Willpower: Can it be strengthened?

Recently, someone mentioned that they don’t have my willpower and it’s preventing them from eating healthy.   I thought about this a lot.  Two thoughts coincided in my mind.  First, it’s not a superpower of mine. I struggle just as the next person with the decision of eating chocolate cake with chocolate icing that is offered to me – our brains are wired to do so. Second, I usually have a strategy in place:  always have healthy options.  It doesn’t mean I choose them every time, but having a plan — whether cooking/baking ahead on Sundays or stocking my car/purse/backpack with packets of nut butter and seeds so that I have food available ensures I have healthy options, in case I feel hungry.

So what can you do?  

  1. Identify your weak areas – is it the office, home, in the car? Where are you consuming these high sugar/high trans fat laden goods?  Who are you consuming them with?

  2. Strategize and create a plan. If you’re office has temptations, have some healthy food options available instead.  When you satiate your body with nourishing nutrients, you will feel less likely to eat a few donuts with your coworkers.   Another option at the office – bring your own goodies!  I love baking muffins and pies with healthy ingredients (often swapping applesauce for sugar) so that I can have a satisfying snack.  Create a small group within your office of home-baked goods and make it a group goal to eat healthier foods.  And home? Don’t keep refined sweets at home. You are much more likely to consume these if you’ve had a bad day.  I stockpile berries and coconut cream (both which you can always store – frozen berries and (BPA-free) canned coconut milk. This makes a yummy dessert post-dinner, if desired.  Make it a ‘treat’ to go to an ice-cream parlor, not a daily sundae from the freezer, which can erode health over time.

Willpower can be strengthened if we change our behaviors around tempting treats – and this takes time.  We need other options: saying no to a chocolate chip cookie is usually not satisfying.  But declining a chocolate chip cookie in lieu of a fresh pumpkin muffin makes the decision much easier.  One of my impactful healthy eating suggestions is to have OPTIONS.  Don’t limit your palate to what you can’t eat, but rather what you can eat.  Changing that simple language will help you in so many areas of your life, beyond health eating.

Sometimes during the year our willpower is tested more than others – for example, the upcoming holidays.  Instead of saying “Oh, I’ll just eat whatever I want and join a gym in the new year to lose the weight I gain..”, why not change your attitude and say “If there is a really tasty treat, I will have a small portion, but I will also consume a balanced healthy diet during the holidays”.

Some people have more success with a “zero sweets tolerance”.  This means not even making the occasional sweet an option in their diet, because once consumed, it leads them to overeat on more sweets.  There is scientific evidence to this concept – sugar is incredibly addictive and 99% of the time you will never be satiated.  A quick example: people could eat through an entire bag of cookies left out, but if there were a few steaks available (primarily protein/fats), they could probably eat one-half of one steak.  The bag of cookies is not satiating and rarely provides any nutrients.

In conclusion, if you want a treat, make sure to balance the rest of your diet in high amounts of spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables so that your body can handle the occasional sugar rush that accompanies a sweet treat. However, if an occasional treat throws you completely out of whack, a strong willpower might not give you long-lasting results and you may want to avoid sugar completely.



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