woman with brown hair shopping for produce at a farmers market

Burn the Wagon: Stop Setting Yourself Up to “Fail” with Food

It’s time to burn the wagon so you can stop setting yourself up to fail when it comes to food.

There are five words are so common in our (diet) culture, that you’ve probably not even paused to question them before.

woman with brown hair shopping for produce at a farmers market

Five words so innocent-sounding and often used that the just roll off the tongue without thinking:

“I fell off the wagon.”

Stop saying, “I fell off the wagon.”

Look, eating the foods that make you feel good is not an all-or-nothing affair.

As a nutritional therapist, I’m not interested in how perfectly you can white-knuckle your food for a week if one “slip-up” sends you “off-track” and “falling off the wagon” because you’ve bought into to this impossible dynamic.


I care what you can do reasonably well for a long period of time because that is what brings results and makes you ultimately feel less crazy.

You may not be to blame for adopting this language. It’s used pervasively throughout our culture and is part of everyday beliefs about food and dieting.

But even if you’re not to blame, it’s time to take responsibility for using these words.

The Pass or Fail Dynamic

Now for some real talk. (You know that fierce love is my thing.)

Stop setting yourself up for failure by creating this kind of dynamic. Eating is not:

  • pass/fail.
  • all or nothing.
  • a test
  • proof of how good of a person you are. (When you’re on the wagon, you’re “good” but when you’re “off” you are bad.)
  • 100% all in or 100% totally out.

These ways of looking at what you eat require willpower which incredibly fleeting. They put your power in external rules and completely bypass your ability to listen to your body.

Instead of trying to do it 100% perfectly, then spectacularly giving up when life happens (because IT WILL)…

…what if you tried to do 10%, 20%, even 50% better than you are now and do it consistently?

woman with brown hair holding beets

Words Matter: What to Do Instead

Stop using this language of “I fell off the wagon.” It’s disempowering. It keeps you stuck in an endless loop of dieting and overdoing it, even bingeing.

The words you think and the things you tell yourself – when you act on them – become your reality and further reinforce your limiting self-beliefs and narratives.

What to do instead:

1) Change the words, change the outcome.

Thoughts drive feelings and feelings drive behaviors.

2) Build awareness & interrupt yourself when you use these words.

Catch yourself using these words then…

3) Reframe the situation.

Instead of “I fell off the wagon,” try something more neutral like, “I’m grateful that I had food to eat even if it wasn’t my first choice.”

Or, “I was truly hungry and ate until I was satisfied. I tuned into my body’s hunger.”

4) Ask a loved one or friend to help you.

Building awareness of the words you use is challenging. Ask someone to help you. When you say something like, “I fell off the wagon,” ask them to point it out and then you can reframe.

5) Continue on as usual at the next meal.

One meal doesn’t “ruin” anything. This kind of black-and-white thinking is not helpful or productive.

You have not committed a moral violation. You were not “bad.”

You are not going to gain fat from one meal.

woman with brown hair shopping for fruit at a farmers market

To Sum It Up

What you consistently (not perfectly) do over time has the most impact. See how backward the logic of “I fell off the wagon so I might as well wait until July 1 to begin again,” is?

If you wait until July 1 to “get back on the wagon” then you’ll spend the next two weeks eating foods that probably don’t make you feel great simply as self-punishment.

Burn the wagon.

You can do hard things.

You can start changing the words you tell yourself and how you react.

Thoughts? Have you gotten away from saying you “fell off the wagon?” How did you do it? Let me know in the comments below.

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Hi, I'm Steph!

Lord of the Rings nerd, cold brew drinker, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more, not less: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.

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