Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Is discipline overrated?

I'm 35, a husband and dad. I eat a mainly paleo diet, take regular exercise and like to lift weights. I fluctuate between 8-11% bodyfat. When I became a dad, it did get up to 14%. For years I used to be the guy who said, I'm lean so you can be. I put the majority of my physical attributes down to discipline. So in theory, if you want a good trainer, you choose the one who will help you with what you struggle with. For most they feel it is discipline. The mainstream theory is those who are overweight or out of shape aren't disciplined.

I'll be 100% honest with you. People think that I must work hard or be very disciplined to be in shape. The truth is, pushing myself hard in the gym or eating steak for breakfast isn't difficult for me. I actually enjoy it. My wife pointed this out a while back and said my mentality is not considered the norm. So maybe some people can push themselves in different ways and it is comfortable for them. Or maybe I'm fortunate that my environment helps me keep fit. Either way, I don't think discipline is a major factor.

If everyone ate better and took regular exercise, we would still have varying bodyfat levels and distribution from person to person. Maybe we wouldn't have as many cases of obesity, but if everyone was equally as disciplined we wouldn't all be super lean. We need to consider that genes and environment are a bigger factor in how you look. Maybe we also need to consider that some people have a unique predisposition to cope with the demands of regular exercise, hunger and staying in shape better than those who can't.

The default setting for the majority of ailments and illness and diseased states of the body if there is an abundance of calories is to store fat. Yet people who are lean seem to go straight for the lack of discipline argument as to why people have high levels of bodyfat. It's as simplistic as saying that alcoholics drink too much, so the answer is to put them on a restricted alcohol diet and work on their mindset. However, we have much more sympathy for alcoholics than we do for overweight individuals. I often hear the comments, "it's not rocket science," yet they wouldn't dream of saying this to an alcoholic. 

Now I'm not saying for one second that fat genes are solely responsible for being overweight or obese. What I am saying is that people have different 'challenges' as to what they find easy or a challenge in life. Having a go at the willpower of someone who is overweight is as insane as someone saying your bad English, poor spelling or lack of education is down to your lack of a discipline or willpower. Society used to think this way about dyslexia. Luckily, things have changed.

Here's what I think. Discipline and willpower are overrated. You can condition your subconscious to a degree, but it still runs the show, not your willpower (conscious). Some people are genetically positive or have a negativity bias as discussed by research in Jonathan Haidt's book The Happiness Hypothesis. This means some people will be more prone to bouts of depression and it is down to your genes, not your lack of willpower.You can't just 'pull yourself together.' Overeating or binge eating is linked to stress, so if you can't handle stress very well, chances are you'll want to eat more and therefore have a weight problem. I like this quote by The Biggest Loser Personal Trainer, Charlotte Ord.
I don't believe in exercising willpower like a muscle. I believe in setting up your environment so you need willpower as little as possible.

Are you a super taster? Some people have more taste receptors than others on their tongue. So they are more receptive to salty and bitter tasting foods. There are genetically predetermined dopamine and leptin levels in the brain. These affect how hungry and how much pleasure you derive from food. Someone who is lean probably has their levels under control.

So there you go. I'm sorry to admit, but not drinking very much, not eating processed foods, eating plenty of good sources of protein and taking regular exercise isn't very difficult for me. I'm now very appreciative to whatever has helped me get to this place in my life. At the same time, I'm not going to prescribe my lifestyle as an 'ideal' as there are many factors that contribute to it, not just eating well and exercising. A trigger for me to create a better environment was a deep unhappiness of that stage of life and where it was heading. I certainly am not going to say that I have the secret to being disciplined and it involves me being super regimented and obsessively disciplined. It just looks that way from the outside.

So think about surrounding yourself with the things that will help with your goals. Get an accountability partner, start training with a group. Otherwise, you will eventually slip back to your preferred state, as this is human nature. You can't do it on willpower alone. If we could, everyone would do everything they wanted to do all the time.


To find out more about Charlotte Ord, check her our at.....

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