Training is the Easy Part, Princess
Let's talk about diet and mental toughness. Wait, diet? Yeah, diet. You know, the part of the fitness equation that turns the most calloused lifter into a little girl in a Disney princess dress.
See, training is easy. Not easy to do, but easy to stick with for hardcore lifters. Why? Because we love it. Grinding away under the iron or lying in a puddle of sweat after metcon is rewarding and fun and part of who we are.
But diet? Ew. Just the word makes people think of deprivation, bland foods, and, well, basically not getting to do what we want to do. Do you have a Belle, Cinderella, or Elsa dress?
All Damn Day
"Diet" isn't just one hour a day. It's all damn day long – 24/7/365. It's easy to get worked up for a monster set of deadlifts. It's not as easy to get excited about NOT eating something we really want to eat.
Nutrition is where mental toughness is really put to the test because sometimes NOT doing something is much more mentally tough than doing something.
Building Dietary Discipline
A lot of people will tell you to focus on the outcome: being healthy, seeing your abs, whatever. But that's hard to fathom in the moment, like when you're looking at your chicken breast and dry baked potato as your buddy or spouse is biting into a Chili's Big Mouth Burger.
That's when the voices start talking to you:
- "Hey, you deserve a cheat meal."
- "Life is meaningless without Doritos."
- "You're going to die anyway."
- "You can get back on track tomorrow."
- "You're supposed eat big after a workout, right?"
Those voices are a form of rationalization, an ego defense mechanism that helps you justify bad choices. And those voices can be LOUD when it comes to food because we're often riddled with very real physical and psychological addictions to shitty foods.
The first step is to recognize the rationalization mechanism. Catch yourself in the act of doing it. It's kinda hard to keep doing something that's been named and defined in a freshman psychology textbook. Makes you feel kinda lame for falling into that trap.
Maybe You're Just a Little B!tch?
The second step can take many forms, but here's what works for me: anger. I get a little pissed off at myself. I remind myself that I'm not weak-willed. I think back to my fat-boy days when I was diagnosed as obese. I'm not that excuse-making wuss anymore, am I?
I remind myself that all I have to do is NOT put some crappy food into my mouth and swallow it. I can replace it with something almost as good that supports my goals. Hey, if I can do Dan John's half-hour deadlift challenge, then surely I can resist a cookie, right?
The good news is, once you've been "clean" for a while with your diet, those loud voices soften into whispers and then pretty much disappear.
"Wait, so your advice is to yell at yourself and call yourself a wimp?" Yeah, kinda. Sometimes you just have to sack up and kick some ass. More often than not, that ass is your own.