Depriving Yourself for Fitness Success Doesn’t Work

“8 out of 10 dieters fail.”
“95% of people who diet gain the weight back.”
“New Year’s resolutions fail.”

You’ve probably heard all these alarming and pessimistic statistics and maybe even felt quite defeated by them. Well, if you’re a nerd like me you’ve looked up a few scientific studies on diets, weight loss and willpower and while the results regarding the possibility for diet failure (i.e. regaining the weight) are inconclusive, the studies often lacking in proper sample size and sometimes using unreliable methods, there is one thing I am certain about: You are not doomed to fail if you decide to make positive changes in your life.

Unfortunately, many diets don’t focus on positive habits. Instead, they remind people they need to sacrifice, just try harder, give up things we love to get smaller and ban certain foods altogether. Even if there are certain bad habits and poor choices in our lives, we will do better without, I have found that focusing only on trying to quit them is not as effective as you would think.

There is a huge difference between dieting vs. creating new healthy habits. Dieting is depriving yourself ample calories so that your hangry outbursts make your friends want to shove giant chocolate croissants in your mouth to shut you up, becoming a cardio bunny who runs for hours on the treadmill and eats nothing by carrots, lettuce, ice cubes, Balance Bars and fat free Jello pudding snacks, and telling yourself that your favorite foods are now “Off limits!” which lasts until about 7 pm when you then eat the fridge and then in a final act of “fuck it” thinking make a trip to the 24-hour drug store for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  Positive lifestyle changes i.e. adding healthy habits into your life that modify the way you make decisions is a much saner, happier approach.

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Holiday Health & Fitness Survival Guide

The time of year is fast approaching when people deal with a lot of temptation that may derail them from their fitness goals. But you don’t have to feel helpless when it comes staying on course. January guilt and re-written New Year’s resolutions is not a fate carved in stone. Now is a great time to strategize a holiday fitness survival plan that keeps you moving, motivated, eating clean, indulging a little and most importantly feeling sexy and dashing at your Holiday parties!

But before I get started, let’s debunk the myth that the average person gains 5-10 pounds over the holiday season. This just isn’t true.  It’s estimated at 0.8, which isn’t a lot but can add up year after year and it’s not good that about 50% of the average yearly gain of 1.5 pounds is occurring over the Holidays. Realizing that you are not doomed to gain massive weight will alleviate unnecessary stress and help you think more clearly while strategizing a survival plan. A word of caution, though, overweight and obese test subjects (14%) gained an average of 5 lbs!  So there was some variance. That also means that a portion of the test subjects must not have gained any weight or just a small fraction.

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Flex Your Willpower Muscle

This article was originally written in 2008 for Wfighter.Com a site that doesn’t exist anymore, so I am republishing it here. Edited and updated with lots of sources. I noticed (thankfully) that my writing has improved since this piece was first written and I also noticed I did a horrible job of linking to studies and references. So I researched again and added the goods 🙂

If this topic interests you I suggest the book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (Aug 2012) as recommended additional reading on this topic.

If you are interested in health and fitness, you know the importance of willpower. We use willpower to get us to the gym, to run that extra 10 minutes, to choose carrot sticks over cookies, to get to bed early, to pass on a second cocktail, even to hold off on telling off our boss.

If we can understand how willpower works, we can conquer many of our personal demons that prevent us from optimal success. We will train harder, eat healthier, and be calmer. We can unleash a powerful, disciplined fighter in us all.

Fighters are notoriously disciplined, training 2-3 hours a day, following a careful diet, sacrificing social activities for the sake of a good night’s sleep. No fighter is perfect; we all have areas we would like to improve on. However, the world’s top fighters are inspiring because they have an enormous amount of willpower and discipline

In the last ten years, scientists have made some interesting discoveries regarding human willpower. First it’s important to note that willpower is a mind-body response, which means that when we exert willpower, it affects our physical state and when our physical state is altered a certain way, it will change how we can use willpower. Willpower is an evolutionary characteristic we developed to help us ignore instinctive instant gratification and focus on long-term goals. Willpower has helped us become the educated, career focused society we are today -but where is gets interesting is in the details of how it works.

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