There was an interesting discussion in the forum this week about whether – even after you stop emotional eating – you need self-discipline to lose weight. Here is the argument in favor, from a Normal Eating Support Group member:
I think the issue of discipline is important in Stage 4. Health and fitness does not come naturally in most adults, and requires a lot of work and restriction. The real work is transforming restriction into self-love, and befriending the mechanisms of self-discipline can be useful. At least that’s how I see it, and how I observe many adults around me with no eating issues, who are very strict with their food intake and their exercise routines. Within a solid stage 4, those mental push-ups can bring enormous benefits.
This is diet-think, turning Normal Eating into the “eat when hungry” diet. It sounds reasonable only because this is the attitude of the culture at large – that if we follow our natural instincts, we will not do the right thing.
This is not my personal experience, nor the experience of many others I’ve worked with over the years. Intuitively eating to fuel our bodies – without particular stress or effort – is our natural state. Once emotional eating is resolved and we are reconnected with body wisdom, we don’t have to fight ourselves anymore – there is nothing to curb or discipline.
Normal Eating is about getting you to the point where you want to act in your own behalf, so it doesn’t take willpower. That’s what worked for me, and I’ve watched it work for many, many others. It’s the main premise of my book.
When I lost weight through Normal Eating, what allowed me to take the action was the desire and enthusiasm to act in my own behalf because I wanted to give myself a gift. My experience was one of self-love and choice, not self-discipline and willpower. I’ve never been able to do this by sheer willpower. In fact, I don’t have much willpower! To do something, I have to want to do it.
Another Normal Eating Support Group member posted a comment that I think holds the key to the difference:
the subtle difference between a choice for self-care and self-discipline is an amazing distinction that is starting to make a world of difference for me, and most importantly for me anyway, choosing is a mostly ‘in the moment’ decision of being present with myself and deciding what i think is best for me during my present, which doesn’t mean i didn’t learn anything in advance or don’t use past experience or future goals in mind, but that i don’t develop a plan and then expect to hold myself to it when the moment of ‘choosing’ arrives. that is what willpower is to me, and when i think self-discipline, i conceive of consequences for not adhering to a plan i developed in advance, regardless of what circumstances may arrive for that future event.
I think this is exactly right. When you’re acting out of willpower, you’re making a plan in advance and sticking to it regardless of what’s happening in the present moment. You are disregarding your present-moment experience. That is very different from what Normal Eating teaches.
When you’re acting out of self-care, you learn to be present in the moment, aware of your feelings and needs in real time. This allows you to cope with triggers in productive ways so you don’t need to self-soothe with food.
It’s the difference between saying to your kid, “Do it because I said so!” versus “Do it because xxx (real explanation).” When you’re approaching triggers in the present moment through willpower, you are saying to yourself, “Do it because you said you’d do it.” When you approach it though self-care, you’re saying to yourself, “What’s going on? What do you need?”
How you think about something matters enormously. When you think in terms of self-disclipline and willpower, you can fail. It’s diet-think. When you think in terms of freedom, self-love, and choice, it’s all good and it feels effortless.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them