Over the years, I've tried many different approaches to getting fit. I've made equally many mistakes, and learned a lot along the way. Here are a few major revelations I've had about why I failed in the past, and what I need to change to do better in the future.
Restriction does work, but is unsustainable
As you can see in my previous stories, I've had blips of quite substantial success with many different diet approaches based around caloric restriction and food intake.
I have to admit I'm just really attracted to these extreme approaches.
I like either doing things all the way, or not at all. If I was good at moderation, I probably wouldn't have gotten fat in the first place, right?
But I have to get real with myself here.
I just turned 30 last week. And hitting this age milestone made me realize that I've been doing this dance on and off for decades at this point. And I'm still not where I want to be.
So if I'm honest with myself, looking back, I have to conclude that it's not sustainable.
I can't keep doing this.
I can't keep getting thrilled and fired up, make a resolution, throw myself in there with all my might and start lifting and running and dieting like a maniac, feeling like a badass and seeing amazing results in the short term, only to fail again in the long term.
I need something better.
Willpower is a finite resource
What I've come to realize is that all these approaches based on whipping yourself into shape don't work in the long run for one simple reason:
Willpower is a finite resource.
Willpower (or mental energy) can get you far towards achieving your goals, but you can't rely on it for the long term. Because there are times in life when life itself requires willpower.
Sooner or later, something will happen.
A friend or family member gets sick or dies, your company goes under and you get laid off, you have to move to a new city where you don't know anybody, a longterm relationship ends abruptly, you have an accident that gets you injured, a natural disaster happens, an economic crisis hits, a contagious disease outbreak locks down your entire country, etc.
Sometimes the stress of these things gets so much that you need all the mental energy you can muster, just to stay afloat.
And this is why life improvement strategies that require copious amounts of willpower ultimately fail. This is why strenuous exercise and starvation diets are unsustainable in the long run.
And not only that, but they even feed addiction.
It's true, my all-or-nothing mentality I described earlier also means I have an addictive personality. And I have to admit, I have been addicted.
Not just to food.
I've been addicted to quick wins.
Really, both of these are just an addiction to dopamine hits. Because that's what these extreme diet solutions really feed on: dopamine addiction.
That's the reality.
Whenever I would start dieting and exercising heavily, running as fast as I could, and chasing results, I was really just chasing my hit. Over and over and over.
I desperately needed quick and dramatic results, because only such results would make me feel good enough about myself to give me the next dopamine hit I needed to keep running this crazy race.
I needed to go extreme, because if the results would not come quickly or dramatically enough, I'd lose steam. I'd lose the willpower to keep going, and ultimately fail.
That's the sad realization I had.
I need to slow down
So this time around, I'm going to have to do things differently. I have to make a conscious effort to slow the hell down. I need to focus on building sustainable habits, rather than feeding on quick wins.
Unfortunately, this will make the process less fun in the short term.
But I'm 30 years old now, so it's high time to grow up and be an adult here. And being an adult involves actively choosing long term success over short term pleasures.
Besides, the ability to forego immediate gratification is the foundation of all progress, so it makes sense that it would be here too.
In any case, I will need a sustainable solution that helps me do that.
The question is: what makes a solution sustainable? What kind of solution will I still be able to adhere to 10-20 years from now?
To me, a sustainable solution is a solution that requires as little as possible of the following:
- buying power
Firstly, although some amount of willpower will always be required to have any kind of discipline, the amount needed for adhering to this diet/exercise solution should be negligible. Keeping it up should rely almost entirely on habit, like taking a shower and brushing your teeth.
Secondly, the solution can not be so complex and intricate that it requires apps, spreadsheets, calculators, or planning around eating windows and shopping trips. Brain power is just as much of a finite resource as willpower is.
Thirdly, the solution can not require financial wealth. I don't want to be forced to sacrifice my health if I lose my job or otherwise fall on hard times.
So what's the plan?
Well, I won't go on a diet in the classical sense anymore. Instead, I'm going to teach myself a series of healthy habits that will set me up for inevitable success in the long run.
That is how I will ultimately win.