What It Truly Means to Fall Off the Wagon

For those seeking weight loss or simply a healthier lifestyle, things like vacations, holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations often present a dilemma. I always hear the questions, “How can I manage my food while I’m traveling?” or “What am I supposed to eat at that holiday meal?”

Although there are a few practical strategies one could employ in these instances, I believe that these are actually the wrong questions when it comes to falling off and getting back on the wagon. Instead of the drinks at the pool or the holiday weight gain, I believe the real problem is how we perceive these vacations and our dietary setbacks, how we catastrophize them. Feeling guilty about these things and allowing them to define our journey is what truly causes us to fall off the wagon.

Approaching Food with Mindfulness

When we are on vacation or at a celebration, we know in advance that we are going to overindulge. In fact, vacation is almost synonymous with overindulgence. We know beforehand that we are going to eat and drink whatever we want, that we’re going to take advantage of every last morsel, that we basically have no choice in the matter because that’s what you do on vacation, otherwise you’ll miss out.

But we don’t have to approach food that way, even when we’re on vacation. In fact, being mindful about the food and drinks we consume will actually give us more enjoyment because we are responding to our hunger, to a craving, to a desire – not to our autopilot.

Changing the meaning of vacation away from obligatory indulgence to what it really is, a time to unwind, relax, and reconnect with what matters, allows us to decide whether we are truly hungry, and what for. Perhaps you’ll find you don’t really want pancakes for a second day in a row, or you may decide to eat a lighter meal because you know you’ll be sitting in the hot sun or sightseeing and you want to feel lighter.

Perceptions of Exercise: Punishment or Engaging Activity?

Along with overindulgence, another common mindset I see is ditching exercise while on vacation or during the holidays. People believe they shouldn’t have to exercise because they’re on vacation, but what if you’re somewhere that movement makes sense? What if the scenery, the climate, and nature is the very reason you’ve chosen your destination? It makes sense to explore that destination by walking, swimming, hiking, or other movements.

This really comes down to how we perceive exercise. Exercise shouldn’t be looked at as a punishment or chore to be avoided. Instead, it should be considered an activity you engage in, one you do for enjoyment. That way, when you’re on vacation, well-rested, and in a beautiful location, you can be delighted to engage in movement which both helps your body and allows you to fully enjoy your surroundings.

Changing Your Narrative

The final mindset that I believe throws us off the wagon is how we view our actions once we return home. Ok, so you overindulged. You didn’t exercise. But did you enjoy your vacation? Did you revel in your experiences and the food and drink that you consumed?

Great! Be thankful for the opportunity. Then move on.

Too many times, we kick ourselves for these setbacks, for the weight gain we’ve come home with. But these things are not the issue. The issue is our narrative, which says, “I’m off the wagon. I screwed up. I can’t recover from this.” These thoughts lead to negative thinking, self-judgment, and sabotage of any future attempts to make healthy lifestyle choices. That is what it truly means to be off the wagon.

Make the effort to change your narrative. Enjoy the fact that you had a wonderful vacation. Don’t overthink the things you did or the setbacks you encountered. Don’t catastrophize them. Just move on. That’s the only way to get back on and stay on the wagon.



My mission is to educate, empower and inspire my patients to achieve health and wellness by drawing on best medical practices and a holistic mind-body approach while integrating my personal value system grounded in empathy, integrity and authenticity

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I'm Dr Adrienne Youdim.

It’s time for a better way, one that acknowledges that quick and easy is unrealistic and untrue, judgement results in sabotage and will only impede our weight loss goals.

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