There is no wagon
My weight is getting worse as I get older. And I’m at a point where I’m just so sick of how I feel I’m really ready to feel better. I’ve been listening to your lessons and they’ve really helped me start to understand my eating in a new way, especially thinking about it as a habit that I can learn to change.
But there’s one thing that there’s one place that I feel stuck. I’ll get some steam going and I’ll do really well, not overeating for a couple weeks. And then I just fall off the wagon and I don’t know what happened. I seem to keep repeating this pattern over and over, and I don’t know how to get back on track help.
So how many of you can relate to what this listener were about? Right. The idea that one day you were on the wagon, you were doing great. You feel felt good. And then suddenly you fell off and you have no idea what happened. I think that the really fascinating, um, thing is. This concept of being on the wagon or falling off the wagon is so widespread that it no longer applies to just eating.
Right. I’ll hear people talk about being on the wagon or off the wagon when they’re trying to kick any habit. But especially when people are talking about drinking. So today I wanna answer this question of why we fall off the wagon, but in order to do this, you need to understand the two really simple reasons why you overeat in the first place and how they’re actually at odds with the concept of being on or off the wagon.
So here’s the deal. To be on the wagon means that you are refraining from overeating or any habit. So when you fall off the wagon, that means you’ve taken up overeating or any habit again, after a period of abstinence. And for those of you who are curious, because I’m always curious about things like this, why do we even have this idiom in the first.
I did a little research on this. And I found that the first time we started talking about being on the wagon was actually in the 1890s during the height of the temperance movement in the United States. Now the temperance movement movement itself, it’s a little bit of a misnomer because it did start out as a movement in the us.
It. Advocating for moderation around alcohol. It started out in connection with religious revivals that were taking place in the early 18 hundreds. But by the time you get to the 1890s, it ended up a pretty radical movement that is no longer just calling for moderation. It’s actually calling for complete abstinence and prohibition of alcohol and so much so that they wanted the government to intervene.
And that was a big part of the work of the temperance movement and other similar movements like it like the anti saloon league, this idea of asking politicians to actually intervene and prohibit. Anyway. So how is this connected to the idiom of on the wagon? So adherence at the time who gave up drinking would refer to themselves as being on the water wa wagon.
So that makes a lot more sense, right? When water is part of the idiom, but what they were referring to is these water wagons or these water carts that would hose down dusty, um, streets in the. so you can imagine that the water in these water wagons was water for sanitation purposes for cleaning a street, not fit for drinking.
And so when you were saying that you were on the water wagon, it was suggesting how committed you were to not drinking alcohol. So the idea being that you would rather drink the water from a water wagon water, that’s not really even fit for drinking than have boo. And over time, we lost the idea of the water wagon portion.
So it just became the wagon, which was the first iteration of the idiom. But then people started talking about falling off the wagon. So that’s where it come from, comes from. And I’ll tell you that I hear from so many people, this idea of. I just fell off the wagon. And when you think about it and you pay attention to this statement, it’s such a passive statement, right?
This idea of just falling. So think about it, both being on the wagon and falling off the wagon, it’s like your commitment to not overeat in the first place is being carried along by some force outside of you. Right. So if you think about it, If you sit down on a wagon and you’re not doing any of the work, right.
The horse is doing the work. The wheels are doing the work you’re just along for the ride. So it’s a very passive way to talk about your commitment, but it’s also a very passive way to talk about when you’re no longer committed when you decide to overeat again, or to start any habit again. So this idea of, well, I just fell off the wagon.
I don’t know what happened. So it’s like you were riding along on the wagon and your commitment was being pulled. It was being carried by some other force, not by you. You were just along for the ride. And then all of a sudden you hit a bump in the road and you’re thrown off because, you know, wagons don’t have seat belts and there goes your.
So you end up being subjected to the bumps in the road or the shakings of the we wagon and that Joss you off. Right. Rather than the idea of you making a choice to get off the wagon and to start whatever happened. It is again, so I just wanna start by pointing out to you how passive, both being on the wagon and being off the wagon are when you really think about it.
And that’s in part why I don’t really like the phrase so much because the more I came to understand it, the more I understood that it’s really devoid of. or decision making. So it’s this idea of things in your environment that are happening to you, that you are being subject to that are either carrying you forward in the goal that you want or jostling you off.
Right? There’s not a lot of activity in terms of your own choices, your own decisions that you make. So now remember. I said how this is at odds with the two simple reasons why you eat. And there really are only two reasons. And neither of them has, has to do with being subjected to your environment around you or being totally passive or being carried along for a ride or just being jostled off.
So when you decide to eat. It is for one of two reasons. The first is you make the decision to eat proactively, right? You decide ahead of time, you use your prefrontal cortex to plan and decide that you are going to eat absent of any urges, absent of any desire. It is a planned decision, right? And the second way that people eat is pretty much the opposite.
You are still making a decision to eat, but you are eating reactively instead of proactively. So instead of planning a decision, instead of making a considered choice, you are responding in the moment to an urge, to desire and eating from that place, eating from a place of being reactive. and that’s not how a lot of us think about it.
Right. When we say the statement, I just fell off the wagon and I don’t know what happened. We’re not thinking about making a decision. We’re thinking about something happened happening to us rather than us deciding to do something. But here’s the thing either. You are making the decision to eat as part of a conscious plan choice, or you are making the decision in response to an urge that is driven by a habit, but either way you are making the decision.
Now people will say to me, well, if it’s part of a habit, then it’s outside of my control. I wasn’t aware of it. It just happened. I can’t control. And I wanna tell you this, this is the biggest fallacy. The idea that if it is a habit, it is outside of your control. If it is a habit, then it just happens. You play no role in it.
And this really is just a fallacy. I will tell you, you might be unaware of the thinking that is creating your desire and driving your habit. You might be unaware of the emotions that you’re trying to cover up with food. You might be unaware of how that habit cycle works, but here’s the thing you can always become aware.
Always. The option of awareness is always available to you. That is what makes the human brain so powerful as humans, we can think about our thinking, right? We can think about ourselves. We can think about our habits, even when they feel unconscious. Our habits are not locked away from us and they are not locked away from our understanding.
You may feel like at this moment that you don’t understand, what’s driving your habit, that you don’t understand what’s behind it, that you can’t pinpoint what’s going on, but that’s just because you have not decided to direct energy to understanding the habits and to bringing awareness to your think.
Now again, you might say, well, I’ve really tried to understand why I eat more than my friends or why I eat more than other people. So I’m not suggesting that you haven’t thought a lot about what’s going on. Maybe that you haven’t journaled a lot or spent a lot of time beating your, you know, or spent a lot of time beating yourself up because that’s how usually most people, when they spend time thinking about it, they spend time thinking.
Okay, what’s wrong with me? Why is this happening? Why can’t I be like this other person? So it’s not thinking that’s coming from a place of observation. It’s usually thinking that’s coming from a place of, let me beat myself up. Most people have not spent a lot of time, really paying attention to bringing awareness to how their desire is created and what fuels it, and even understanding that their desire is in part created by what they’re thinking.
Most of us just think our desire is just created by food, right? End of story. So obviously it’s just food, creating my desire. There’s nothing really to think about or to be aware. Right. So when I’m explaining to people the idea that just because you have a habit, it doesn’t mean that it’s outside of your control, just because you’re not aware of how it’s working doesn’t mean that you can’t get awareness.
I’d like to take, you know, I like to take an example. That’s actually outside of the world of eating because I think sometimes that’s so fraught for so many people that it’s easier to understand when we look at different kinds of habits. So in my twenties, I moved from one side of town to another. Now, when I was driving home from work, what happened on more than one occasion was that I would notice at some point.
I was going in the entire, entirely in the wrong direction. Right. I was headed to my old house. And the thing was is that my brain was just on autopilot. Right. It was just running a habit that it had done over and over and over again, which was leave work, get in my car, drive to the intersection and turn.
But that wasn’t a habit I wanted to do anymore. And I had to start doing all of that. Almost all of it, but then get to the intersection and turn left. Right. I was making decisions about how to get home. I was not out of control. I was choosing my brain was deciding what to do, but these decisions were part of a habit for me.
And frankly, a lot of times I was leaving work and I was not paying a lot of attention to what was going on. I was just letting habit run the show instead of bringing awareness to it. And until I started to pay attention, right. I would find. Headed in the wrong direction. Now, a lot of people will talk about this, right?
Especially with driving, right? This idea of, you know, you get behind the wheel of the car and you start driving and you find yourself going to the wrong place, right? Like maybe you’re going to your old job or maybe you’re going to your old home, you know, whatever it is, your brain just starts working on a habit and going where you used to go over and over.
Now you would never say I wasn’t in control of the car, right? It was just that habit is running the show and you’re not bringing awareness to it. Now here’s the thing. When we tell ourselves, I don’t know what happened, I just fell off the wagon. We’re saying the opposite, right? What we’re saying is I wasn’t in control.
I wasn’t making a decision. This thing just happened to me. And it’s like, you don’t have any sort of role in the decision making or the responsibility that it just was something that happened to you. Right? It’s this very passive. The problem with the idea of just falling off the wagon is that it ignores the fact that you are always making a choice.
You are always making a decision. You are always, always eating either because of a planned decision ahead of time. That is not in response to the urge to eat is not in response to your desire, but a planned choice. Or you are eating reactively in response to an urge in response to desire in the moment.
It’s basically the difference between knowing that you’re going out to a, to a birthday dinner and that you wanna honor your hunger and not overeat. So you are planning ahead of time. Look, I’m only gonna have a salad and an entree, not birthday. Right. You’re planning ahead of time, what you wanna do, because it’s important to you, right.
Versus meeting up with your friends for brunch and not planning, not even thinking about what you’re going to eat, and then you get there and people order cinnamon rolls and you’ll think, oh, I’ll have one too. That looks good. And then they get mimosas and you feel more desire. Right. And then all of a sudden, your Saturday.
Which you were not planned to have a sugary buzzy or drunk Saturday, late morning, early afternoon. All of a sudden there you are, but it wasn’t, you, you made that decision. Right. But it wasn’t a proactive decision. It wasn’t a planned decision. It was a decision that you made in the moment. So when you are deciding to eat proactively, you’re making that decision way ahead of ever feeling an urge.
Okay. You’re using your prefrontal cortex. You’re saying that part of your brain that is in charge of planning and thinking about long-term consequences is in control. And when you are eating reactively, you are eating in the moment. In response to an urge, it’s a spontaneous decision, but it’s still a decision.
It isn’t planned it. Isn’t driven by a, you know, it’s driven by a habit that’s in your lower brain and it may feel like you’re not even making the decision to eat. It just happened. But you did, you did make that decision. You did pick up that cinnamon roll. You did pick up that glass. You did head. You know, to the drive through whatever it is, you did make that decision.
You’re just not yet exerting any awareness around the habit. You’re allowing it to be unconscious, but you can always, always, always bring awareness to it. Now here’s the problem. When you’re eating from a place of responding to an urge, when you eat reactively. It reinforces this habit cycle. So you feel the urge, you have the desire, you have food and then your brain gets a, Rero a reward, right?
Either the dopamine, right. Or the influx of dopamine, or also. The reward of changing, how you feel being in a different emotional state and your brain is like, Hey, this is nice. I like rewards. Rewards are good. And then guess what? When you have that reward, then you have more desire. And then you’re all already in a place where you are responding to your desire to eat in the first place.
So when your desire appears again for that second, serving that second helping guess. You say yes again, and guess what? For many people this continues on and on and you are just fueling. This habit cycle, nothing is wrong with your brain. Okay. We’ve talked a lot about this. Your brain is meant to run on habits.
Habits are what make, make humans so efficient. The only problem is is that you have gotten really, really good at overeating. Because of an urge and in response to an urge and saying yes to your urges and doing this over and over and over again. And every time your brain is getting rewarded, thereby reinforcing this cycle before you can learn how to change this habit, the most important thing is that you have to understand that even.
It’s a habit, even if it feels unconscious right now, it is still a decision you did not just fall off the wagon. You made a choice, you made a decision to overeat and that decision may have happened in the moment. You may not have been planning it. You may not have intended it, but it was still a decision.
The thing that you need to do is start bringing awareness to that. You need to start to understand overeating and also commitment as not things that happen to you. Not these passive things. You are not on the wagon, along for the ride where your commitment is passively being pulled forward. Not by you.
You’re just sitting there. But by someone else. Right. And you’re also not in the position where you just fell off the wagon and who knows what happened, right. There’s no rhyme or reason there is you just need to bring awareness. And so this is why I really think that telling yourself that you dispel off the wagon in some ways is kind of detri detrimental.
I really do. Believe that this idea of being on the wagon or off the wagon is a fallacy what’s really going on is that you don’t yet know the thinking that contributed to your decision to overeat. And frankly, you’re probably not even looking at it as a decision. Right. But once you start to understand it in those terms, once you start to understand that, yes, you are making a decision.
Guess what it brings authority back to you, you get authority about what’s happening, as opposed to saying that. I don’t know. Just things in my external environment bumped me off. I got jostled off the wagon. I have no idea how it happened. That’s when you don’t have authority. You need authority, right?
You need to understand that you are in charge of the decision that you make, even when those decisions are connected to habits, that is the way that you will feel in control again. Right. But right now you just haven’t brought awareness to it. And so that is the thing to really pay attention to never ever tell yourself that you just fell off the wagon.
Tell yourself. I decided to overeat. I made the decision to over eat. Bring that authority back instead, bring that authority back instead of being in this very passive place about it. Need help getting back on track? Let's talk about it in our coaching call! Schedule with me HERE.