I Think Willpower is Bullshit

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That’s right, you can tell by the title how I feel about willpower: I think it’s bullshit.

Willpower is a myth that has been sold to us for years. I strongly believe relying on your willpower to achieve your goals can not be done – specifically as it pertains to food and fat loss. Here’s why: willpower is finite.

You do not have an endless supply – it ebbs and flows. Sometimes the willpower tank is full, and sometimes it’s not.

Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. You resist the urge to browse Facebook instead of finishing your expense report. You reach for fruit when you’re craving a vending machine snack. You bite your tongue when you’d like to make a snide remark. With every exertion of willpower, you are slowly making withdrawls from your willpower bank.

A growing body of research shows that resisting repeated temptations eventually takes a mental toll. Think about what happens to the muscles of your body when you overexert them: they get tired, overworked and fatigued. When your muscles are fatigued they are much harder to use properly. Some experts liken willpower to a muscle, and just like the main muscles of your body, the willpower muscle can get overused to the point of fatigue. I’d venture to say everyone knows what it feels like when your willpower muscle is exhausted.

So, when your day consists of 1000 tiny scenarios that require willpower and you try adding a restrictive meal plan to the mix, you are destined to strain that willpower muscle at some point. You’re naturally set up to fail that diet, eventually. Whether it’s with your co-workers at happy hour after a stressful day at work, or in your pantry when you’re scraping the bottom of the peanut butter jar, you’ll eventually run out of the willpower to white-knuckle it through a diet that leaves you feeling deprived.

We put far too much pressure on willpower to do all of the work when we should spend time on creating an environment that is conducive to behavior change. To be successful, I encourage you to limit your need to rely on willpower that much at all. Remove your need to white-knuckle it through a diet in order to achieve your goals for health and fat loss by creating an eating pattern that takes the least amount of time and requires the fewest decisions. You want to eat in a way that doesn’t confuse or stifle you – a way that allows for some wiggle room and freedom. A way that definitely does not leave you feeling deprived.

I see people resort to restrictive dieting and extreme workouts that rely far too much on willpower and far too little on creating an environment that minimizes decisions and fosters change.

Willpower is bullshit, so don’t play the that game!

Convenience nutritious foods

One of the top reasons I hear people cite for not eating whole, real foods most of the time is because the other ones – the refined, processed and packaged ones are just far “more convenient”. Don’t let food manufacturers and packaging artists get the best of you – you TOO can make any food convenient to eat. 

My most successful clients are taking a little time to convenience the foods in their environment, and therefore, avoid relying on willpower to avoid the other garbage. 

You can start by chopping and washing your fruits and vegetables as soon as you return from the grocery store, storing them at eye-level in your fridge so they are the first thing you see when you open the door. Make your own grab-and-go snack packs with things like nuts, seeds, coconut shavings, dried fruit in a ziplock back for and energy boosting option when you’re craving and need a satiating boost. 

Use trade-offs to your advantage

Instead of relying on willpower to drink ultra-sweet alcoholic beverages on the patio this grilling season, for example, try creating food trade-offs for yourself. Say, “I can have that dessert if I have exercised today”, or “I will absolutely have a second helping if I am still hungry 20 minutes after I have finished my meal”. 

De-convenience tempting foods

Similar to tip #1, make it inconvenient to rely on willpower. Make it a hassle. Leave serving dishes in the kitchen, put leftovers away before you start eating, and put tempting foods you’d rather not overeat out of reach and out of site.

And, the ultimate inconvenience? Don’t have it in your house! Don’t even buy your trigger foods! Whether it’s pretzels, crackers, cookies or chocolate, why bring it in the house if you’ll ultimately be forcing your willpower muscle to work harder than it needs to? It is so much easier to stop relying on willpower to avoid mindless snacking when you de-convenience your ability to do so.

See your food before you eat it

And see your food while you’re eating it. Avoid relying on willpower by pre-plating all of your food, even dessert, rather than leaving it open to have seconds and thirds by returning to the same serving dishes. Similarly, if you’re tracking your food in an app, preplanning your whole day by inputting your food ahead of time in the food log can play to your visual senses in the same way that pre-plating your food can. It’s proven, if a person thinks he ate less than his regular volume, he will think that he is hungry; if he thinks he ate more, he will think he is full. Avoid white-knuckling it by eating foods you enjoy in the same volume that you’re used to.  

Create food rules related to your environment

Being caught hungry with no snack in sight is the perfect storm for driving through the nearest fast food drive-thru. It seems impossible to avoid Becky’s community chocolate dish on the way to the bathroom at the office. Instead of relying on willpower when your environment seems to pull your temptation strings, I suggest creating hard-fast food rules for yourself. For example, you might say, “There’s no eating in the car”, or “I always take the stairs to the bathroom on the 2nd floor” in order to avoid facing triggers to eat foods you’d rather not.

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