“I’ve been really off the rails this month.”
“After the new year, I’ve got to get back on track!”
I’ve heard some variation of this statement about a zillion times over the years—especially around the holiday season—and I have an important reminder if you’ve uttered these words yourself:
You are not a train.
You are not confined to a set of rails in order to move forward.
In my practice, I’ve observed what I call On/Off Thinking as a disastrous way to approach diet (and by “diet,” I mean way of thinking). Individuals practicing On/Off Thinking when it comes to their eating patterns operate in one of two ways:
When they're "On," they’re typically on a restrictive plan, including plans like Whole 30 or other low carb diets; they’re on a “sugar detox;” they’re on a low calorie regiment—far too low to support their needs; they’re consuming a constant flow of protein shakes, “cleansing” juice, etc.
When they're "Off," they’re eating whatever the hell they want whenever they want it with zero boundaries.
When On/Off Thinkers are "On," the sole focus is what he or she is "allowed" and "not allowed" to eat. Friends, family and coworkers all know when and On/Off Thinker is On because these folks are constantly announcing what they can and cannot have. In the beginning of going On, folks are often optimistic, even euphoric. And let me be clear, On/Off Thinkers in the On position often sees movement on the scale in the right direction--at first. But being On is an all-consuming effort, requiring obsessing and restriction that inevitably lead to frustration and resentment. The On protocol often produces diminishing results, and our On Thinker becomes doubly frustrated
This is typically when the On/Off Thinker decides they “deserve" a treat and begins obsessing even more about those foods that are Off plan.
At some point our On/Off Thinker breaks, and that's when they go Off. WAY Off.
When first going Off, our On/Off Thinker feels lethargic and ditches the On Thinking exercise routine because they have no energy…but also because they are embarrassed. Being Off becomes the norm, and our On/Off Thinkers eventually begin feeling guilty about the way they have “let themselves go.”
It will only be a matter of time before our On/Off Thinking goes On again, and the cycle repeats.
On/Off Thinking is highly destructive, not just for our bodies, but also emotionally. The roller coaster of success/failure is demotivating, and the framing of the way we eat as either good or bad is exhausting.
What's the alternative? How about removing the idea of on the rails/off the rails from your thinking, and ditching restrictive, punitive eating?
I coach my clients to phase out On/Off Thinking--no easy task, especially since so many of us have practiced it for decades--and instead to shift the focus on common sense food choices most of the time, leaving room for indulgent treats on occasion.
The process can begin by simply changing our vocabulary, removing words like good, bad, cheat and allow.
It takes time and commitment to change your thinking, which is why working with a health coach like myself can be extremely helpful. But if you make that commitment, and do the work to build new healthful habits that support a new way of thinking, positive physical results will be achieved, but even better, the emotional results are lasting.
Need support in dropping On/Off Thinking? Let's talk.