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The Power of the Vicious Cycle and How to Break Free

eating-fridgeYou come home from work physically exhausted, emotionally drained. Your first instinct is to throw open the fridge, grab something and start eating. Somewhere in the back of your mind you know how destructive this habit is, but in the moment you don’t care. You’re eating … eating … eating.

When you finally step away from the cheese and crackers, you realize what you’ve done and are awash with guilt. “Holy crap, I’ve done it again!” you think. You’d envisioned fixing a healthy dinner, then going for a walk, but now all you feel is completely demoralized. “It’s hopeless!” you lament. “I’m never gonna be able to control this!”

You feel helpless to break the vicious cycle.

In “Trapped in the Vicious Cycle” I defined the chain of behavior this way:

Overeat > feel physically sick > skip workout > feel guilty > repeat.

The vicious cycle is powerful for two reasons:

    1. It’s a habit. More accurately, it’s a whole buncha habits combined. Breaking the cycle requires you to be conscious of the habits and then start rebuilding good habits, one-by-one.
    2. It’s steeped in complex emotions. Seriously, you need hip-waders for this. There’s denial that you’re engaging in self-destructive behavior, fear that you won’t be able to cope without relying on food, hopelessness that you’ll ever be able to make a dent in your problem, and shame that cannot control yourself and stick to a plan.

So where do you even begin to break free of the cycle’s hold?


No, you can’t exercise yourself thin, and you certainly cannot exercise your way out of a crappy diet, but exercise can break the vicious cycle in two ways:

  1. Exercise makes you happy. Okay, maybe not immediately and maybe you think you hate exercise. But your body was designed to move, so move you must. Exercise can help you overcome the inertia – both physical and mental – that keeps you stuck. Exercise releases “happy hormones” that make you feel good. You feel tired, but accomplished and successful. Those good feelings carry over into other areas of your life.
  2. Exercise puts you in touch with your physical body; the more in touch you are with your physical body, the less likely you are to do bad stuff to it. Again, our bodies are designed to move, and doing so reminds us what our muscles feel like when they’re at work and at rest. Tuning into those sensations has a direct and positive impact on how we feel and consequently on our behavior. Conversely, feeling detached from our physical bodies makes it easier to engage in self-destructive behavior and perpetuate the vicious cycle.

Breaking free of the vicious cycle is challenging because it calls us to examine our habits, cravings, goals, schedules, motivation, and even relationships. On top of that, it’s easy to slip up and re-enter that familiar cycle at any point. We must be vigilant if we want to be free of it permanently.

But just as the vicious cycle has a powerful pull, there is a virtuous cycle that is also self-reinforcing. More on that tomorrow!

Losing weight is hard, especially you feel powerless against the forces of the vicious cycle. But it gets easier when you learn how to break through. And you’re so damn worth it!

Let’s go get it!

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