I had a client who genuinely loved her workouts so much that when work travel interrupted her schedule she had a predictable/precise trend in self-sabotaging nutritional behaviors. When we figured out how to implement SOME sort of enjoyable workout even on her most scattered work weeks, she 100% nailed her food.
That was around 10 years ago. Even before then, I came to believe that a lot of self-assessment can dramatically improve through the lens of budgets. For example, everyone has an inherent daily decision-making budget. Let’s say it’s 12 decisions a person is capable of making in a solid rational and productive fashion. Routines reduce the decision loss, resulting in surpluses. Each successive day can save up more good decisions. Lack of routines and discipline tends to rack up debts. We begin borrowing from the next day. We reach a point in chaos where we not only have no good decision-making capacity left for our day, we’ve borrowed so far into the future self that we BEGIN a day with nothing to spend AND a crushing interest rate that’s overdue.
Rich get richer. Poor get poorer.
Likewise, with enjoyment, when we fail to hit our daily budget, we tend to run a debt. Then we look ahead to weekends, holidays, and vacations (ie - escapes) as a way to forget the debt temporarily. Unsurprisingly, we don’t pay off our debt by ignoring it.
When we combine considerations for the two, we find that the general idea of dieting is a non-starter. On average, people are nowhere near their enjoyment budget and years pre-spent on their decision-making line of credit. Sacrificing food enjoyment and adding more food decisions literally CANNOT work.
Think about this way: if you are at a 1 out of 10 on daily enjoyment requirements, and -37 on what should be 10 remaining good decisions, what is going to happen at the end of a day or week? Naturally, you are going to do whatever is easily available to attempt to rectify the situation. If you get some dopamine high from eating “unplanned” food, that’s what you’ll do. It’s not failure. It’s not weakness. It is a natural consequence of the landscape.
Instead, I encourage people FIRST toward discovering daily joys and low-decision-cost routines. Depending on what type of deficits you’ve been running, it could be a while before you’re reasonably allowed to approach nutrition from sacrifice and subtraction. We have to add enough enjoyment to place the person in a resilient environment. We have to pay off the decision-making debt to a reasonable degree before simply attacking with more decision costs.
If you aren’t close to hitting any enjoyment, you won’t get closer by removing more enjoyable items. If you are overspent on decisions, you won’t make better ones by adding more to each day. The structure you implement has to have a NET improvement. Your mind and body won’t allow anything less.
This is the only reasonable approach.
I’m all for doing difficult things. There’s value in delayed gratification and disciplined drive. But the reason why they work WHEN they work is that those individuals are reducing decision costs by having structure and routine. Those people are learning to take joy in the struggle which they believe will pay off in the future. NO ONE is pushing through when he takes NO joy in the struggle. NO ONE is pushing through WHEN she disbelieves progress is possible.
Tend to your enjoyment. Observe your budgets. And productive fitness and dietary behaviors will become self-evident.
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