If consistency is the key to building your body and losing fat, then what is the key to consistency?
One study found that the most consistent people always go to the gym at the same time every day. But we need to dig a little deeper here. What's the foundational trait that really sets fit people apart from the unfit masses?
The answer is self control. They have the self control to not skip workouts and not eat buckets of sugar every day. Basically, delayed gratification. So, can you strengthen your self-control muscle? Let's see what the shrinks have to say.
A small pilot study of overweight people and then a larger study of people at all fitness levels came to the same conclusion: the more discipline and self-restraint you display in one area of your life, the more likely that effect will spill over into other areas of your life.
In the studies, participants who took part in an exercise program – walking and jogging – increased their ability to delay gratification. (This was measured using the reliable "delay discounting" test, which is common in psychological studies.)
In other words, just by exercising regularly for two months, the participants were better able to control themselves and put off immediate pleasures so they could get a greater reward in the future. The positive benefits seemed to linger for a while after the study too.
How's That Work?
Researchers think that exercise alters the parts of the brain that involve decision making and higher-level thinking. Get those portions of your brain more "athletic" and you'll also improve your impulse control. Boost your impulse control and you'll be able to resist the free donuts at work and the siren call of the fast food drive-through.
What This Means to You
If you're one of those people who thinks she has to diet and lose fat BEFORE joining a gym, realize there's a behavioral crossover effect. Just starting an exercise program will make you a more in-control dieter.
But you probably exercise regularly already. You might even "train" instead of "exercise" because that's totally different and more hardcore... or something.
But you still may have trouble delaying gratification and controlling yourself when it comes to food.
The solution might be to tighten up and improve your workout planning. Now, this is conjecture, but it's backed up by the real-world experiences of serious lifters.
Maybe you're the guy who walks into the gym a few random days every week and then decides what body parts he's going to train. You're getting your exercise in and reaping some of the self-control benefits, but you'd reap more benefits by having a set workout program: the days you train, the time you go, the exercises you do, and how you progress from week to week.
Like the people in the study, you should experience a spillover effect: the more control and discipline you exhibit in the gym, the more self-control and restraint you'll experience in the kitchen.
It's not just a spillover effect, but a crossover effect: self-control in one area bleeds over into the other area. Control your eating and you'll build workout consistency. Control your workout consistency and you'll build healthier, more consistent eating habits.
- Sofis MJ, Maintained Physical Activity Induced Changes in Delay Discounting, Behavior Modification, July, 201