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On the topic of new year’s resolutions

In yesterday’s National Post, an article titled “America is losing the war with itself” spun out a number of topics we’ve been discussing here related to the obesity problem that Canada is facing (I first wrote about this here, then again two days later here, and then because the comments gave me so much food for thought, a third time here.)

Of particular interest to me is the connection that the author, George F. Will, makes between North Americans’ waistline and individual self-control. Sure, it sounds obvious … if you can enact self-control over what you put into your body, then you don’t become obese. But in a country where there is just SO MUCH abundance, one needs to use an insane amount of self-control each and every day. From, as Mike Goad pointed out in the comments section, the constant advertisements in the media to eat-eat-eat to the easy credit urging you to buy-buy-buy, to the lack of anticipation that Javamom notes and which this article links to the appearance of microwaves in the kitchen.

The oven is emblematic of the plummeting effort required per calorie ingested. One estimate is that Americans’ per capita caloric intake has increased 22% since 1980, and the number of diabetics has more than quadrupled.

Microwaves, processed foods and drive-thru dining … food is all around us and so easy to consume. And even when you’re not burning a single calorie as you sit on the couch, your television will call out to you to dial-in some pizza or gobble down some chocolate and ice cream. It would seem, then, that someone in North America’s level of self-control has to be much grander in scale than someone living in an environment where food and water is scarce.

But how many times can we say “no” and do the right thing and resist? Most of us cave — at least here and there. And here’s why, posits Will’s article: self-control is like a muscle and like any muscle, it gets fatigued. In fact, the article concludes with this:

Did you tell lots of people — did you blog about — your New Year’s resolutions? Akst [author of the book We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess] knows why you didn’t: “self-control fatigue,” which is as American as microwaved apple pie.

But, silly me, I did blog about my new year’s resolutions ….


Here’s a quick check-in on my personal resolutions for 2011 (which I detailed here).

#1:  Make time for girlfriend time

I have two girlfriends in particular (Kathryn and Girlie M — are your ears ringing??) who I’ve been wanting and meaning and planning to get together with since well before Christmas. But we haven’t managed it yet. So, with them, I have failed. But I did get in a last minute date with Trish to see the film The Black Swan and it was a fantastic film with fantastic company. Also, my girlfriend Jacquie is always a phone call away and has, thankfully, joined me again for Boot Camp.

#2: Get fit and stay fit

Yes, I started up Boot Camp again last night. I feared that all the insane overindulgence of Christmas feasts over the holidays would land me back to my starting point … but happily, no. My body seems to have rebounded nicely to the exercise again. And, I actually think it’s much happier when I force it to sweat than when I simply wrap it up in flannel and feed it red wine. Strange.

#3: Learn to enjoy winter

Nothing to say here … moving along ….

#4: Say “yes” more

Well, er, let’s just say I was invited to go cross-country skiing and skating at least three times and “yes” was not the answer (refer back to #3).

#5: Give myself the gift of anticipation

I am thrilled to say that I am really, really anticipating a big trip now! I am going to South Korea for one week in February. Not only will I have the natural anticipation of getting to see (and hug!) my sister Megs again, who has been living in Seoul for two years now, but I’m going to pick up some books to learn more about the culture and really ramp up the anticipation even higher. Woohoo!


So, did you end up making any resolutions this year? How’s it going so far?


  1. “My body seems to have rebounded nicely to the exercise again”

    That’s great! Your resolutions sound pretty close to mine, particularly #3, which can be tough for me!

  2. So about that self-control as a muscle that gets tired thing? It’s getting controversial. When the first studies came out, it seemed pretty solid – if you asked people to resist some temptation (as part of a psychological experiment), then later then were less likely to resist another temptation (e.g. they ate more of an offered treat) or were less able to perform in demonstrations of strength (e.g. hand grip tests). But Ellen Langer’s work in mindfulness actually says that this is bunk. If you believe you will get fatigued, then you will. However, self-control can be renewed and can actually be energizing. Interesting food for thought – pun intended! 😉

  3. i am really excited about you coming to visit us! it’s gonna be soooo fun!

    i am enjoying reading the back and forth with this topic but, as much as i enjoy george will, i’m not sure i totally agree with the idea of self-control as a muscle. i agree with free will to an extent but paradoxically that free will is a caged bird…vis a vis a number of social perimeters that we have, somewhere, agreed to (implicitly or explicitly) through conventions, laws, etc…

    how you perceive your reality is important, as the author Will quotes/summarizes at length. if you believe you’re totally in control vs. if you think society has shaped you – and isn’t that a fundamental political divide that has shaped/is shaping party politics the world over? seems to me the only logical thing is that it’s a mix of both views.

    back to self-control/muscle – i love nietzsche and kant but both were too far one way or the other on the idea of discipline and self-control. self-control is a corollary of the self and identity, and how we form that identity will also form our notion of self-control, or, discipline. this is all sounding very freud-y (i.e. avoiding pain, finding pleasure).

    anyways, i fear i’m taking much too much space. this is a great topic with far-reaching consequences. i’m just happy (some) people are starting to take obesity seriously in the last 5 years.

    p.s. thanks for the sweet kris kringle! i’m gonna use the hell out of those!

  4. How am I just reading this now??? Well, we’ve certainly gotten all caught up recently, now haven’t we? Love ya!

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