When it comes to dieting, few things are more important than discipline.
The strength of your discipline is often the difference between you reaching for that candy bar or throwing it in the trash. It’s a powerful weapon in your weight loss armory.
But what if your discipline has the analogical strength of a pea shooter? How are you expected to succeed in your dieting plans if you can’t go more than a few days without succumbing to temptation? The answer lies not in trying to force discipline upon yourself, but in exercising your discipline and increasing its strength over time.
The Mistake Most People Make
We’re all attracted to the notion of quick weight loss. That’s why the dieting industry is so enormous – marketers and entrepreneurs are getting rich off of people who are in desperate search of a quick fix.
The attraction of quick weight loss is twofold:
- We need to quickly see the benefits of our efforts – not only for aesthetic reward, but also to provide us with greater discipline in order to continue.
- We want the diet, which is invariably onerous, to be over and done with as quickly as possible.
Even when people initially succeed using a diet plan, they’ll often slip back into old habits and put the weight they lost back on over time. Then the cycle repeats, and the dieting industry keeps growing.
Why does this happen? Simple: dieters call upon their willpower to engage in a course of action, but once their willpower is exhausted, their discipline is not strong enough to maintain the original course of action.
The Difference Between Willpower and Discipline
The words willpower and discipline are often used interchangeably, but for the purposes of dieting, they have distinct meanings.
Willpower: the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
Discipline: to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.
Willpower is what gets the engine turning over; discipline is what keeps it running once it’s fired up.
If you’ve ever started a healthy eating regime and fallen off the wagon after a matter of days or weeks, you have experienced an unsuccessful transition from willpower to discipline.
So a lack of discipline is often the cause of dieting failure. I’m not disclosing any revelations here; you’re almost certainly aware that your discipline is lacking. So the question is, what can you do to strengthen your discipline?
On Setting Impossible Goals
If I told you that you had to run a three hour marathon or bench press 300lbs tomorrow, how would you react?
You’d probably tell me that it was impossible (unless you happen to be an avid runner or weightlifter). Despite that, many of us impose similarly absurd goals when it comes to dieting.
We decide to cut out all fast food, soda, candy and ‘unhealthy’ foods in one fell swoop. We replace them with lean meats and fresh fruit and vegetables, all cooked from scratch (despite the fact that you’re used to eating out or cooking your food in the microwave). In short, we impose an exhaustive overhaul of our eating habits overnight.
Is it any wonder that we fail? It’s the equivalent of transitioning from doing no exercise to running ten miles a day in the space of a week.
There is no shame in failing to adopt an entirely different eating regime overnight. You’re being unreasonable on yourself in expecting such a quick change. You’re asking your discipline to perform impossible feats of strength.
Of course, those feats don’t have to be impossible. If you work on strengthening your discipline over time, you will eventually be able to stick to a diet that results in long term weight loss and weight management.
The key to strengthening your discipline is to do it gradually.
On day one, if you allow yourself to eat as you please, you will require no discipline. On day two, you might choose to replace one snack with something healthier or reduce your dinner portion by 10%, which would require a modicum of discipline.
The key is to maintain that small change until your discipline is strong enough to handle a greater load. When you feel ready to move on, make another small change to your diet and repeat the process.
If you move too soon and find yourself struggling to maintain a change, don’t let the whole diet fall to pieces. Instead, take one step back into your comfort zone, and attempt to make another (perhaps alternative) change when you feel ready again.
Dieting shouldn’t be a race. Unless you are suffering from a pressing health concern and need to lose weight now, you have the rest of your life to get in decent shape.
All other things being equal (and roughly speaking), a daily deficit of just 100–200 calories will result in 15lbs of weight loss over the course of a year. The notion that you should be losing weight at a rate of 3lbs per week is absurd (and unsustainable). If you focus on cumulative dieting – making positive changes to your diet at a rate that your discipline will permit – not only will you reach your weight loss targets, you’ll keep the weight off in the long-term.
If you’re looking for some ways to kick-start your cumulative diet, why not start by adding one or more of my healthy (yet tasty) recipes into your week? You may also want to check out these articles from the archives:
- One Simple Way to Eat Fewer Unhealthy Snacks
- Why You Should Skip Breakfast
- The Truth About Frozen Foods (And How They Can Help You Lose Weight)
An Easy Approach to Dieting
Perhaps the greatest thing about this approach to dieting is that it’s easy.
You’re never pushing yourself – you exist in a constant state of moderate and manageable discipline. Take as long as you need to get to where you want to be and never push yourself beyond your discipline’s ability, and success is all but assured.