‘I’ve fallen off the wagon’
‘I need to get back on track’
‘I skipped today’s workout so I might as well just not go for the rest of the week’
‘I ate a cookie so I thought f*ck it and also consumed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, a family sized chocolate bar and my body-weight in doughnuts’…..
If you ever catch yourself saying these sort of phrases, or if you feel trapped in a cycle of jumping on a ‘wagon’ to then fall off a week later – then you’re setting yourself up for feeling constantly guilty; which can spiral into irrational rules and restrictions that control your life. The ‘wagon’ mentality can create an ‘all or nothing’ approach to our health and fitness lifestyles; which can be really detrimental to our long term health and happiness.
“Falling Off The Wagon”
I used to be a prime example of someone who adopted the all or nothing approach. I would go for weeks weighing out every gram of chicken and broccoli, do my cardio and smash my workouts every day, and I wouldn’t dare go even close to smelling a slice of pizza. I was dialled in to this hard core rigidity; racking up the days that I avoided ‘bad food’s’. Until… the day would come that I go out for food or go to a social event that involved eating foods I wouldn’t normally eat. Instead of seeing this as a normal and enjoyable part of life, I would perceive it as ‘falling off the wagon’ and then consequently blow everything by binging on “unhealthy” foods that I didn’t even want!
This would then reinforce feelings of failure, disappointment and self-criticism; which would in turn result in me jumping on another ‘wagon’ with even more rules, restrictions and punishing behaviours.
I thought the problem was my lack of willpower or an inability to stay “on track” everyday.
The problem was actually the guilt and feelings of shame and disappointment that reinforced this destructive ‘all or nothing’ cycle to continue spinning.
This cycle is extremely detrimental to our mental and physical health; as it forces us to strive for consistent perfection; which is an incredibly unattainable standard. Adopting this mentality is so emotionally draining and it can really hold you back from experiencing the enjoyment of life!
Staying On Track VS Enjoying Life
For example, a few weeks ago I had a night out with some friends where I consumed a lot of alcohol, I went out for brunch the next morning, decided to take an unplanned day off the gym and then went out for a meal in the evening. I also had a very busy few days the following weekend which involved eating out with family and consuming foods I wouldn’t usually eat. In the past I would have felt extremely anxious about this and regretted all of it; wishing I had just ‘stayed on track’.
But what is ‘staying on track’ ?!
If it involves missing out on fun sociable events with people you love, and giving up the chance of making some amazing memories, then is it really worth it?
The problem with this mindset is that it frames a ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ lifestyle as being temporary and something we have to weave in and out of: either being fitness fanatic or a lazy slob. This narrative makes it impossible for us to settle at a happy medium; in between the two extremes.
Life Is Unpredictable
In reality, life is so constantly fluctuating – it goes from busy to quiet, stressful to relaxing, tiring to exciting. There is never the perfect time to start something and there is never going to be a time period in life where unexpected events won’t happen. Some days we will be bursting with motivation to train and eat the sort of diet a top nutritionist would recommend. But other days we might feel a bit lethargic and unmotivated; feeling much more engrossed at the thought of getting into bed early and ordering a takeaway! If the occasional day occurs where you do the latter – you should not feel any remorse or guilt, and you definitely shouldn’t feel an excessive urge to ‘get back on track’.
Your Food Choices Don’t Define You
Your food choices don’t define you as a person, and your self worth as a human is completely separate to the types of food you eat or the time/effort you spend working out!
I eat healthy and nutritionally dense foods 90% of the time (mostly), and I work out most days because I love the way it makes me feel. It’s now a part of my daily habits and it’s a part of me. It helps with my mental health and clarity of mind and I can’t imagine not living a life without exercise and training. These things are constant. Essentially, this now means, if I go out for a pizza and ice-cream one night, I’ll get up the next morning and go and work out and continue to eat the normal nutritious and nourishing foods I eat everyday. In other words – I’ll just continue living my life.
I won’t be exercising the next day to “burn off the calories” or choosing healthy foods to compensate for the untracked pizza and ice-cream – I’ll just simply be doing what I normally do and getting on with my life as per.
The worst thing you can do is try to punish yourself by using exercise and ‘clean’ foods to offset a day of eating less nutritionally dense food. You’ll end up associated it with self punishment and discipline instead of something you enjoy. This will just force you to create an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise which could make it even more difficult for you to ever enjoy working out.
Health Is a Process and a Journey – Not a Predetermined Road
When we switch our mindset from “being on a restrictive wagon” to viewing a healthy lifestyle as something we can easily maintain for the rest of our lives, no matter what life throws at us – it becomes a lot simpler and easier to implement.
It stops us from viewing health as a predetermined road that requires ultimate perfection, and instead allows us to view it as a process and a life journey to help maximise the enjoyment of life!
I think we should take each day as it comes and manage our expectations. Stop fixating on an ‘end goal’ – whether that’s ‘lose 20 lbs’ or ‘build visible abs’, and stop bombarding ourselves with unattainable goals. Try to be grateful that you have the time and financial freedom to spend with friends and family to go for meals out – rather than regretting the extra calories you consumed.
In my opinion, the enjoyment and memories these experiences can bring are what you’re gonna cherish and remember when you’re 80 – not the time you turned down a social event and stayed in to eat your egg white omelette instead!!