What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?

March 28th, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  24 Comments

A very interesting, indepth article that gives an overview of the key themes shaping the current obesity and nutrition debate, as well as a good basic introduction to the concepts underlying the problem with high-carb/low-fat diets and their metabolic effects.

Of particular note is a little factoid: the oft-cited “95% of all diets fail”. Apparently this “well known fact” came from only 100 patients in one experiment.

Also interestingly is the side note of earlier research by folks like Ancel Keys in the mid-20th century that looked at obesity in populations worldwide. Perhaps belying the notion that Italians are magically lean as whippets despite noshing on piles of pasta, the early researchers noted that working-class Italians with diets replete with bread, rice, and pasta were, in fact, overfat. Additionally, the article claims, up until the 1970s, clinical articles argued that African and Caribbean populations that relied heavily on cereals and starchy roots tended to be overfat as well.

Regardless of where the truth lies (and I think it’s pretty clear where physiological reality leads us — ie. to the fact that our endocrine systems did not evolve to tolerate Ho-Hos), this is an excellent introduction to the field and the ongoing debates.

Full article in the NYT


  1. Chris says:

    March 30th, 2010at 9:12 am(#)

    This is an old article Krista – have you read Good Calories, Bad Calories also by Taubes? A real eye-opener!

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    March 30th, 2010at 11:49 am(#)

    Yes, GCBC is a great book — what I found most interesting was that the research demonstrating much of these facts was done so early on, then forgotten or abandoned. WWII seemed like a crucial turning point: it shut down some important labs and then provided the opening for industrial chemical companies afterwards to turn their swords into ploughshares, or in this case fake fats.

  3. Keiko says:

    April 1st, 2010at 4:17 am(#)

    I live in Japan. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, and ask why the Japanese (who basically subsist on a diet of white rice, vegetables, and seafood, with noodles as an occasional treat) are so healthy and trim, and have the longest life expectancies in the world along with some of the lowest rates of adult diseases. The traditional Japanese diet contains very little fat, and is high in carbohydrates. White rice is eaten daily, but fried foods, such as tempura, are eaten only on special occasions. Fish is very popular, and so is chicken. Most people only eat beef or pork about two or three times a week, at most.

    How to explain this Japanese paradox? I think that a lot of it has to do with portion control – serving sizes are very small here – and the fact that most city-dwellers walk everywhere instead of driving. Of course, as I’ve posted before, there is the relentless peer pressure to avoid weight gain for fear of negative comments.

    Anyway, what are your thoughts about this? I am interested to know.

    Personally I’m inclined to think that it doesn’t really matter what you eat, as long as you don’t eat too much of it, and get plenty of exercise. In other words, self-control.

  4. Simma says:

    April 1st, 2010at 3:31 pm(#)


  5. Simma says:

    April 2nd, 2010at 12:43 pm(#)


    Self-control is key to anything in life. However, self-control, despite what many want to think, rarely happens in a void when it comes to something as closely linked to our biology as something like eating.

    Taubes and others who support the carbohydrate hypothesis vs. the lipid hypothesis are just saying that many Americans are trying to exercise self-control, but our out of control diet that has huge excesses of sugars and other corn and soy byproducts is essentially short-circuiting our ability to do so. Yes, those with eating disorders, young Japanese women, etc. can strictly control what they eat, but it is because a different pathology is making them exercise the control to a pathological extent.

    In other words, if you consider what replacing fat with sugar and starch does to the human body, Americans’ inability to exercise self-control looks more like a symptom than a cause.

    This doesn’t mean discipline is irrelevant. But instead of telling people to exercise it by choosing smaller portions when the insulin roller coaster they are on is telling them that they are starving, even at 300+ pounds, we should help them to exercise it by choosing real food that isn’t going to put them on that bad ride to begin with or help them get off.

    Even then, yes, portion control is key. But it’s much more doable when you eat a diet of whole foods that isn’t overwhelming your body with cheap carbs and contains enough fat to keep your natural appetite controls working.

  6. LVM says:

    April 2nd, 2010at 4:53 pm(#)

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here too. Remaining thin – or at least, non-obese – should not require self-control of any kind. Pathological or not. A healthy body, fed on healthy foods to the point of natural satiety and given plenty of exercise and sleep, does not become obese. Period. Maintaining health should not be an effort of superhuman willpower – it should be easy and effortless. If it’s not effortless, you’re doing it wrong.

    I am all for discipline and self-control in the other areas of life. It takes discipline and self-control to get an education, to get a good job, to progress in your career, to raise your children well, to be useful to your community. That is what discipline and self-control is for. Not for eating poisons and then starving yourself to the point of hallucinations so that you do not gain weight from the poisons.

  7. Keiko says:

    April 3rd, 2010at 7:40 am(#)

    Thank you very much for your comments, Simma and LVM. I very much appreciate being able to have a dialogue about something that has been puzzling me for years.

    Two points stuck out at me:

    Simma: “…it’s much more doable when you eat a diet of whole foods that isn’t overwhelming your body with cheap carbs and contains enough fat to keep your natural appetite controls working.”

    LVM: “A healthy body, fed on healthy foods to the point of natural satiety and given plenty of exercise and sleep, does not become obese.”

    Okay, why not just do that, then? Eat natural healthy foods and/or exercise more, and thereby avoid becoming morbidly obese? It’s hardly rocket science after all.

    So, what’s the issue with not being able to eat properly?

  8. LVM says:

    April 3rd, 2010at 3:55 pm(#)

    Keiko – why not just do that? Because that’s not what the medical establishment has been telling people for years and years and years. Note that the obesity epidemic in the US started in the 70’s – just when the medical establishment started recommending low-fat, high-carb, high-processed-food diets. People believed it was healthy, so they did it. When they got fat from it, they blamed themselves – it was simply because they lacked willpower. When their starvation diets drove them to the point of binging and sleepwalking to the fridge, they blamed themselves some more, and kept on eating the “health foods” and making themselves even more miserable.

    I live next to a health food store. Guess what they sell there? OK, they do have a few fruits and veggies (no meats, though). The majority of the store, however, is high-carb, low-fat, processed trash – and this is what they sell to Americans as “healthy”.

    Generally, the progression to morbid obesity looks like this: a kid grows into a slightly chubby teenager. The teenager is self-conscious about her weight and starts dieting. Her metabolism slows down. She eats “health food” and messes up her body still further. She gains weight. Now she’s overweight. She diets still more and goes low-fat, or no-fat, and high-processed food and high-carb. By heroic, superhuman efforts, she gets her weight down to a “normal” number. She feels good about herself, but all she can think about is food, to the point of obsession. She counts calories, lives on iceberg lettuce, and keeps meticulous control over everything that goes into her mouth. Then, as the years go on, something happens and real life intervenes – maybe she gets a new job that demands a lot of energy. Maybe she has a child or two. Maybe she needs to take care of a sick family member. Whatever it is, it takes her mind off calorie-counting and food obsession for a while – and she gains huge amounts of weight.

    Note that has this slightly chubby teenager done nothing at all about her weight, and continued eating normally, she would never have become morbidly obese.

    Also, in the past 30 years, Americans have changed their sleep habits. The average American gets much less sleep than their body physiologically requires. Lack of sleep makes people fat. I know someone who gained 70 lbs. that way.

    I will also offer my own personal experience, and the personal experiences of a few friends of mine. I have never had trouble with my weight, ever. I am 5’5″ and 125 lbs. I have never in my life weighed more than 130. I have never been on a diet, ever (am I the only one in the US?). I always eat as much as I want of whatever it is that I want. (yes, I’m that woman that everyone loves to hate) I eat meat, I eat fish, I eat eggs and dairy, I eat lots of fruit and veggies, I eat good chocolate, I drink wine, and I never, ever, ever, restrict my calories. I also get 8 hours of sleep a night most nights. Mind you, I do avoid processed food, but I’m not obsessive about it. Generally, I eat whatever’s put in front of me.

    I recently started a new and very intense job. It involves a lot of sitting in a chair – 12 or 14 hour workdays are not uncommon. All of the people who started at the same time as me, and I, started gaining weight as a result. My response to the (slight) weight gain was “OMG, I need to exercise!” I brought a kettlebell to my office the next day (thank you Krista!). The weight gain stopped. A coworker’s response to the same weight gain was “OMG, I need to start skipping meals and eating cereal for lunch!” Guess what her metabolism is doing?

  9. LVM says:

    April 3rd, 2010at 4:22 pm(#)

    I would also like to note, as a feminist, that one of the reasons that many women do not accomplish as much as they could otherwise accomplish is that willpower is a finite resource. If you use up all your willpower keeping yourself from binging on chocolate-chip cookies when every fiber of your being is screaming for them, where’s the willpower you’ll need to succeed at your work? To get a Ph.D.? To write a book or compose a symphony? To perform experiments that will lead to a cure for cancer? All of those things take willpower, and a certain amount of obsessiveness and driven-ness. If all your obsessiveness is channeled to what you put in your mouth, and your male colleagues channel their obsessiveness to their work, guess what’s going to happen in the long run?

  10. Trishy says:

    April 4th, 2010at 1:30 pm(#)

    LVM, that is an interesting suggestion in your last post, but in my purely anecdotal experience, it seems a little far-fetched. I think the cultural issues that tend to keep women from reaching their full potential are far deeper than an obsession with calories and your weight. I work with highly successful female scientists and professors who harbor the same neurotic body and dieting issues as nearly every other woman in the country, but these issues have not stopped them from earning a PhD, writing a book, or managing a company. It can interfere with other more social aspects of their life (for example, it’s hard to enjoy a birthday party when you are hating yourself for eating that piece of cake), but it seems a bit of a stretch to argue that women would be more likely to pursue higher education and challenging professions if they didn’t worry about their weight so much.

  11. Simma says:

    April 4th, 2010at 2:15 pm(#)


    Good points.

    I’d also like to point out that blaming the obesity epidemic on an absence of discipline is inherently ridiculous and shows what a huge bias industrialized nations have against fatness.

    In the case of the worst of the obesity problem, the U.S., people are convinced that Americans are fat because they’re lazy and have no willpower.

    The fact is, though, that Americans work more and are willing to work more for less security than the people of any other developed nation. (I’m not saying this is good–I’m just saying that this is strong evidence that Americans are not lazy, and they have no problem with willpower and effort when it comes to other aspects of their lives. Personally, I believe Americans should be more lazy and feel more entitlement, because the less stressful lifestyle that comes from a strong state security net is beneficial to communal health).

    Also, to believe the morality hypothesis (that sloth and lack of will are the root of the obesity epidemic), you’d have to believe that, sometime around 1977, despite the fact that Americans had enjoyed decades of prosperity and food surpluses post WWII, an entire nation suddenly suffered a simultaneous failure of will. Which is inherently ridiculous, but because the developed world is so biased against fatness and finds fat people so disagreeable, people easily believe this illogical hypothesis.

    LVM, I disagree that discipline never comes into it. I do think that, if you give the body the proper fuel, for MANY people, maintaining a steady and healthy weight should be easy. However, there is undoubtedly a need for discipline when we choose what to put in our bodies. I have a friend who has an anti-sweet tooth. He doesn’t like sweet foods and doesn’t understand why people have trouble resisting them. But for the rest of humanity, sugar is a lot like crack. Only it isn’t illegal and doesn’t come with much stigma. So choosing to put the foods in your body that will make it easy for your body to be healthy does require discipline for most people.

    But I think most people make the wrong choices because they think the “good” choices are foods that will make them miserable: tasteless, meatless, fatless foods that will make them feel like they’re starving and provide no satisfaction.

  12. LVM says:

    April 6th, 2010at 2:09 pm(#)

    Trishy – of course you can write a book or get a Ph.D. while obsessing about food. You can also run a marathon with your ankles manacled together. It’ll just be harder – and depending on the severity of the food obsession, it may be a lot harder. That means that the book may not be as good as it would have been without the food obsession; or that the Ph.D. may take longer than it would have taken without the food obsession; and so on. When you’re only devoting 75%, or 50%, or 25%, of your total willpower to a task, you’re bound to produce poorer results than if you had been able to devote 100% of your willpower to it. I’m not saying it’s keeping women from *pursuing* higher education or challenging professions – I’m saying it’s keeping many women from *succeeding* in those challenging professions. It’s hard enough to run a marathon without manacles around your ankles.

    Simma, there are two kinds of discipline here. One is the normal amount of discipline one needs to function in the world. Even if I want to tell that annoying co-worker what I think of him, I realize that the long-term consequences of that may be bad, so I use self-discipline to override that urge, and shut up.

    The other kind of “discipline” is the near-superhuman amount of discipline that one needs to override a basic bodily need. If you deny your body’s need for sleep, you will need to exert superhuman efforts to keep yourself awake. If you deny your body’s need to urinate, you’ll need to exert superhuman efforts to keep from doing so after a while, and even those superhuman efforts will eventually fail. Similarly, if you deny your body’s need to eat enough to sustain life, you will need to exert superhuman efforts to keep yourself from doing so. When your body thinks it’s starving to death, it will override your conscious mind in a last-ditch attempt to keep from dying. This is the amount of “discipline” that people think the overweight need to exercise over themselves on a regular basis. It is unsustainable in the long run.

    Note, incidentally, that to someone whose body is adequately nourished and adequately rested, a bad chocolate-chip cookie is entirely resistible. Not much discipline is required to refrain from eating it. To someone whose body is screaming for calories and nutrients, a bad chocolate-chip cookie is near-irresistible – the way it would be to a starving person – and requires inhuman discipline to refrain from eating.

  13. Trishy says:

    April 6th, 2010at 7:43 pm(#)

    I understand your point, LVM, I just don’t see any evidence for it. I work around too many women who hate their bodies but think of themselves as awesome researchers and professors. The two just don’t seem much related (purely anecdotally speaking). Of course, we may be talking about two different kinds of “obsession” here: I am thinking of relatively common body issues and preoccupation with weight and the perception of fatness, not the level of obsession that, for example, an anorexic might experience.

  14. Simma says:

    April 6th, 2010at 7:59 pm(#)


    If you’ll look, you’ll see that I almost entirely with you re: willpower. The one point with which I take issue is the idea that weight control should be “effortless” or is “effortless” if you’re feeding yourself the right things, getting sleep, etc.

    For some, yes, it may be effortless. And maybe, “in the wild”, in an environment that contains only natural foods which we have evolved to eat and utilize. But just because it’s effortless for you does not mean that it is effortless for all, or even for most. For plenty of people, it will not be effortless and will never be effortless. It will always require some effort to make good decisions.

    We do agree, though, that on a proper diet, it should not require superhuman efforts of will. Barring some kind of disorder or disease, it should be *doable*.

    This is why I distinguish between discipline and willpower. Discipline, even the normal amount needed to function in the world, is not effortless. Your analogy to telling a co-worker to shut up isn’t the best. A better one is always putting one’s clothes away, or making sure to do the dishes right away after every meal, or keeping and sticking to a budget and entering all of your expenses into your records at the end of the day, every day, or making sure to finish your homework before turning on the TV. These things take effort. Small, consistent amounts of effort– i.e., discipline. Totally achievable, but not effortLESS.

  15. LVM says:

    April 10th, 2010at 9:08 pm(#)

    Simma: I agree with you, but I really really hate the word “discipline”. Perhaps because it is so often used as a concept to beat oneself up with. “Habit” is a much more neutral concept, and avoids that emotional baggage.

    Think of, oh, putting on your clothes each morning. Literally speaking, it is not effortless – you have to exert some kind of effort to button all those buttons and zip all those zippers. But would you say it requires “discipline” to do consistently, or put it in the same category as the unpleasant things of life – paying your bills, cleaning your house, whatever it is that you find unpleasant?

    I found that when I think of unpleasant things as requiring “discipline”, I don’t want to do them. Then, I have to overcome the aversion, which is unpleasant and difficult. When I think of the same unpleasant thing as requiring a “habit”, I just build the habit to the extent that it’s automatic – no aversion, no difficulty. In fact, it becomes harder to not do the thing than to do it.

    Just like you need to work with your physiology rather than against it to keep your weight stable, you need to work with your psychology rather than against it. “Discipline” is much much easier if you don’t think of it as “discipline”.

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    April 11th, 2010at 7:11 am(#)

    I wonder if it might be useful to distinguish between productive and unproductive discipline.

    Mastering a skill takes discipline. You can’t become a great musician or athlete without discipline — in other words, a focused application of skill development and practice. Even if you’re not always 100% into each practice session, the goal has significance, meaning, and value for you so you persist. This discipline is productive — it makes something good and satisfying. We might call it “focus”, “structure”, or “practice” instead.

    On the other hand, unproductive discipline includes things like rigid control, arbitrary rules and punishment for contravening them, etc. And nothing comes out of it.

    Thus, what distinguishes these is:

    the goal
    the meaning and significance it has for us
    the congruence with our deeply held values and priorities
    the process — are we creating/building or degrading/destroying?
    the outcome

    Hey someone, come up with a new word.

  17. Simma says:

    April 11th, 2010at 10:46 am(#)

    Krista and LVM,

    Words can be funny. To me, “unproductive discipline” is actually an excess, and therefore no longer discipline. Moderation is the perfect example of discipline to me, for instance.

    Regardless of perspective or terminology, I just wanted to make the point that, for many, choosing good food and therefore maintaining a healthy weight and nutrient will always require some work. Work in many directions–work to make good choices, work to educate oneself enough to judge which choices are good and which are not, and work to avoid becoming obsessive and rigid about making these choices.

  18. LVM says:

    April 11th, 2010at 4:53 pm(#)

    Krista, I think that “discipline” is just a bad concept, whether productive or unproductive. To discipline yourself into doing something, even when the something is really really good for you, is to go against yourself, in a way – to separate yourself into two entities, one who really wants to do that thing, and the other one who really doesn’t. The idea of “discipline” is “I really really don’t want to do this, but I have to force myself” – this sets you up for beating yourself up if you don’t do it, and for thinking of yourself as a lazy lump that has to be “disciplined” in order to do the things you consider good. This is even more damaging is the thing in question is something you enjoy, or the goal in question is something you really want to attain. If you think you need to be “disciplined” into doing something that you really really want, don’t you automatically think of yourself as a lazy lump who doesn’t really “have what it takes” to attain your goal?

    I am a semi-professional piano player. I also have a demanding, 80-hours-a-week day job. Despite that crazy day job, I practice the piano 2 hours a day. I do this without “discipline” – purely by the force of habit. Had I tried to “discipline” myself into it, I would have stopped practicing a long time ago. Instead, I use unconscious habit to get myself to practice. It’s as automatic to me as brushing my teeth – every day at a specific time, I sit down at the piano and practice for 2 hours. It’s just a habit; a ritual, if you will. It doesn’t require any more “willpower” or “discipline” than putting on my clothes in the morning. The days when I miss my practice time (due to injury or illness or work emergency), I feel that the day is incomplete – something is missing. No “shoulds” are ever involved. I do not feel guilty about it. I just go back to regular practice when I can. The key, to me, is to think of the practice as “something I do” rather than “something I should do”; to think of it as value-neutral (not a “good thing”, not “good for me”, just something I do); and to not punish myself for missing it or reward myself for doing it (you don’t reward yourself for putting on your clothes in the morning, right?)

    This has gotten better results for me, practice-wise, than any “discipline” ever has. The word “should” is a poisonous, poisonous word.

  19. Trishy says:

    April 12th, 2010at 10:08 am(#)

    “Should” may be poisonous, but it is also sometimes necessary. The last thing in the world I feel like doing right now is finishing these last two chapters of my thesis, but I should. It takes a whole lot of discipline to sit here writing when I would rather be skipping around in the nice spring weather, and it’s certainly not a “habit” for me to sit on my ass for 10 hours a day pounding out chapters. It is just something that needs to be done right now. The overall process has been tremendously enjoyable, but by now, it is unpleasant and I’m tired. The reward will come soon and it will be awesome, but sometimes you just have to suffer a little bit to get where you want to go. I absolutely agree with your point, LVM, that the pursuit of fitness and healthy eating would become easier if one made it a habit in their daily routine, but that does not mean sticking with that habit requires no work. Putting up with temporary discomfort so that you can achieve something great in the long run takes discipline and effort, no matter how you define it.

  20. Simma says:

    April 12th, 2010at 11:31 pm(#)


    I understand and agree with many of your points. But I’m with Trishy on this.

    You sound as though you can’t possibly conceive of discipline as something we engage in as part of a positive and active aspiration to some desirable goal, not just a way to guilt ourselves into doing stuff that we don’t want to do.

    It’s great that you are a rare individual (the only one I’ve heard of) who never has to overcome a sense of not wanting to do something, never experiences any trouble making good choices and decisions.

    However, the rest of us need to discipline ourselves even when doing the things we love most. I love studying martial arts. I love it so much that I’ve been doing it for over a decade. But there have been times when I haven’t wanted to go to class, and I made myself go. There have been times during certain drills, exercises, etc. when my body was screaming with pain or exhaustion and I did not want to continue, but I made myself keep going. There were times when I didn’t want to get in that circle and fight the guy I knew would kick my ass, but I made myself do it. And I was almost always happy afterward that I did. At no point during these moments when I made myself do these things did I love my MA study any less. The discipline I called forth did not damage me, take anything away from me, diminish my joy in my training, or injure my sense of self in any way.

    In these situations, the conflict wasn’t between what I wanted and what some non-organic, societally/parentally/religiously/culturally implanted agenda was trying to guilt trip me into doing. The conflict was between a part of me that was tired or lazy or fearful, and another part of me that loves MA enough to tell that tired/lazy/fearful part to wait for a better time. Discipline in this sense doesn’t do violence to my desires. On the contrary, it helps me focus myself so that I can pursue or fulfill them.

  21. LVM says:

    April 13th, 2010at 10:24 pm(#)

    It’s not quite what I meant. There are two approaches to getting yourself to do something where you value the result more than you enjoy the process (i.e. washing the dishes, or going to the gym, or practicing the piano, or writing a thesis, or whatever). What all those hated things have in common is that we want to *have done them*, but we don’t particularly want to do them.

    One way, commonly described as “discipline”, involves telling yourself “I really don’t want to do this; there are 10,000 other things I’d rather do; if I had no discipline, I’d be off frolicking in the nice spring weather; but I will grit my teeth and do this unpleasant thing because I have willpower.” Then, as you keep going with the activity and your motivation flags, you tell yourself “Well, I have to suffer to get to where I want to go” and grit your teeth and keep telling yourself just how unpleasant the thing is that you’re doing. If you have enough willpower – and many people do – you can make yourself thoroughly miserable doing that, and you will, in fact, get to where you want to go, hating every step of the way.

    The other way, which I discovered by pure accident, involves telling yourself “I am doing this. Period.” You don’t think about all the wonderful things you’d rather be doing. You don’t tell yourself you need to grit your teeth and bear it. You don’t reward yourself for doing whatever it is you’re doing. You set a regular time and a regular ritual for whatever it is that you need to get done, and at that time and with this ritual, you just go ahead and do it – setting your rituals and habits to do whatever it is in the most efficient way possible. All the negative self-talk (or the wistful self-talk about what you’d rather be doing) is just baggage – baggage you’re carrying along with you for no reason at all.

    And Simma, I am not at all unusual. Before I discovered this particular mind trick (the everydaysystems.com website was most helpful, as was my own personal experience), I had the same trouble anyone else would have making good choices and good decisions. My apartment was a mess. My office was a shambles. I never managed to pay my bills on time. The only reason I now live in a shiny clean house and work in a shiny clean office, and practice the piano 2 hours a day while working 80 hours a week, is because of this trick. I’ve basically found the shortcut to looking – and more importantly, behaving – like a disciplined person.

    I contrast the way my parents approach house-cleaning with the way I approach it. The way my parents approach housecleaning is as an unpleasant chore that needs to be done, that one needs oodles of willpower to do. Every so often (at irregular intervals), they take up a lot of cleaning implements and spend the entire morning doing cleaning stuff. Then they feel very good about themselves for doing that.

    The way I approach house-cleaning is as a set of habits that I do automatically. After each meal, I automatically clean the dishes and put them away. It’s part of the mealtime ritual. On Sunday morning, after getting out of bed, I sweep the floor. It’s part of my Sunday ritual. And so on and so forth. I never spend more than 10 minutes at any cleaning task, but they add up. It’s so automatic by now that I don’t have to think about it – and I certainly don’t think about it being unpleasant.

    The result is the same – a clean house. But I suffer a lot less for it.

  22. Simma says:

    April 14th, 2010at 9:57 am(#)


    “The other way, which I discovered by pure accident, involves telling yourself ‘I am doing this. Period.’ You don’t think about all the wonderful things you’d rather be doing. You don’t tell yourself you need to grit your teeth and bear it. You don’t reward yourself for doing whatever it is you’re doing. You set a regular time and a regular ritual for whatever it is that you need to get done, and at that time and with this ritual, you just go ahead and do it – setting your rituals and habits to do whatever it is in the most efficient way possible. All the negative self-talk (or the wistful self-talk about what you’d rather be doing) is just baggage – baggage you’re carrying along with you for no reason at all.”

    Then this is a purely an issue of connotation, because you have exactly described what “discipline” means to me. You are describing “disciplining” your mind to exclude distracting and non-productive thought patterns. “Disciplining” your mind and body to follow a schedule and to maintain organization.

    To bring the conversation around full circle, this is what “discipline” should be in the context of food. You apply your will at the place of greatest leverage, thereby saving yourself a lot of effort and, presumably, almost all suffering.

    This requires some knowledge–self-knowledge as well as knowledge of the thing one is trying to get control over (in the case of food, knowledge of the way the body responds to macronutrients, etc.).

    And I still maintain that this is not effort free. It still takes work. It just doesn’t take work that is so onerous and deals out such suffering that it becomes impossible to maintain the level of work required.

    The reason I am still stuck on this point is that I think it’s just as damaging (in terms of long-term goal fulfillment) for people to expect things to be completely effort-free as it is for people to expect that things require superhuman effort.

  23. LVM says:

    April 17th, 2010at 8:24 pm(#)

    Simma, I think what I was talking about is “working smarter, not harder” in the context of “effort” and willpower, and about listening to your body and your mind and paying attention to those signals. Just because something is very very difficult doesn’t mean it’s automatically “better” than something that is easy.

    I do think we’re talking about the same thing. But I’m not sure it’s as damaging for people to think that things should be easy as it is for people to think that things should require superhuman effort. We see where “superhuman effort” got Americans with dieting. They obediently reduced the fat in their diet, obediently signed up for early-morning aerobics classes, obediently switched to disgusting artificial sweeteners – and got fat. All of these things are very hard to do. I witnessed my college roommate’s daily routine, which involved all of the above, and it was hard for her to do all of that. Every so often, her willpower would fail and she would “fall off the wagon” – despite the fact that she had probably higher-than-average amounts of willpower.

    What if she had expected dieting to be effort-free? Maybe she would have eaten more of the things her body was craving – fats, proteins, real sugar. Maybe she would prioritize an extra hour of sleep over getting up early to do aerobics. What we now know about eating fats and proteins and about getting enough sleep seems to indicate that she would have lost weight by doing that.

    If something is requiring superhuman effort, chances are it’s hurting you.

  24. Terese says:

    May 6th, 2010at 12:31 pm(#)

    Food gets cheaper and more delicious every year; what did you think would happen?

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