This ain't the Oregon Trail... leave the wagons alone!

Q: I was wondering how do you get back on the wagon once you’ve fallen off?

I see people say things like this all the time… and I’m often confused. What wagon? The diet wagon? The bandwagon? Because if that’s the case, then I’m glad you fell off of it.

Listen. I think questions like these – and statements like these, period – are problematic. It’s not a matter of “getting back on the wagon,” because that’s not how you approach something that is a substantial change to your lifestyle. It’s not “Oh, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” It’s “Wow, successfully changing how I live and adjusting my habits is hard work, and I’ve got to treat it as such.”

Saying “falling off of a wagon” as if “Oh, I messed up last night at dinner, might as well hang it up” isn’t how you approach something that’s as pervasive as a habit. If, for the past 5 years at your job, you’ve always gone to the vending machine and gotten a pop (Yes, I said “pop.” Don’t judge me.), and on the third day of trying to give it up you ‘screw up,’ that’s not an “Oh, I fell off the wagon and gave up.” That’s “Wow, this is harder than I thought. Better put some more effort into it.”

There were plenty of days where I messed up and ate something I knew I shouldn’t have – not because I’m a dieter, but because I’m changing my habits and sometimes running on “auto-pilot” gets the best of us. I don’t use that as a “sign that this isn’t for me,” a “sign that I’m destined to be unhappy with myself,” or a “sign that I need to call it quits.” I use that as a reminder that change is hard, frustrating and a sign that the goals I want to achieve will require much more reflection, introspection and patience than I’d originally budgeted for in my mind.

I know that there’s a deep, emotional “failure” feeling that comes with what we call “falling off the wagon,” and while I don’t mean to be dismissive of that feeling, I think we also need to remember that it’s difficult…but also very important to recognize and acknowledge our shortcomings. There’s even an element of “I’m a failure, I can’t do anything right” that’s at play, here. It’s not that the person falling off the wagon is the failure. The structure by which the person is trying to lose weight is the failure, here.

“But Erika, if so many people diet successfully, then…” I’m gonna stop you right there. You never know what people are doing to “succeed.” Anything from disordered eating practices to running 8-9 miles a day, a person that dedicated to their figure can very easily tell you “Oh, this? This is natural. I don’t eat much. I hardly work out at all.” All I’m saying, is that you never know what “else” may be helping someone succeed, so comparing your success to theirs is a lost cause.

And, let’s face it – someone who has 50lbs or more to lose may, very well, have issues with food that they need to address in a way that won’t be addressed by dieting. And if you’re someone who has those issues, then rest assured you won’t succeed by using a dieter’s mentality and you will feel like a failure. Let go of structures that don’t help build you into the person you want to be.

In short, how do you “get back on the wagon?” First, you remind yourself that you’re shooting for the permanent changes that allow you to both lose weight and keep it off, not temporary changes that will result in your yo-yoing and wondering why you couldn’t experience the success you wanted.

Accept that sometimes, we fall short, and it’s okay to dust yourself off and try again. You can dust it off and try again, try again. [insert record scratch]