18 Tips for Improving Food Discipline


Discipline in Japan is learned young and exercised throughout life.

For many, the question isn’t whether we believe in eating junk food, but whether we can help it. Our society offers indulgence as a virtue and discipline as a punishment. But discipline is a virtue and the key to health and happiness. Without it we become lazy and unfulfilled, and our bad food choices lead to ill-health. With a little practice, though, we can improve our discipline, change our habits, and change our lives.

There are a couple of different types of Paleo people out there: ones that have major health problems to overcome and ones that don’t.

Those that don’t have big health problems might just like the idea of Paleo on an intellectual level, maybe eating Paleo soothes digestion, maybe it offers more energy, relieves PMS, lowers triglycerides, etc.

Others suffer of serious mental problems like depression or schitzophrenia, major hormonal imbalances like PCOS and endometriosis, debilitating arthritis or, worse yet, many of these combined. The more a body deteriorates the harder it is to hold it together – the more important maintaining a strict diet becomes. It is those with the major health problems that have the biggest job ahead and absolutely must learn to develop better discipline if optimal health is to be achieved.

Whoever you are, you could probably benefit by improving your discipline. Most people in this indulgent society of ours could. Following are some tips that have helped me to become very disciplined in my food choices.

1. Think of the consequences. Short term consequences might include gas, bloating, fast or slow digestion, pimples, bags under your eyes. Is tomorrow a good day for feeling and looking this way? Long term consequences include the return of symptoms of major health problems. Frequent indulgence will make conditions worse or not improve at all. How important is it to you to reverse your health conditions? There are many foods I still love that I don’t eat anymore. Chips are among them. But chips scratch and tear their way out of my digestive system. All I have to do is think about the gas and bloating that ensues and I won’t lay hands on them.

2. Think of the example you are setting for your children. It’s not like kids aren’t watching. They know how often you cheat and how seriously you take your health. All the words in the world won’t make up for the example you are setting when you indulge again and again. If you choose to hide your cheating from your kids, they will have no choice but to think that eating well doesn’t really help since their parent supposedly eats well and still doesn’t feel good.

3.Think of the example you are setting for those you hope will follow you down the road to health. Most of us want our spouses to go Primal too. But if they see that we aren’t getting results, they won’t bother with it themselves. But if you can show your spouse that it’s easy, it works, and it’s worth sticking to it, you’ll make a better impression.

4. See the light at the end of the tunnel. If you have been feeling depressed or moody as a reaction to your poor food choices, remember that eating clean, real food changes our gene expression and reverses even life long conditions. You know those people you envy who always seem happy, who look great and feel vibrant? You can be one of them too.

5. Put it off just one more day. Postpone the cheat another day. On the next day, you may do the same and so on and so on, postponing the cheat day further and further out. Doing this consistently will make cheating a pretty rare occurrence.

6. Sever undesirable neural connections in your brain. Behavioral patterns are very strong neural connections in our brains. When we do anything our brain makes a connection. The more we do that thing, the stronger that connection becomes until we don’t even think about it. We just do it. This is pretty useful for directions, for good habits like exercising. But for bad habits like sitting on our butts and eating unhealthy food, the ease with which we do it can be overwhelming. Until we make a conscious and constant effort to change where our neurons fire our bad habits will continue to undermine any attempts at self-discipline. Discipline is a muscle if you will. It takes time to strengthen it, but in time it gets easier.

7. Start by having less not none. If you are an over-eater who can’t put it down until it’s gone, start by making yourself put it down half way. Your neurons are almost forcing you to eat the whole thing because that’s what you’ve taught your brain to do. Break those neural connections by making the change. Even if you put it down half way and then pick it up again in ten minutes, you’re still starting on the road to severing that habit.

8. Reward yourself. At the end of the day if you’ve managed to keep your diet clean as a whistle, give yourself a piece of candy. No I’m kidding, have a piece of cake. Oh wait, no, have a special Christmas eggnog latte. No? Ok, why don’t you buy yourself a new outfit. Wait that would get expensive day after day. This isn’t working. Food or buying things at malls is about the only kind of reward that we know of in our culture. What is meaningful to you that you could reward yourself with?

9. Remove temptation. Cupboards full of tempting, sweet or comfort foods can be irresistible when the going gets tough. Your new found discipline will only take you so far for so long before you either feel so good you think you’re invincible or you feel so bad that you just don’t care anymore. I don’t keep tempting foods in the house. My family supports the weakness that I have admitted to and they eat foods that I can’t handle outside of our house.

10. Stabilize blood sugar. Blood sugar problems contribute to poor and impulsive decisions. Eating plenty of healthy fats can help even out blood sugar as can staying away from allergens and sweets.

11. Enjoy life. Find something to enjoy other than food. If you don’t have any hobbies now, find some. Start rock climbing, painting, learning a new instrument. Join a social group. Start a movement. Looking to food for fun robs you of moments you could have spent enjoying all the many things this world has to offer. You may argue that food is a great source of fun. Occasionally that is fine, but if you find that food is the only kind of fun you know how to have, it will probably be very difficult to give up the foods that harm you since they are also your only source of pleasure. Find other sources of pleasure. You’ll thank yourself for it.

12. Set a goal. Maybe you have some weight to lose. Maybe you have skin you’d like to see clear up. Maybe you want to stop arguing with your spouse or kids. Maybe you’d like a toner body but just don’t have the energy to get to the gym often enough. Set goals to keep in mind why you are doing what you’re doing. Remember these goals each time you are confronted with temptation.

13. Remove the stressors that cause you to eat emotionally. This could be a bad family situation, financial problems, a hectic lifestyle, too many responsibilities, not enough sleep, not enough personal time, or no allowance for creativity. When stress is high, when fulfillment is low, food consoles.

14. Breath deeply and stay calm. This takes practice but it can be amazingly effective when everything around you is crazy. When you can maintain calm, you can deal with more and control yourself better. I took up singing years ago just because I had wanted a better voice. I was surprised to find how it changed my breath and relaxed my jaw. Singing turned out to be, for me, a huge stress reliever.

15. Turn off the TV! Yeah, there’re cool programs on TV but there are also cool people to hang out with, cool books to read, and a plethora of cool things to do. Television is bad for the brain, encourages mindless eating, and wastes loads of time which could be spent doing things that make us feel good about ourselves.

16. Read Shogun. Taking a step outside of our indulgent culture that is lacks self-discipline, and into a culture that radiates discipline can bring a better understanding of how people do discipline. While I’ve always been more disciplined than most, it wasn’t until I read Shogun, 4.5 years ago, about the ancient Japanese people, that I discovered discipline on another level. It was then that my health soared, which is what I had always hoped for.

17. Consider your future health. Even if you don’t suffer of any serious health conditions now, picture your parents or coworkers who do. Do you want to turn out like them?

18. Think of the money you could be saving by forgoing treats. Treats cost a lot of money! A pint of good organic ice cream costs about $4 and so do the ingredients for a nutritious chicken bone broth soup. One is dinner and one is, well, extra calories after dinner.

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  1. I love #5 – but find it really only works if I don’t have that food in the house. If I have to leave the house to buy ice cream or chips or whatever, I’ll tell myself “wait until tomorrow, if I still have the cravings I’ll buy some then.” That works every time, but if I know I have it in the kitchen, that’s a different story! Also #15 – I still watch some TV, but am working on making a habit of separating TV watching and eating.

    Such a great list Peggy! (Also, great timing!)

  2. Suuuuuch a great post, Peggy. I miss something about handling social situations. For me those are the big deal. I can keep great discipline inside my house, but as soon as I go out with friends it gets so difficult. For me the main issue is to explain what I’m doing and why am I doing it. I used to be a vegetarian -boo- and it was kind of easy to keep my discipline because everybody knows what a vegetarian is and what he or she eats… but super restricted raw paleo? Reaaaally hard to explain to people.

    Anyway, great post, Peggy, as usually. Oh, and I’m getting quite great results with acne and raw meat/seafood, rice and big doses of omega 3! I will keep you posted!

    • How high of a dose of omega 3s are you taking, Marina? Most days I take 1200mg (the total actual amount) 2x a day, but wonder if I should take more…
      While I know everyone is different, it’s encouraging to hear of someone else’s success with the meat/seafood & fats diet. Although about the only things I can do raw at this point is fish (sashimi, seared tuna) and egg yolks…but I only started yesterday. =)

    • That is such great news Marina! Keep up the good work!

  3. (I first discovered your blog a few days ago & LOVE it!)

    If only this post came about 2hrs ago before I stuffed my face with gifted baked treats after becoming overly stressed (I’m a SAHM of 3 boys). I’ve been improving my primal/paleo diet for several months now and I’m finding that allowing that “cheat meal” each week is now detrimental. It’s one thing if it’s a burger or another type of protein with a starch, but another if it’s baked goods or something else sugary. I can’t just have one serving/piece… I end up binging. I honestly can’t do it anymore! I’ve also just started a diet of mostly protein & fats in hopes of it clearing my persistent blackheads, balances my digestive system as well as my mood issues that I’ve had since I was in my teens (I’m 28) as well as curing my suspected endometriosis (a laparoscopy is scheduled in 2 weeks to confirm). I do have a piece of fruit once a day for carbs since I do weight train 5 days a week. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling out of control and refuse to resort to prescription meds again. So now, I just take it day to day without the focus of an upcoming “cheat”..it seems to help.
    In the end, I know it allll comes down to obtaining self control and I’m certainly on a mission to acquire it!

    Thanks for the great post, Peggy =)

    • I agree the cheat meals were way determental to me after a couple of weeks. I didnt change my mindset until I got rid of this and found the enjoyment of eating primal food, new recipes, new tastes..I no longer thought about the other food as good, I started associating it only with bad things… I reprogrammed my brain.

      Also, I have not had any acne since I’ve been primal! I used to get a few blackheads around that time of month every month.

      • I’ve also tried “paleoizing” foods too, like pancakes & cookies. Such a waste of time when overcoming sugar. I’ve come to realize that simple and basic is much better for me. So that’s what I’m now sticking to rather than trying to get all fancy. Plus, I hate cooking further than throwing a piece of meat in a pan with some butter. It really is a process to re-train the mind of bad/unhealthy habits, but at time goes, it gets easier. Consistency really is key!

        And I don’t have much problem with breakouts anymore rather than the blackheads. I do notice they get much better if I’m consistent… imagine that. ;)

    • Thanks Rachelle! I tried to get the post out earlier this morning too but just couldn’t make it happen. I could have saved you from a sweet holiday fate. Oh well, I’m sure you will get to exercise your discipline again soon!

  4. This post is great. So timely. Thank you again, Peggy!

  5. Elimination worked best for me. Also paying a lot of money for good food! If I am going to make such an investment to be healthy, how could I then go ahead and eat something unhealthy??? Than I can no longer justify the expense nor the effort. How could I then talk to anyone about health if I am not doing the best I can do? The longer I do it the easier it is. I pass up stuff all the time without a second thought. I can watch all my friends eat ice cream in front of me without having a lick. I also know how easily it is for one piece to turn into a bunch.. or I’ll just have that “today”.

  6. I’ve used a few of the tips you mention: I think about the example I’m setting for those around me, I keep things like chips (my vice as well) out of the house, I set personal goals, and I consider my future health.

    The tough part for me is the lack of immediate symptoms. I know gluten is harmful and that excess sugar can lead to all sorts of problems…but right now my body does not give me any effects that I can feel. I usually do just fine, but lately desserts have been sneaking back in.

    My next move will be a combination of many of your tips: I’m going to start attending a yoga class. This will lessen my stress, give me more “me” time, help me reach a goal, help my breathing, and improve my health.

    I’m also going to eliminate baked potatoes for a month (set a goal) as lately I have been indulging in these starchy veggies on an almost daily basis.

    • You’re so lucky Ali… Or maybe not? I do use my synptoms as a tool for sure. Straight sugar doesn’t affect me terribly these days and so that is one that I have to just force myself to control. But just about everything that it’s mixed with does so it’s easy.

  7. #11.
    The heat you took from slamming other Paleo sites got me REALLY thinking. Just about how we center everything around food. This past Thanksgiving, I was thinking I missed my bohemian days of sitting around with guitars, writing songs (showtunes, really) with other artistic souls, on major holidays. I vowed to go back to that. There are so many other worthwhile pursuits.

    One of the reasons I fell in love with your blog is because you gave me permission to not make food the center of everything. I enjoy cooking and making up Paleo recipes. And some days, I fully enjoy a pemmican bar or two and go out and DO shit.

    • That tradition sounds like fun! I’ve had periods in my life during which I’ve totally abandoned music and it’s usually because I’m too lazy, too tired, too distracted with food in many ways. I understand we’re all different and that for some of us cooking and eating is a hobby but for me those only serve to diminish my passions.

      Good for you! I’m glad you are living life!

  8. I enjoyed your post once again. I am going to visit the indoor climbing wall next week with my 7 year old girl next week, find a harmonica class at community ed for next year and go to library to take out shogun. I also decided to qualify for the us swimming masters national times for a few sprint races for this year. My paleo journey has been working great, just wish more people around me would “get it instead of mocking it”. btw, I have been able to hit some important business goals, that I don not thinkl I would acheive without my new energy

  9. Thanks for this! I think I may have been one of the ones to ask you to write a post like this. For me, I know I have some nagging symptoms (that are not detrimental but I would like cleared up). It’s hard to think long term when short term symptoms are limited to just gluten for me. I know there are other foods that my body doesn’t agree with but it’s been difficult to committing to figuring it out. I think one of my strong suits for being able to avoid junk is that I never buy anything like that at stores. My roommates do though, so that can be tough but in general we don’t share food so I stick with what I purchases and I feel my best.

  10. I love number 16. What lead me TO paleo was reading Bruce Lee’s book The Art of Expressing the Human Body. If you read it, you’ll be surprised how paleo he was back in the day. He was way ahead of himself.

    I have been reading samurai culture lately and keep meaning to read Shogun. I think I’m adding it to my reading list immediately.

    • I will check out Bruce Lee’s book. I love reading anything that inspires greatness. Thanks!

  11. I’m definitely bookmarking this and coming back to it from time to time. Thanks, Peggy!

  12. Awesome awesome info. 15 is key. That t.v. man is a such a horrible thing. The programming is incredible and nobody sees it.

    Also point number 18 is critical. People who are young don’t feel any problems eating breads and sugars. Great great content!

  13. What has worked well for me was to find a meal that meets my nutritional needs and I find very enjoyable. I eat it (with slight variations) breakfast and dinner. I’m so satisfied with it that other food just isn’t that appealing. When I get sick of it, I’ll cycle to something else. Having a regular meal like this takes all of the thinking out of making food: I just go to my standby and don’t have to spend as much time thinking about what I’m going to eat. Right now that meal is grass-fed beef, leafy greens, and sweet potato or winter squash. But I think the magic comes from the consistency and simplicity.

    In a previous post you said that at the beginning of your paleo/primal/etc journey you made a lot of fancy food. And then you got sick of cooking and started eating raw beef and making things much simpler. That is the path I’ve been following, too. The first few months were fancy meals, and then I settled on this very simple one that I love. And I’ve started dipping into searing my steaks only, so that they’re raw on the inside. It makes cooking so much easier, and frees up my time to do other things. (Though I still find that eating the food takes a long time.)

    • I agree with you completely, of course, that’s what’s worked for me. And it’s worked that way for me for many many years. Fancy food tastes great but it doesn’t help me make good eating decisions. When I went simple I stayed simple for health and freedom of mind. Maybe once you’ve lived it for a while, there’s no turning back. ;)

  14. I simply don’t think of non-paleo stuff as food. Of course, that’s easier when you get stomachaches, rashes and headaches after eating it – it’s obviously poison, not food.

  15. Just what I needed to hear! I don’t ever cheat with gluten foods, but I am still a sucker for sugar. If I have time to prepare myself, I can build up my strength, but if I get ambushed in a weak moment I still get in trouble. When I walked into the barn yesterday evening, I was hungry from skipping lunch and tired from wrangling 8th graders all day, there was a giant vat of holiday candy there, a “treat” from one of the boarders. I was caught completely off guard and had several little snickers bars. But then I stopped mid-gorge and said “Is this really worth feeling like crap for three days?” and put back the last one. I spend all night strengthening my resolve, and when I arrived to feed breakfast before sunrise, it was just me and the horses and the vat of candy. And I didn’t eat any! I am building my discipline just like doing my lunges and pushups. So, building up your strength beforehand is key. “I will not eat the candy, I will not eat the candy, I will not eat the candy.” Avoid the ambush! Thanks for another apropos post, Peggy!

  16. “Our society offers indulgence as a virtue and discipline as a punishment.”

    One of the more insightful sentences I’ve read in a long time.

  17. Thanks, Peggy! This was beautiful! I loved the the photo, too. This home with me big time.

  18. I’ve been so stressed lately that I’ve been over eating like crazy and eating tons of dark chocolate. All paleo except the chocolate but stress eating is bad. It’s not the holidays at all it’s illness in the family and a struggling marriage. Your blog is always a ray of light for me. Thank you.

  19. This post is so true. Now if only I could fully convince myself not to pay attention to other people’s judgmental looks… It won’t change the way I eat, it will just change the way I feel about it.
    My other big news is discovering I am sort of allergic to canola in a blind n=1 study. After not using it the house since April, my husband used it to make baked potato chips (without telling me) and I couldn’t breathe from all the oil in the air. I recognized the symptoms because that is what happens when there is soy oil in the air. That was 2 weeks ago. This week is Chanukah and every Israeli supermarket stinks from the smell of the jelly donuts they are frying in PUFA oils in back. I’m going to have to wait to go shopping until next week. I’m kind of pleased that my body is hinting to me that these foods are bad, just using my sense of smell (dairy and wheat stink to me too) but I am kind of freaked out that I now have an “allergy” to canola, which means I can’t eat food outside of my house anymore.

  20. Love these tips! Some I have already started to work on, and others I need to get started!

    Great job! LOVED the way you explained things!

  21. Thanks for this list! Sugar is the hardest for me, I just tell myself that dark chocolate is good for me or the anti-stress offsets how bad it is, but then my blood sugar gets messed up again. Need to be more disciplined about that!!

    I discovered I’m allergic to rice and made the fact well-known to everyone, which makes it much easier to turn down a lot of dishes that aren’t good anyway. By now everyone seems to know I eat in a certain way, and they don’t push non-foods on me nearly so much anymore!

  22. Thank you Peggy! I feel, like a previous commenter suggested, social occasions need to be adressed. I do not have significant cravings anymore but social situations are difficult to handle – not because I am interested in the cake on the table but because I feel I have to explain myself (and the looks from other people, when a lean person refuses the cake, cookies, desserts, are nasty and I am not immune to this!).

  23. #1 is what motivates me. It seems to me the longer you are truly Paleo, the more you feel the consequences when indulging in the wrong foods. Whenever I cheat, it hurts!!!!

  24. This post is timely for us as well. 3,9,and 17 are important to us. My husband is 72 and I am 66 and we see so many of our friends suffering from mostly preventable disease. We hope these friends see how well we do and are inspired to make changes in their diet/lifestyle. We had only yesterday decided not to make anymore “primal” muffins, pancakes etc. They were becoming replacement foods for the non primal stuff we had given up. If they are not in the cupboard/fridge we don’t have to resist. Simple is best. The flavours of real food simply prepared, without lots of dressing up, are sensational.

  25. I’m just curious, when you say you read Shogun, is there a particular title and author or you read about the culture of Shogun? I’d like to learn more. Thanks!

    • Ooh, yeah. sorry about that. It’s James Clavell’s Shogun. A novel.

  26. Peggy,

    I’ve been trying eat Paleo for a couple weeks now…it’s not a problem at all on my 7 days off work….but then my 7 days back on is another story. I’m actually on a 21 day overtime shift right now aaand I’m slipping so bad already on day two. I leave for work at 4:20am and I don’t get home til 8pm so it’s very hard not to reach for something very un-paleo, so that I can get to bed ASAP. I feel very trapped. There’s no way to exercise, eat good food and get a decent sleep, all at the same time.
    Thank you for your tips…I’ll probably force myself to pack a lunch tonight, as I feel very guilty right now. I’m just really at as loss as to how I’m going to be healthy without quitting the job I worked so hard for.

    • Don’t give up! Just because everyone else eats out doesn’t mean you have to too. It’s just a mindset. Keep your food simple so that you don’t spend a whole lot of time making lunch for your 12 hour shift. And make sure to pack enough. Just a lunch won’t be enough for you! Packing food is a skill. You’ll get better at it in time. Just keep trying!

  27. I’ve been eating Paleo for a couple years off and on, and I have found two things that help me include keeping it simple (which I think has already been shared here) in the sense that I have my dozen or so perfect foods and I just stick with them. Mixing things up can often lead me to temptation and mini-splurges. The other thing that helps is to stay inspired by something or someone. Visualizing a perfectly healthy and happy person in my life easily reminds me why I am choosing to eat the way I do, and why I feel so great.

    Great post!

    • That’s a great tip. Now that I think about it I usually keep some ideal in my head too. Sometimes it’s a real person, sometimes not, sometimes an image of my better self…

      • Thanks ladies. :) The visualization helps a lot. My goal is to control my acne enough to stop taking my Diane 35. Been on the stuff for 8 years now. It’s the devil haha.
        What are your perfect foods Angeleen?

  28. I really love what you stated in the introduction of this posting about how we all need to practice discipline because without it we’re not able to reach any of our goals in life and we end up feeling very unfilled. I couldn’t agree more with this train of thought and it also inspires me to keep doing what I am doing in the area of my diet and my career goals.


  29. shogun by James clavell? that’s what I found on amazon…http://www.amazon.com/dp/0440178002

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