Do you feel like you’re not able to stick with your eating habits? Like you have that roller coaster feeling when it comes to food of doing really well for a while and then doing really “poorly”?
This is because of what we call the start-and-stop cycle, and there are a few behaviors that are so common and keep you in the cycle.
But first, let’s define what this start-and-stop cycle really is.
What is The Start-and-Stop Cycle?
The start-and-stop cycle is a continuous pattern that people can experience in pursuit of eating healthy that prevents them from experiencing a sense of balance, ease, peace, and freedom with food.
When you’re in the start-and-stop cycle, you find yourself eating “perfectly” for a period of time, but because it’s too restrictive and difficult to maintain for the long-term you end up getting off-track. That period is then followed by guilt which leads right into feeling like you need to “reset.”
The challenging thing with the start-and-stop cycle is that, in most cases, you’re truly trying to eat well and do what you think is best for your health, but these eating behaviors are actually the very things preventing you from being consistent with your healthy eating habits, and in some cases, could even lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage of the start-and-stop cycle to better understand what may be causing you to get stuck in this cycle and where would be the best place for you to focus to move out of the cycle.
The “All In” Phase
The first phase is what we call the “all-in” phase. You usually enter this phase after you feel like you’ve been “off-track” or “off-of-the-bandwagon” with your eating habits, so you decide that you’re going to put more of your energy and effort into gaining control and eating really healthy again.
What this often looks like is restricting and regulating the amount or types of foods you eat.
This could either mean going on a new diet, plan, or detox, or forming your own set of rules that you think will keep you on track.
Here are a few examples of what the “all-in” phase may look or feel like:
- Avoiding certain foods
- Counting calories, macros, points
- Going on a diet, detox, or plan
- Skipping meals to save calories
- Your food choices don’t feel enjoyable or satisfying
- Striving to always eat “perfectly”
- Following trends or diets without first considering if they align with your body, lifestyle, and vision of health
- Constantly worrying about, or feeling preoccupied or obsessed with your food choices
- Rigid nutrition or fitness routines
In many cases, your focus may be so fixed on “getting it right” so you can achieve a specific result or achieve “perfect” eating habits, that it can feel as if it’s consuming your mental energy or taking all of your willpower and motivation to stay on track.
You’ve probably tried one of these things at one point or another, or maybe you’re even doing some of these behaviors right now, and that’s okay.
Many times we turn to this as the solution because we’re eager, motivated, and sometimes desperate for change, and just want something to finally work. It can also be because you simply don’t know of any other options that guide you to eat well without having to use those behaviors.
The Off-Track Phase
If you don’t learn to reframe your thoughts and let go of these short-term fixes, eventually, one of two things will happen after this “all-in” phase.
Either you burn-out or “give in” when you’re around foods that you’ve labeled as off-limits, or you’re faced with a situation where this rigid way of eating doesn’t work and it leads you to getting off-track, which is the next phase of the cycle.
There many factors that can lead you to get off-track including:
- Feeling cravings for foods you’ve labeled as off-limits
- Emotional eating, like stress-eating or eating when you’re bored
- Change in routine
- Distracted or mindless eating, like eating while watching TV
- Situational or environmental cues, like seeing office snacks or going out to eat
- Special occasions or holidays
- Health conditions
- And so much more
Feeling like you’ve gotten off-track with your eating habits is completely normal. We are human!
The key defining difference is that some of us are easily able to reflect, adjust, and realign with confidence and flexibility to our regular eating habits, while those who are in the start-and-stop cycle end up feeling guilt, frustration, internal pressure, stress, or other negative emotions as a result of their choices.
And, because the way you were eating was really challenging to maintain, when you get off-track, it can often be for a longer period of time, like a week, a month, or many months, not paying attention to your nutrition needs as you regain the time, willpower, and motivation to start again.
I’m sure you can relate to this as well, saying things like “I’ll start again Monday,” or “I’ll start up after the summer when I have more time,” or “I’ll start again after the holidays when there’s not as many sweets around.”
All of these things are an “all-out” mentality, where you’re saying if you’re not 100% “in,” then it’s not worth it.
The Guilt Phase
Now what happens when you’re in this cycle, is that at this point, you’re experiencing guilt for getting or staying off-track.
You may be saying to yourself, “I need to reset,” “I was so bad,” “I need to eat that,” or any other thoughts along those lines.
This guilt then leads you to seek out ways to try to undo the “bad” choices or make up for them by being more strict, rigid, and structured with yourself moving forward so it doesn’t happen again. This brings you right back into the “all-in” phase that I talked about earlier.
If the guilt is severe, it can also lead to feelings of helplessness and lack of control, as well as self-criticism, all of which can encourage poor self-esteem and low mood, impacting your mental health.
It also causes you to then go to then seek ways to try to undo the “bad” choice(s) you made and be more strict with yourself moving forward so it doesn’t happen again.
What Keeps You Stuck in the Cycle and Prevents Life-Long Eating Habits
While this start-and-stop cycle can also look different for each of you and can also have different levels of severity, I think it’s safe to believe that you have found yourself in this cycle before and you can see just how easy it can be to repeat this cycle several times.
This cycle continues to repeat itself, following similar variations of the same pattern, until you make a conscious decision to seek out a solution that doesn’t require you to restrict or feel guilty.
One of our members shared the reason why she joined The Mindful Nutrition Method(TM) was because she has been struggling with the start-and-stop cycle for 30 years.
She finally decided that she no longer wanted food to preoccupy her mind. She didn’t want to be stressed out about her food choices. She wanted to love and feel compassionate with the body that’s allowed her to experience a beautiful life for years, rather than feel like an enemy with it. She wanted to feel confident that her actions were supporting how she felt on a daily basis and her long-term health.
Are the actions you’re taking keeping you in this start-and-stop cycle? Or are they helping you to find peace and ease with consistently eating well?
How Mindful Eating Helps You Get Out of The Cycle
The cycle will continue because those choices, behaviors, and mindsets don’t help you identify, navigate, and overcome the potential challenges you face on your wellness journey.
And this is where mindful eating plays such an important role in your journey.
With mindful eating, our goal is to become more aware of what we eat, how we eat, and why we eat so we can take actions that help us better align with what our unique bodies want and need. When we do that, we’re better able to get to the root cause of many of our unhealthy eating behaviors and how to overcome challenges in a way that supports us in creating life-long healthy eating practices.
1. Bring Awareness to Your Body and Experience Around Food
With my mindful eating method, we first practice bringing awareness to our body and experience around food. We use check-in strategies, journaling and mindfulness to become more aware of what, how, and why we eat.
This helps us become more aware of our eating habits and tendencies so we have awareness around what works and what doesn’t work for our bodies along with what works and what doesn’t work for our lifestyle.
2. You Practice Compassionate Curiosity to Uncover Your Challenges
With a strong sense of awareness around our eating behaviors, we can then use what I call compassionate curiosity to uncover the specific challenges we may be facing at that point in time, without judging ourselves. Our goal here is not to feel bad or guilty, but rather to simply get curious as to why we’re experiencing something, give ourselves compassion because we are human, and then find the best way to align moving forward.
Challenges will look different for everyone. For some, they may realize that they struggle with stress eating, while others realize that cooking is more of a block for them, and others may be struggling with digestive issues or a health condition and they’re searching for how to best support themselves with their diet.
3. You Identify Intentional Actions to Take that Align With Your Wellness Vision
With a newfound awareness of what you need to focus on and compassion for yourself on this journey, you can then identify what actions to take that will best help you align with your unique wellness vision. Unlike the start-and-stop cycle where it always brings you towards the reset phase, with mindful eating, we focus on building practices that will best support you for the long-term.
Again, this will be unique for each person, based on where they are in their journey and where they are in their life. But no matter what, each person has a clear idea of where they need to spend more time, develop certain skills, and deepen their practices to best support them.
How to Get Out of The Cycle and Find Consistency and Balance With The Way You Nourish Yourself
So how do you break the cycle?
You realize that you deserve to put energy into a way of nourishing yourself that is supportive and sustainable. You do that by making an intentional action for yourself, right here.
Do you think you can let go of the need for a short-term result, and make the choice to shift into a more positive experience with food?
If you said yes to yourself just now, then you’re ready to watch our free workshop on How to Let Go of Diets and Reclaim Balance With The Way You Nourish Yourself.
In this workshop, I’ll dive in deep into this cycle, why you’ve found yourself stuck in it, and how you can truly get out of it for good.