make you feel your best the next day, breaking a rule results in working your way through an entire tub of cookie dough in a matter of hours.

But, here’s where the wheels really start to fall off:

The wagon mentality initiates a cycle. When we have the mindset that there are “good” and “bad” behaviors around food, and our ability to uphold certain behaviors affects our own morality and worth. This mindset is also a big reason why people start to feel worse about themselves when pursuing health. That, and the diet industry (MUST-read!).

Falling “off” the wagon results in guilt, and that guilt often us straight into the arms of punishing behaviors like more restriction and more rules, which becomes our new “wagon.”

Each time perfection isn’t maintained, it results in defeat, self-criticism, and guilt, and the only way to rectify these feelings is to get back on the wagon, which starts the process over again.

This never-ending cycle is incredibly taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and can keep you STUCK.

You know what the biggest factor is for keeping you stuck in that cycle? The guilt.

Stopping the cycle starts with understanding that food is not a moral compass.

While you may find certain foods work best for you and make you feel better than others, but food is not inherently “good” or “bad.” Your self-worth as a human being has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to eat a specific way. If you eat something that doesn’t serve as “fuel” – it doesn’t mean you’ve done something bad or wrong or need to be punished.

Giving food morality also means giving food power. When food has power, interactions with food are accompanied by fear, anxiety, and judgement, which makes it virtually impossible to have any sort of balance or consistency when pursuing health.

If you find yourself struggling to stay on the wagon, there’s a simple solution that will solve the problem once and for all >> GET RID OF THE WAGON.

It’s not serving you.

Stop looking at your health as a pre-defined road that requires perfection. Embrace the gray. Who says eating cookies for a morning snack means you have to eat sugary foods the rest of the day or week too? Why not eat the cookies if you want them, enjoy them, and move on. Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling later to see what would feel good in your body.

Understand that the pursuit of health is a journey, you’re never done, there’s no on/off. We have experiences in our lives that help us learn what is going to serve us best in the long run. Each “slip up” is really just a learning experience for next time.

Ditching the wagon takes self-imposed stress out of the equation and gives you the freedom to make choices that are right for your body in the moment based on how you want to feel without fear or judgement, or the obsession that often occurs when we categorize a food as “bad” or perceive we “can’t” have something.

Sometimes a salad would feel great in our body and we want that. Sometimes a cookie would feel great in our body and we want that. And that’s ok!

By having this outlook, there’s never a need again to “muster up” the motivation to start over, or wait until we have it together.