I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, diet season has officially begun. After almost a year away from the gym, I've restarted my workout routine, have cleaned a lot of the junk out of my diet, and am setting my goals for weight loss and overall health improvements. Ladies and gentlemen, a new day has dawned.
As I embark on "Bruce's Self-Improvement Tour: 2008," I am also rediscovering my own vulnerability. You see, it's usually really easy for me to resist sales, impulse buys, and the assorted little purchases that provide a balm for my momentary woes, but inevitably leave my wallet bruised and bleeding. However, I'm currently invested in fighting off the siren call of Reese's Cups, Peppermint Patties, pizza, knishes, gyros, and about a thousand other treats that give me a quick thrill but add inches to my waistline. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave me a lot of energy to deal with all the other temptations out there.
I'm not the only one who has a hard time resisting urges: studies have shown that humans have a limited amount of willpower. When we spend it in one area, we may find ourselves at risk in others. This is why many of us find ourselves saving money with bagged lunches, only to spend the cash on frivolous items. Apparently, our desire for gratification must find an outlet and, the harder we try to supress it, the harder it fights back.
So what are we to do? One answer is to give up on our diets and just give in to the inertia of uncontrolled weight gain. On the other hand, we could augment our weight-loss regimens with a brief stay in a prison camp; alternately, minor felony offenses, coupled with court-appointed lawyers could get you put behind bars for a few months. Not only would you be able to easily resist the temptations of commercialism, a little time in the big house will probably teach you tons of useful skills. Best of all, girls LOVE prison tattoos.
If these options don't sound interesting, you might try temptation-proofing your life. Here are a few little things that you can do to make it easier to stay on track:
1. Throw away all your catalogs: If the items you want are really worth it, then they'll still be worth it in a month or two. Besides, if your diet goes according to plan, you'll be wearing smaller sizes, anyway! If you're feeling particularly brave, you might try canceling your catalog subscriptions -- I know, it's a big step, but it could really make it easier to maintain your willpower.
2. Delete the shopping bookmarks on your computer: If you really have to keep them around, try copying them into a little notebook and taking them off your browser. The goal here is to make it harder for you to access the sites that tempt you; having to manually type in each URL is a fantastic stopgap.
3. Use little indulgences: Little rewards can make it easier to stay on track. When you get desperate, don't reach for a slab of cake or a piece of pie. Instead, permit yourself a peppermint patty (or two). They're relatively low in fat and calories, and aren't too disruptive if you keep them under control. I find that, by giving in on small things, I make it easier to resist the big ones.
4. Set rewards for yourself: It's easier to stay on target when you have something to look forward to. For example, I'm already considering the rewards that I'll give myself if I lose a certain amount of weight. For the first few, I'm going for books, but if I get to my goal weight, we're moving into the realm of new clothes.
5. Make prepackaged snacks: Try putting an ounce of almonds and an ounce of raisins into a Ziplock and tucking it into your bag. The slight amount of natural sugar, combined with the nuts' fat and protein, will make you feel energized and will help out with your cravings. Best of all, it's a lot harder to justify a major dietary indulgence when you've got some food handy. Other good snacks include pairing low-fat yogurt with a piece of fresh fruit or chomping down on a peanut-butter and honey sandwich. The big thing here is to find something that's good for you and will get you over the hump, hunger-wise.
6. Pack your lunch: Restaurants tend to give large portions and offer all sorts of side items and add-ons. This means that, when you go out, you don't have to resist just one thing; rather, you have to place yourself in a state of constant resistance. Instead of putting yourself in a situation that will wear through your reserves of willpower, simply make your lunch ahead of time and opt out of the whole mess.
7. Leave most of your cards at home: Once you've got lunch handled, how many reasons do you really have to bring your credit cards with you in the morning? Pack a debit card or an emergency card, but leave the rest at home. After all, it's really hard to shop when you don't have any way to pay!
So there you go: seven little tricks to keep your willpower standing in strong stead. Before you know it, you -- and your wallet -- will be in much better shape!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Come hell or high water, he'll be wearing size 34 pants by this summer!