Going hungry, sticking a fork in my trainer, and exercising the willpower muscle

Wingspan Park
Today’s blog is a dual blog: a photo-blog of Wingspan Park in Aliso Viejo, CA, one of my favorite walks out here; and on going hungry and exercising willpower.

Tuesday morning I wanted to kick my trainer in the teeth…if I didn’t have short legs and not enough flexibility or strength to kick that high.

I was angry because I took his suggestion from our session on Monday to do my morning cardio on an empty stomach because it’s supposed to burn fat. There are a lot of websites backing that claim, particularly at the level of cardio I’m doing (just hiking with the King).

Okay, I wasn’t so much angry as I was hungry, and I imagined if I ran into him at that moment, I might stick a fork in him and have raw trainer for breakfast.Wingspan ParkBut as I came back from my walk and had my morning obsession of steel cut oats with yogurt and raisins (really, it’s divine), rational brain took over.

When, exactly, was the last time I actually went hungry? I don’t mean just delaying breakfast until after cardio, but being so hungry that it went beyond anger and humor to that dull ache and pain of my body desperate for food?Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo CACollege. As soon as I thought of the question, it answered itself. I remember fasting for almost 48 hours for a charity event. Before that, a few 24 hour fasts here and there for charity and I think a few times for church.Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo CAMy brother made a joke (and he was joking, he is very proud of me) in the comments of yesterday’s post that he’s tired of me being on this exercise kick, because he enjoyed having company since he’s let himself go soft. And I got to thinking about just how soft I’ve gotten. I’m not talking about my Pooh Bear belly, but my mind and my discipline. I’ve spent so many years allowing myself to finally have those things I felt deprived of when I was younger that there is no longer any connection to what I have vs. what I’ve earned.Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo CAIf you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve been really working hard when it comes to my writing. I’ve written about disciplining myself to make writing a job, putting in hours of reading and writing a day. But I still have a lot to learn when it comes to self-discipline, and this lifestyle change I want to make (eating, moving and living more healthfully) requires that same kind of discipline.Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo CAI’m not saying I won’t slip up, because given the right mood and opportunity, I will still mouth-rape a bowl of Cap’n Crunch Berries faster than you can check your pulse.  But the point is I haven’t really tried to exercise my willpower. Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo, CABut a strange thing has happened since I’ve been here in California. For some reason, it’s been easier not to have a lot of food slips. I was already starting to guess why, when my assumption was backed up by something I found on NPR about a book titled Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. In our house in Pennsylvania, we have sweets everywhere: in the cupboards, in the refrigerator, in the pantry, in candy dishes, in the car. There are virtually no nooks or crannies without treats of some kind.Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo, CAI found quickly in this house I’m sitting that the owners do not keep sweets anywhere. Even the dog has more snacks than the people do.  The researchers in Willpower found the following: “Just putting food where you can see it next to you depletes your willpower, whereas putting it away in a drawer or putting it across the room makes it easier for you because you’re not actively resisting the temptation.”

Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo, CASo this thing I’ve been calling willpower has been helped immensely by the simple “out of sight, out of mind” principle? Could it really be that easy?

According to the researchers, putting the sweets in front of you and resisting them is wasting your energy: “You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day, so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies.”

It makes sense. Why should mental energy be any different from energy in the rest of our body? You can’t get fit by exercising yourself to death. To build muscle and avoid injury, you should only work the muscles about 3 times a week or every other weekday. Even cardio you can do daily but if you do it nonstop, you’re going to burn through your fuel to keep going.

Wingspan Park, Aliso Viejo, CADamn it! I once had a counselor who always found a way to work “Everything in moderation” into almost every session. I wanted to stick a fork in her almost as much as I wanted to stick a fork in my trainer yesterday morning when I was hungry.

But she’s right, and he’s right, and it’s amazing how many times a book can be written about different subjects and come up with the same conclusion that balance or moderation is the key to healthful living.

It’s a hard lesson to learn and I’m betting it will be the rest of my life still trying to learn it, but I’m going to try anyway, starting by getting used to a little morning hunger.

Love, Marla

3 thoughts on “Going hungry, sticking a fork in my trainer, and exercising the willpower muscle

  1. Gee…I thought you were gonna go somewhere like the willpower you have developed in walking and reading and writing were translating into support of eating less sweets when yoi finally decided to focus there!

    I firmly believe that out of sight out of mind works, but i never thought of it as ‘will power’…I always considered it “removing temptation’. I dont have to resist something that isnt available…

    But your thoights give more power to the person, and that is helpfil.


  2. I figure if I don’t see something I shouldn’t eat, I don’t want it – which is why I (try to) keep most sweets out of the house. It’s also the reason I drink so much water – that 32 oz bottle staring at me on my desk everyday gets drained at least 3 times at work, another 1+ at the gym and 2 or so at home.

  3. Great post. I, too, am known for the “everything in moderation” mantra. I truly believe it. I deprive myself nothing, but keep my indulgences small. I’ve lost almost 40 pounds this way, and have kept it off for about 7 years. Over that time, my body has changed so that I am physically unable to indulge the way I used to. Scarfing down a full-sized ice-cream sundae or an extra value meal from a fast food joint would make me sick today, while I used to eat them regularly only a few years ago. Now I can eat a kid’s-sized ice cream cone or a half dozen french fries and feel completely satisfied. It does take time and discipline, but I truly believe it is the key to health and happiness. I also very much agree with the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. I only have to excercise my willpower once a week–at the grocery store. If I don’t buy it there, I can’t eat it when I’m sitting on my couch at 10:00 at night :-). Good luck to you, Marla! I’m enjoying reading about your journey!

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