Self-discipline Is Overrated: Why You Should Rather Concentrate On Diminishing Cravings

The good program you follow is better than the perfect program you quit
— Tim Ferriss

This quote is from one of my favourite authors, Tim Ferriss. It encapsulates what I believe in -- especially around dieting.

If I had to guess, your folks, or somebody you know, went to the army. These people often talk about self-discipline and how far they walked to school everyday. This usually takes place at the dinner table. Inevitably, this produces a rugged paradigm of the world — "if you’re not self-disciplined you are weak." Sure, to a certain extent, self-discipline is vital for success, but people overvalue it—especially when it comes to dieting.

One thing is for sure, I’m not your perfect Instagram model with genetics like Zeus—I’m literally the complete opposite. I’m a short-limbed, gluten and sugar intolerant bloke that, just 3 years ago, couldn’t walk on the treadmill without pressing the emergency button in agony. If I look at a piece of bread in a way that may offend it, I will wake up 5kgs heavier the next day.

In a way, it’s a blessing. It’s lead me on a journey of self-discovery and respect. I know what it is like to restrict your calories to a point where you can’t function because you want to lose that extra bit of weight. I know what it’s like to run for hours without seeing the scale move one bit.

I realized very quickly, this whole self-discipline thing is skewed in favour of mental discipline. If you’re relying on pure mental discipline to get you through the day, something is wrong.

I asked myself a very simple question a while back: Instead of focusing purely on self-discipline, why don’t I put a set of rules in place that eliminate the root cause of not following a diet—cravings. Ads, TV, Social Media and Food Markets mischievously bombard us with "craving-igniters.” These can include sweets, pies and ready-to-go meals.

At the end of the day, majority of people fail on a diet because they fall into the convenience trap. This is when you, or somebody you know, blames their weight gain on premises like: “I don’t have time to cook healthy food,” “Healthy food is expensive,” or “I have no self-control.” Bullshit. You are only fooling yourself.

Dieting for most people follows a 3-part narrative.

  1. The Start: Announcing to the world on various social media platforms of your imminent weightless revolution. I did precisely the opposite. 
  2. The Middle: Also known as the plateau. Being overwhelmed with marketing like the latest Big Mac is only R39.90 — wow, I never knew fucking up your health could be so cheap and cost effective?
  3. The End: Having one bad day and then effectively diving into a series of negative self-talk that ends up with you at the very beginning -- sitting on your bed crying into your pillow because you just shamelessly ate five pies while watching the Red Wedding (for my GoT fans out there).

And so the cycle continues.

5 Ways to Diminish Cravings:

1. Eat Fat

When you eat quality fat like coconut oil, avocados, nuts and grass-fed meat, you are supplying your body with ancient fuel that is sustainable. When you are full from eating fat, you don’t crave sugar. You are no longer relying on pure self-discipline.

2. Throw out the trash

Do a full sweep of your pantry and fridge. Throw out “Domino Foods” as Tim Ferriss likes to call them. Any food that is highly addictive, throw it out. It’s personal and everyone has their kryptonite — mine is dark chocolate.

Even though dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, I can’t seem to moderate my intake. If I know there is a slab of dark chocolate in the pantry, I end up feeling bad because it might be lonely and I need to eat it.

3. Schedule a Cheat Day

Having a cheat day can be one of the best things you can do. More importantly, you’re scheduling it in advance. This means when you are craving something in the week that you really feel like, write it down and save it for cheat day.

On cheat day you can go bonkers. It’s encouraged. Spiking your caloric intake, especially in women, can have a range of befits. Usually when woman follow a low caloric, low-carb diet, their thyroid tends to down-regulate—which can actually cause weight gain and a host of other problems.  

4. Have an "if-then" Plan

An “if-then” plan is when you are potentially placed in a scenario where you may be exposed to kryptonic food. An example would be going to a restaurant to eat. I go out to eat often but I have an “if-then” plan. I glance at the menu and scroll directly to the protein or salad selection — trying my very best to avoid the delicious looking pizzas and pastas on offer.

When you do this you are essentially scheduling beforehand what the scenario will be and the chances of you falling off the wagon are far less.

5. Sweat Daily

This no-brainer is simple. Move, you lazy sod.

Moving everyday and doing some form of High Intensity Interval Training will ensure any glucose that may want to sneak into your not-so-precious fat storage, is burnt. I find that when I’m not active, I crave junk food.

So a good reminder to get to the gym or go for a run is simply me saying to myself that if I want to avoid cravings and not put all my hard work in the drain, is by sweating daily.

Why you should concentrate on diminishing cravings rather than relying on pure self-discipline

Cravings are what control us. The reason you reach for those rusks while standing in the Woolworths checkout line is because your ancient, primitive brain, is telling you that those rusks will provide quick energy and make you feel good.

Our brains are a beautiful design of nature — it’s what allowed our genome and species to survive through testing times of drought and famine. Today, we have preciously the opposite problem. We are definitely not short on food, we sit more than we move and we can go to bed most nights in the hope that nothing will kill us.

People always ask me if I suffer when “dieting.” The truth is, I don’t. I don’t crave sweets because I fill my body with quality fats that dissipates sugar cravings.

I urge you to give this post some thought. 80/20 everything around you. Be honest with yourself and find our where you are likely to be fooling yourself.


Don't focus purely on self-discipline -- diminish your cravings before they control you.