How easy would it be for YOU to say no?

I’m always intrigued by people who presume that my weight loss is attributed solely to will power… or that the [at least] two thirds of Americans simply… lack will power, and that’s why they’re overweight. There’s this all-or-nothingness that hangs over the concept.

No, really – you just need to tell yourself “No,” and then you’ll be better able to handle your diet.

Think about that: the only reason why two thirds of Americans are overweight is the fact that they don’t have this uncanny ability to say “No” that the other third of Americans appear to have. How silly does that sound? If anything, with looking at those numbers, you’d think actually having will power is the anomaly… right? Or does it just make more sense to keep minimizing how difficult it is to lose weight and mock people for not being able to do it?

I think of my own personal experiences with food, and I’ve got to tell you…the first, at least, 100lbs that I lost had nothing to do with having will power. It wasn’t about some ability to “just say no.” It wasn’t even about portion control at first. It certainly wasn’t about some silly diet. It was 100% about what I was purchasing at the grocery. It was about what I allowed myself to have around me. Period.

And some might say, “Well, that’s about self-discipline, isn’t it?” I’d have to say yes, but then again it’s easy to realize what you need to purchase, and go to the grocery to act on that list and make the appropriate purchases. You go in with a plan and you come out a winner. It is another thing entirely when hunger attacks, and you have to fight the urge to get up and leave the house for fast food.

And again, you might say, “well surely that part is about self-discipline, yes?” Again, I’d have to say yes.  If you’re experiencing hunger pangs, you absolutely do have to fight against yourself to make the better, safer, healthier decision. You do have to fight and tell yourself “no, don’t get in that car!” You do have to tell yourself, once you’re already in the car, “Nooooooooo, don’t hit that drive thru!” and let’s face it: If you’re already in the drive-thru, you might’ve already lost the war.

But if so much about weight loss is will power… where is the myth?

The myth is that will power is the key. It’s not. If you’re not used to telling yourself no… where are you going to develop that herculean strength? If you’re not used to turning down treats and ignoring cravings, where and how do you start? How can we ensure success? You learn self-discipline… you don’t just all-of-a-sudden find this giant mass of it within you. It’s a growth process. That stupid “all or nothing” mentality doesn’t apply.

If I’m in a household full of processed foods – foods studied, tested and engineered for “maximum flavor intensity” and “you-can’t-eat-just-one-ability” and “oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-good-I-can’t-stop-eating-ity” – it’s supposed to make sense that I can easily say no? That’s why I believe the first step starts at the grocery store. That’s where I first developed my ability to say “No.” That’s where I first realized that I needed to be able to use the two feet I was born with, and walk away from certain aisles… and each time I was successful, I felt a little freer. Just a little… but a little was enough.

Before long, I was learning about food and improving my ability to say no, simply because I was realizing what was in everything. It certainly wasn’t food, and I wanted to develop a better relationship with food – not chemicals – so I spent a fair amount of time casting the chemicals out. I’m still developing my relationship with food – I don’t know that this is a process with a finite ending to it – but I can tell you one thing: I’m intuitive enough that I can dine outside of my home and, within two bites, turn down a dish that I think isn’t homemade or is simply poorly made. I’m not going to be hoodwinked into redeveloping bad habits because someone used chemicals in their food. I’ll pass.

If a company spends $30 million on studies for creating the “perfect spaghetti sauce,” and spends years on taste testing for the perfect balance… then guess what – they’re investing all of that money and doing all of that taste testing to find out which sauce will please the majority of the public. (Note: This will almost always be a sauce full of sugar and salt. The sugar makes it pleasing on the tongue and in the brain. The salt makes you want to use more of it.) It makes sense, then, that the majority of the public would be able to say no to the sauce? I’m confused.

The myth of will power is simply that we give it far too much credit. Self-discipline, in my mind, can only be achieved when the playing field is leveled – that means, no chemical interference – and if you never take those steps to make that happen, you are going to struggle. Does that mean that it’s smooth sailing after that? Of course not. There are lots of bumps in the road but for me, the real progress in developing my self-discipline began there.

What about you? What struggles do you face with developing self-discipline? How did you develop yours? Let’s hear it!