Eight Mental & Physical Fitness Principles I Can Live With



OR… Discipline is Not a Dirty Word

There is nothing new under the sun.  The bare-assed truth, when it comes to losing weight, is that we can choose to spend our money on the latest version of ‘energy in must be less than energy out’ or do it the hard way, and think.  Thinking is free but it’s not easy. Take the concept of discipline, for instance.

The discussion with Frank Bruni, (a self-described recovering food addict) on NPR's Talk of the Nation last week grabbed my attention on several levels, the biggest being that he wasn’t selling a new diet gimmick and he said the “D” would out loud, several times.

I’ve had to learn not to be afraid of discipline. You can hear me mumbling, “Discipline is my friend,” around three o’clock every afternoon. Discipline is my good inner-parent supporting me to do what is right even when it feels oh, so hard. Working hard to get over the concept of discipline being done TO me instead of FOR me, well, I think that’s called being a grown up.

To maximize both mental and physical health, here are eight broad concepts that I’ve found the most effective for me and my patients. Discipline is involved in putting and keeping them in play. I hope you will find these ideas both familiar and encouraging:

1. Move. That can mean exercise but I’ve found for me (and apparently Frank Bruni) it’s best when the activity is hidden in something that I love (like walking or horse back riding) and if I mix it up (yoga for a while, then switch to weight training, then back) so I don’t get bored a great excuse to stop.

2. Get enough sleep. It takes a lot of discipline to go to bed at a decent hour (seven to eight hours before I need to get up the next day). Read here for more on sleep hygiene.

3. Eat well, mindfully. Choose quality over quantity. Cook from scratch or close to it when you can. Processed foods are the enemy with all that fat, sugar and salt. Meal plan. Do grocery shopping as mindfully as possible. Farmer's markets. Coops. Experiment with recipes. Read Michael Pollan’s (he write the Omnivore’s Dilema) Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch for inspiration.

4. Drink well. Lots of water or diluted fruit juice. I’m not a fan of flat water but I can drink it with a splash of lime juice all day long. Wine, beer and rock and roll, all in kindly, appropriately disciplined moderation.

5. Use the hunger scale. Portion control is Queen. Eat slowly, put down the fork between bites. Psych yourself out. The French are apparently masters of this art (see French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mirielle Guiliano). 

6. Stop eating two hours before bedtime. The easiest concept for me and quiet effective in avoiding an extra 100-200 calories a day. Occasionally, when I am dying for something, I will grab a sugar free Popsicle.

7. Reduce emotional eating. This concept addresses my food addiction. If I can stop and think before I go for the brownie after a hard day, it’s a major victory. Respecting food, appreciating it as a spiritual gift, helps a lot. I need to work harder to find a way to reward myself without food.

8. Live life fully because you are worth it. Keep your self-esteem well nurtured. Manage stress. Balance life, work, relationships. When we can't, our lives end up feeling like our washing machine when the spin cycle is out of whack.

Give me a call (716.308.6683) if you'd like to talk about these aspects of your life or could use some help. Your thoughts or comments are most welcome, too.

2 comments


  • SD

    Dr Aletta,
    Great article. I am an emotional eater especially when I am mad at myself. Like today, I had a bad week of food last week and gained 2.5 lbs but went and had nachos for lunch because I am mad that I gained weight. That totally contradicts what I should be doing – mad about weight gain eat less. Not me, I tend to eat more.
    I have, however mastered the not eating within two hours of bedtime and kind of like you if I do find myself hungry I will go for a piece of fruit.
    I guess one step at a time but I really need to take the next step.

    2009/08/24
  • Dear SD,
    I know exactly what you mean. Getting mad at myself for gaining weight and then eating badly out of anger because, what difference does it make anyway. Sounds a lot like insanity, doesn’t it? Now that you have some insight you can put up a good fight. Yes, one step at a time like not eating at night before bed, which you’ve mastered. That’s progress. Now it sounds like you’re ready to take another next step.

    2009/08/24

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