On a weight loss journey? Well let me fill you in on a little secret: Willpower is a myth! …Or at least, the idea that we should be able to fight our bodies’ natural hunger signals because of some “deep resolve within ourselves” is very flawed.
It’s desirable, of course, to exercise SOME degree of self-restraint. I mean, you don’t buy a latte every time you pass a Starbucks. Thankfully. Because I pass five commuting to work each day (#SEATTLE) and somehow, I resist. (This energy is all-natural, baby!!)
But telling people they should continually deny their biological needs to achieve weight loss, and if they can’t, well, guess they don’t have enough “willpower”? That’s just flat-out wrong. Here’s why:
1. It leads to an unhealthy relationship with eating.
Food is not the enemy! Starving yourself is not the goal! Please don’t think about eating in terms of, “How much can I deny myself?” That’s called an eating disorder. I promise: There is a way to work WITH healthy foods to feel full and nourished WHILE dropping weight.
2. It’s a lie sold to us by food corporations.
Food corporations love to tell us it’s NOT THEIR FAULT America has an obesity crisis! Oh nooo, not their fault they sneak hidden sweeteners into our food to make us ravenously hungry in a few hours! Not their fault they use misleading labeling to make their addictive products look “healthy”! Not their fault they bombard us with advertisements in the form of sights, sounds, and even smells, designed to trigger our digestion processes and rev up those food cravings!
Nooo, it’s actually OUR fault! If only we had more WILLPOWER! We could somehow screen out the barrage of calculated attacks from a multi-billion-dollar industry and just – pop – one – single – Pringle!!!
Yeah, right. The fact is, we’ll never win this one-sided game of Willpower vs. Big Food. Just like a gambler will never beat the casino. The only sane option is to own up to the impossibility and QUIT PLAYING THEIR GAME. Besides…
3. Studies are finding that willpower doesn’t even exist.
Did you know: When people in a German study faced an equal amount of temptation, they all resisted it the same percentage on average? That was regardless of whether they considered themselves to have “good willpower” or “bad willpower”! Their rate of giving into temptation was the same. The only difference between the “good willpower” and “bad willpower” groups was– wait for it– the former group FACED FEWER TEMPTATIONS!
Basically, the people who were successful at ignoring their unhealthy urges (e.g., “I want a soda with my dinner,”) were merely experiencing fewer opportunities to indulge their desires (e.g., “…but I don’t have any soda in my house, so I guess I won’t.”) This allowed them to stick to their goals… Which made them feel a sense of accomplishment (as they should)… Which resulted in them feeling like they had good willpower! Makes just TOO much sense, right? Well, before you start resenting these lucky, temptation-free people, remember: We can USE this information to our advantage! More on that soon. But first, the most infuriating problem with willpower:
4. It’s unsustainable.
Trying to deny your hunger signals is like trying not to breathe. You can only do it for so long. Eventually, your body will MAKE you give in. It’s biology. Or physiology. Or something. Anyway, you’ll inevitably binge-eat, feel guilty, and maybe even give up on your diet entirely. At least until the next cycle of yo-yo dieting. And as we all know by now, hopefully: yo-yo dieting has a detrimental effect on our ability to keep weight off and lose it again in the future. Relying on willpower to somehow carry you through to your goals is ineffective at best and damaging at worst. SO WHY TORTURE YOURSELF? I promise, team, there’s a much better way!
The alternative to willpower is STRATEGY.
Yup, strategy. I don’t bet on willpower anymore. I set myself up for success. By now I’ve helped enough people lose weight that I’m convinced: with the right SUPPORTS, anyone can be successful. That said…
It requires PLANNING.
You MUST adapt your environment and your routine to support behaviors you DO want, and remove temptations that sustain behaviors you DON’T want. Put in the time upfront and your choices will be that much easier down the road. Case in point: Check out my refrigerator this week. I wanted to see all my healthy options right away when I opened the door, so I moved them front-and-center. (I also hid the not-so-healthy options in drawers.) You’ll notice I prep all my healthy foods in advance, so they’re ready and grabbable the second I need them. No more, “I’m so hungry, and this cheese stick requires no prep.” Now it’s, “Everything in here is equally fast and easy. So what do I REALLY want?”
It also requires CONSTANT MONITORING.
I’m always asking myself and my clients: What’s working? What’s not? How can we modify? You say you didn’t meet your water goal over the weekend? Start carrying a water bottle with you. Or set yourself timed reminders to drink water. You came home late from work and binged on a 1600 calorie meal that wasn’t in your calorie budget? Start keeping a healthy snack at work to tide you over. Or pre-prep dinner in the morning, so it’s ready the second you get home. Other issues arise? Troubleshoot them! You get the idea!
Hint: It’s EASIER with the help of a professional.
Nutrition for sustainable weight loss is a precise science. Unless you have a background in nutrition, it can be confusing (not to mention discouraging) to go it alone. Lifestyle modification is likewise tricky. It takes a lot of fine-tuning and creativity. A professional can help you analyze your patterns and troubleshoot problems as they occur. Experience is key here! Last year, one of my clients lost 35lb following the system we developed together, AND she’s kept it off! All with less effort than she anticipated! (That’s a sentiment my weight loss group never fails to echo!) It may sound cliché, but you really CAN train smarter, not harder.
I’ve been there too.
Ever since my own experience losing 40% of my body fat in 6 months (and keeping it off for 6 years and counting!) I’ve loved helping people reach their goal weights. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain a healthy weight, I’d love to hear your story and work with you, too!