Self-Discipline: Myths and Merits

Sugar is a problem. Perhaps the biggest problem is that people may not have any problem limiting sugar for years, but once it does become a visible undeniable problem too much damage has been done. Sugar is doing damage internally all along; cells have problems with not letting go fat from insulin resistance among many other things. The outward and visible problem is gaining weight, the mental problems of bingeing, constant cravings, are not psychological weakness but our bodies’ overly stressed response to too much sugar-starch-artificial sweeteners.

The primary myth about sugar is that just a little won’t hurt since weight is about calories-in, calories-out;  the secondary myth is that people just need to buck up and exercise restraint, that becoming overweight is a sign of not having self-discipline or being self-indulgent.

The reason it’s so hard to be disciplined is that the “old brain” or limbic brain– that which sits beneath our larger neo-cortical mass which does advanced things like thinking–has one goal only when it comes to food, which is to eat any and all carbs and fat in order not to starve the next period of famine (inevitable in prehistory). That “old” brain is not clued in to modernity, HFCS, high calorie density in every food, etc.  As long as we eat a diet high in refined sugars/starch the majority of us will eventually find ourselves plagued by carb cravings. Cravings are that old brain demanding we eat, an insulin driven cycle that’s hard to break free from as long as we eat sugars. Add insulin resistance into the mix, and you will find someone gaining weight, miserable, trying desperately most of the time to be disciplined, but succumbing to binges all too often.

For those who find ourselves in that awful place the best and probably only chance to get free of those cravings, binges, misery is to rid our diets of all refined sugars/starches, and keep any carbohydrates even from fruits and vegetables strictly controlled. That takes discipline. Discipline is ultimately a great friend.

Once we see the path to free ourselves of the addictive properties of sugars-starch-artificial sweets, then for some period of time we will have to exercise self-discipline to establish good eating habits often lost for several years.

For most of my young life I ate three meals a day rarely snacked, then as age, menopause, lack of sleep, a high stress career all began to take their toll, my cravings steadily increased; I ate ever more carbs, mostly the so-called good carbs, but found myself beginning to have binges on ice cream, sweet rolls, and such high cal-carb-fat foods. I became miserable, for how could I be in this position when I had always been very good at accomplishing what I wanted to do with my life. No wonder so many people who get fat are also in some state of depression (which is also a direct product of too much sugar).

I refused to give up or in, and read and tried dozens of different plans until I stumbled across Atkins low carb plan, which helped a lot, but not quite enough, for Atkins unwittingly allowed for the use of sugar substitutes, aka artificial sweeteners. Only a few years later did I learn that these artificial sweets were also creating strong cravings for me. Further, I had walked four miles a day for years, so lack of exercise was not my problem, indeed it was contributing to the problem. How could I be doing everything 90% right and getting 100% bad results?  Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories was a revelation! Finally it all made sense. But after ten years of eating too much carbohydrate, my brain was not happy to give them up, so now was when the need for self-discipline became vitally important.

My spouse once said that I had hit the “perfect storm” of conditions to get overweight. He could see that I was working hard to keep my weight in control, and had a lot of sympathy, for which I’m very grateful, for I know people who don’t have that support. So in a way it became necessary for me to make sure I was sailing in calm waters. Happily the hormone problems are past, back surgery very successful, and so I could implement the right things like being faithful to recording my food intake, keeping my carbs around 20g per day, increasing fats, eating mostly grass-fed and organic, getting enough but not too much exercise, and meditating, which has been a long time practice through writing and walking.  The biggest areas of discipline came around avoiding artificial sweeteners, and not eating between meals. I still catch myself opening the refrigerator and thinking “what’s to eat?” then reminding myself that I don’t eat between meals.

Changing our eating habits as well as the foods we eat can lead us to good health and leaner, fitter bodies, but all of us have to exercise some level of self-discipline. Just eating low carb won’t be enough to lose weight if you are eating too much food and your body doesn’t have to give up the stored fat.  Most of us, especially if not young, will have to do some restricting of how much and when we eat to get success. That said, it can be done, which was the best news I’ve had in years.

Yours in determinations,

Nan aka Sugarbaby

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