Fallen off the wagon? Here’s my top 15 tips to help you get back on track when you feel like you’re stuck in a food rut.
I normally advise people away from all-or-nothing diet mentality. I usually say that it’s not about being “on or off” the proverbial wagon but rather finding a balanced lifestyle approach that is sustainable, not too rigid, nourishing and aligns with the long-term vision of your health goals. Thinking in terms of “on” or “off”, especially when confining yourself to a dietary box (when you call yourself “raw” for example, and then eat something that’s not raw, it can induce feelings of guilt and shame) and can cause extreme swings in eating behavior.
This past week, however, I got reacquainted with “off the wagon”, while the proverbial wagon continued in the direction of my health goals – without me on it. This experience gave me a renewed recollection of what it’s like to be feeling great and then take a sharp left turn, off the dietary path that aligns with my goals and values, towards foods that make me downright unhappy. (The irony is that in the moment, these “hyperpalatable” foods are what we think we want because we have some unconscious belief eating them will make us happy.) Yes, it has indeed been many years since I’ve experienced “off the wagon”, and it’s amazing how easily it can be to get “hooked” all over again – especially for those of us who are familiar with food addiction and habitual patterns of chronic overeating.
But rather than getting down on myself, freaking out and turning to more food to make me feel better (like my old self would have done), I used what I’ve learned in the past 10 years to get “unhooked” and “back on that wagon” ASAP – because I now know (and I used this as an opportunity to remind myself once again) that struggling with food is not a place I want to be. After all, I am human and I never claim to be perfect – and in fact, embracing my imperfections is actually one of the top tips that helped me get back on track and get a grip before I let myself spiral down that familiar slippery slop any further.
15 Tips to Get back on Track When You’ve Fallen off the Dietary Wagon
So how did I, someone who writes and talks about food addiction and works with chronic overeaters on a daily basis get back on track? Let me share with you my exact methods that helped steer me back in the direction of my health goals, to a place that feels balanced, healthy and even a little more sane.
Tip #1: Make a Plan & Write it Down
Planning provides some structure and when things start to feel out of control, a concrete action plan can and does go a long way towards helping you get back on track. I usually recommend a 1 week plan, but you can adjust your plan to suit your needs. My plan included several classes I would attend during the upcoming week, including a yoga class and a dance class. I also planned for taking a morning walk or bike ride (see tip # 10). Try to make a realistic plan – one that is simple, clear and not overwhelming . I know I’ve been out of my routine and not meditating lately. So instead of planning to incorporate 1 hour of meditation in the morning, which would be ideal, I wrote down 10 minutes, because it’s more realistic, considering what I have going on, and it feels less overwhelming to get back into the habit.
Tip # 2: Get Back Into the Groove
Personally, I thrive with a routine structure for day-to-day living. Making a plan for the following week and writing it down helps me to focus on getting back into my groove. I notice I do really great when I follow my morning routine: wake up, meditate, go for a walk or bike ride, shower, make smoothie, write an article, answer emails, etc. When I have a routine, I spend less time thinking about it, and more time actually doing it.
Tip #3: Try to Identify Food Triggers
What triggers us to eat or overeat can oftentimes be very challenging to detect. There are so many factors that play into our relationship with food, including mindless eating habits, emotional food dependencies, the people we usually eat with, the time of day, the weather outside – to name a few. Try to start paying attention to what triggers you to reach for the food that you know in your heart is only going to contribute to more pain and struggle, rather than to your joy and happiness. Keeping a food journal (see tip #11) can help you identify what might be triggering you. I know my biggest triggers are stress, lack of sleep and social situations.
Tip 4: Sleep until Rested
This is a major factor for most people. Research shows that sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain – and I personally know this to be true. Sleep deprivation is definitely a trigger for me, and this past week has included some late nights. So to help me get back on track, I gave myself full permission to sleep as much as I need until I feel fully rested, without forcing myself out of bed in the morning.
Tip 5: Take a Closer Look at Stress
Stress is another major food trigger for many chronic overeaters – and it’s another trigger for me as well. Even if I reach for a healthier choice, oftentimes, feeling stressed prompts me to eat when I’m not really hungry. That’s where a stress management plans comes into play. When I noticed myself start to feel stressed this past week, I made a point to take a break, go outside or sit quietly to tune in with my breath. Exercising and meditation are my best stress management techniques that work wonders for me.
Tip #6: Recommit to Meditation
I consistently notice when I feel “ungrounded” I reach for food to help me feel more “grounded”. Since we bought raw land and started developing it, we spent about 6 months living here without any running water or electricity – that means no hot showers, no kitchen and no office to work out of! Meditation has a way of helping me to feel more centered within myself and is a proven stress buster. I immediately notice I engage less in mindless eating the more I make time for meditation. That’s why meditation – even 5 minutes a day is a must on my action plan to help get me back on track when I’m feeling stuck in a rut.
Tip #7: Practice Self-Compassion
This is one of the biggest changes I noticed this past week. After all the research I’ve read and written about regarding the benefits of self-compassion over self-criticism, I’m happy to say that some of it has finally sunken in! I noticed I was able to have self-compassion and remind myself that it was going to be ok, that what I consider to be a “slip up” happens and that I will get back on track – instead of freaking out about it. Noting our thoughts is especially important here. Self-criticism is actually shown to pull us further away from our goals, while the attitude of self-compassion supports us in achieving them. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you think about it, who really likes to answer to their “inner drill sergeant”? Most of us rebel against that strict part of ourselves, and we all know that can backfire. Self-compassion, on the other hand, offers support, and encouragement from a more loving perspective.
Tip #8: Avoid the Temptation to Swing in the Other Direction
It’s so amazing how the mind usually wants to react in these situations, by getting overly strict and making unrealistic promises that “we’ll never eat pizza again” or a drastic commitment to fast or “cleanse” for an unrealistic amount of time. One thing I’ve learned (many times over) is that this level of wild swinging in the opposite direction does much more harm than good. I’ve also seen this time and again with clients; there’s more chance to not follow through on any of the drastic commitments, which induces more feelings of guilt and shame – lending to a continuation of unhealthy eating patterns. That’s why it’s good to have a plan that implements a healthy balance, in whatever way that truly means to you. I did notice a couple of my own thoughts going to that old familiar place of extremism past week, and after that thought, I simply noticed “Oh that’s interesting, but that’s not necessary”. I now know that one of the fastest ways for me to feel amazing is to eat healthy foods without feeling deprived and exercising in a way that makes me feel great, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
Tip #9: Listen to Music and Dance & Have Fun!
Uplifting music has an incredible way of completely shifting my mood – it’s like my secret weapon when I’m feeling down or stuck in a rut. I also love to dance, combining the positive influence of exercise with the power of music to offer me the natural “pick-me-up” I needed. One thing I notice is that when I’m feeling amazing, I have no motivation to reach for unhealthy foods, so part of my plan to get “unhooked” always looks at doing things I love to help me feel great in my mind, body and spirit.”
Tip #10: Go for a Walk or a Bike Ride & Get Some Fresh Air
You don’t actually have to walk or ride a bike, but engage in whatever movement feels amazing for you – maybe you like to rollerblade or go hiking? When I used to struggle with depression in my teens, walking literally saved my life. It may sound simple – to just go for a walk – and that’s one of the incredible about it, all you have to do is put on your runners and pick a direction! Walking is now being shown to be just as effective as antidepressants, and that’s exactly how I feel when I’m walking: uplifted, joyful and naturally high. (Please use your own best judgment and consult with your doctor before going off any antidepressants.)
Tip #11: Keep a Food Journal for 1 Week
Keeping a food journal isn’t just about writing down what you eat. I use a food journal template to help chronic overeaters, dieters and food addicts change their eating habits. It includes writing down more information around eating habits like paying attention to any food triggers, time of day, where you’re eating and what you’re feeling before you eat, and even who you’re eating with, to help cultivate awareness. This is so important because awareness is the first key to implementing change – since you can’t change what you’re not yet aware of.
Tip # 12: Remember that it’s Not Worth it!
After I eat something that I know is not in my highest interest (and these foods are different for everyone) I always have the insight that it’s just not worth it. That moment of feeling pleasure makes me unhappy in the long run. I know what it’s like to be overweight and unhappy and what it’s taken for me to get to where I am now and there’s no food that I could eat that would make it worth it for me to go back to that place. I love feeling fit, healthy and strong, and sure it’s one thing to have the occasional “indulgence” but when that indulgence starts to become a problem then you know you have to readjust your eating habits or suffer the consequences of poor food choices.
Tip # 13: Revisit Goals
In addition to making a plan (Tip #1), writing down goals is another way to bolster willpower and help motivate a change of habits. Writing down goals allows us to connect with what we want to manifest for our future selves. In this way, we strengthen our ability to say “yes” to the things that support our goals and “no” to the things that don’t. For effective goal setting, try to make your goals specific, measurable and realistic.
Tip # 14: Remember that Every Moment is a New Moment
One of the things I absolutely always remind myself when I’m feeling stuck around my food choices that that in each and every moment, I have the power to make a new choice and that I actually have the power to choose – no one else is making these choices for me. Each moment is a new moment to create the life that I truly want to be living, so I don’t have to wait until tomorrow, next week or even next month to make the change, I can choose to change my habits right now.
Tip #15: Seek the Wisdom of my Greatest Teachers
I have a few different books and audio courses that I’ve continuously turned to whenever I’m feeling stuck. The timeless wisdom offered from these people, whom I consider to be several of my greatest teachers, allows me to revisit the words of wisdom time and time again, offering me new insights each and every time.
Pema Chödrön’s Getting Unstuck is one of those audio courses and as well as “There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem” by Wayne Dyer. Whatever teachings you resonate with, turn to them when you need them most, to help steer you in a more positive direction.
We are all human, and each and ever moment is a new moment for personal growth and learning. If you’ve “fallen off the wagon” you’re not alone – it’s part of what it means to be human.
Laura Dawn, Author of “Unhooked: A Holistic Approach to Ending Your Struggle with Food”, “Mindful Eating for Dummies” & “Your Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Dairy Alternatives”