Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: “Falling Off” (And “Getting Back On”) The Wagon

Q&A Wednesday: “Falling Off” (And “Getting Back On”) The Wagon

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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]

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BFly January 11, 2012 - 4:27 PM

Thank you, reader, for asking this question and THANK YOU Erica, for putting it (back) into perspective for me.

I’ve recently (about 4, 5 months ago) embarked upon a lifestyle change and results (I’ve lost 12 lbs. thus far) have been slow in coming but are noticeable (more to others than to me). When asked if I’m on a diet, I say, ‘No I am not. I’m just trying to do better.’ I know, if I feed into the dieter’s habits, mentality and behaviors, I most definitely will fail. But reminding myself that I am changing my life(style), bit by bit, helps me to not be so hard on myself when I mess up (and I do that every darn day). I have about 75-85 lbs. to lose and am currently a candidate for the Lap-Band surgery. By this, I mean, I’ve gone to the orientations and started the process of visiting the medical professionals required. However, I so want to do this on my own. Every time I think about not being able to (since I haven’t been able to do it on my own thus far), I think of you. You serve as my inspiration and, each time I visit your blog, I get another boost of ‘you can do it.’ This post is exactly that for me today……thanks again.

T.R. January 12, 2012 - 2:05 PM

Thank you Erika, I needed that. I’m refocusing on this journey because I had stopped and yes it is hard to redirect and make this a permanent aspect of my life. But I am being patient with myself and make better choices everyday.

Valerie Martin January 13, 2012 - 10:48 AM

Can you outline a system to begin my exercises and eating program? I am clueless as how to begin my new regiment of better health and feeling good and changing my image.

How do you read the website and outline a guide and follow a routine? I am lost.

Valerie Martin

Marisa February 15, 2012 - 3:11 PM

Hi Valerie, I had the same questions and came upon SparkPeople.com. You fill out what your goals are and it gives you a fitness & nutrition plan. I love it!

Erica January 22, 2012 - 10:21 AM

E, you are right on point. I began my lifestyle journey in 2005 and lost 32 lbs. Now, 7 years later, I have my good days and my “funky” days when I can’t stay focused and eat things I shouldn’t and don’t wanna work out. When I get in this mindset I rest and reboot. I am constantly upgrading my workout regimen,my food intake and most importantly, my mental/emotional outlook. Staying motivated is harder than losing the weight! There are no magic potions, no magic food, or diets (I’m beginning to hate that word). There is no wagon. Its called life. We just have to remember to be patient with ourselves.

Janine June 27, 2012 - 4:10 PM

Wow. This post was right on time for me! I lost 70+ pounds 11 years ago and fight to keep it off. I am going through a wonderfully stressful time right now(planning my wedding). I’ve been eating myself to bed every night for the past week to calm my nerves. The next morning, I wake up feeling like a failure and pledging to “get back on the wagon”.

Thank you for reminding me to be patient with myself. Yes, I want to fit into my wedding dress, but I also want to be a stronger, healther woman for the rest of my life.

Kami October 8, 2013 - 10:50 PM

n 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.

Excerpted from Q&A Wednesday: “Falling Off” (And “Getting Back On”) The Wagon | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

Yep, working on permanent changes to a better me.

Kami October 11, 2013 - 11:05 AM

Yeah again I am trying to increase my excercise from 4x to 5x times a week. My goal is to find a fitness gym or find a homework out that is enjoyable.
Do you think 90 minute workouts 4x a week is as good 5x a week?

Erika Nicole Kendall October 11, 2013 - 3:51 PM

Nope. One is far more taxing, physically, on your body.

Jacinda November 19, 2014 - 4:06 PM

As a second timer, its so easy the first time around to be so motivated and energized to lose the weight. I remember losing almost 40lbs the first time around in less than four months. It motivated me to go to a total weight loss of 60lbs before regaining it all back. This time around, I have been more focused on my mental state than anything else because I realize that it is more about being mentally stable over physically able. Its been four months now and I’ve lost between 22lbs-24lbs. Granted its still loss but its slower than what I would have hoped for. For the most part, I’m over the phase of wanting to lose weight on a deadline but some days are harder than others and I wonder will I ever see significant results again.

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