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|Why do I have no willpower?|
Why do I have no willpower?
It’s probably the question I get asked the most by clients who come to me for help with their stress eating, night time snacking and sugar cravings.
It seems that more willpower is something we’re always looking for.
Whether it’s the birthday cake in the office lunchroom, the nachos your friends always order at the bar, or the tub of ice cream in the freezer at home, it often feels as though temptation is lurking behind every corner.
And, too often, when we go to tap into our willpower to help us say “no,” it’s nowhere to be found.
The good news is that there actually are things you can do to make it easier to say “no.” I’m going to show you how to strengthen willpower and how to have more self control with food with five easy tricks:
1. Create mini “willpower workouts”
Your willpower is like a muscle. And just like you might work to strengthen your bicep muscles by lifting weights at the gym, you can strengthen your willpower muscle by repeatedly setting up small challenges for it. Think of this as creating mini workouts for your willpower.
Now, you want to start small. Just like you wouldn’t go to the gym and start lifting 50lb weights right away, with these mini willpower workouts, we want to start with something challenging – but not too challenging. Something like “quitting smoking” or “cutting out sugar” is going to be too a big a challenge for your willpower and instead of strengthening it, it’s going to burn it out.
These workouts don’t even have to be related to food. The great news is that strengthening your willpower in one area will lead to more willpower in other areas. So, making yourself clean out that spare room you’ve been avoiding for ages, will actually help you say “no” to dessert more often.
Your willpower is made up of two parts: “I will” power, and “I won’t” power.
✔ “I will” power is what we’re using when we say, “I will go to the gym three times this week,” or “I will walk the dog for an hour every day.
✔ “I won’t” power is what we call on when we say, “I won’t drink diet soda any more,” or “I won’t bite my nails.”
When you’re planning these willpower workouts, try to choose ones that exercise both of these areas of the willpower muscle. Pick one “I will” exercise, and one “I won’t” exercise.
Pick small things that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t done (e.g. cleaning out your car or your closet), or a small habit that you want to break (e.g. leaving dishes in the sink or eating too fast) and create a plan to push through and get yourself to do it.
For example, if you’ve been saying you’re going to clean out your car for ages but still haven’t done it, make a plan:
Day 1: Take a garbage bag out to the car and throw out all the stuff that’s definitely garbage
Day 2: Take a box out and fill it with everything that’s not garbage, but doesn’t belong in the car
Day 3: Wipe down and dust
Day 4: Vacuum.
By making yourself follow through on this little willpower workout to clean your car, you’ve now strengthened your willpower muscle a little bit more, which will make it a little bit easier to say “no” to tempting foods later on. Repeat these little workouts over and over again, and you’ll soon be the Arnold Schwarzenegger of willpower!
2. Hit the pause button
Neuroscientists have found that, the longer you have to wait for a reward, the less it’s worth to you. They call this principle, “delay discounting,” and have discovered that, even a small delay can dramatically lower our perceived value of something that was once tempting. As soon as there is any distance between you and the source of temptation, the power shifts from your brain’s reward centre back to its self-control system and it becomes much easier to make a healthy choice.
If you’re wondering how to strengthen willpower or how to have more self control with food, you can use this fact to your advantage.
When temptation arises and that brownie is just SCREAMING at you to eat it, and you can’t think of anything else, try telling yourself that you WILL have the brownie, you’re just going to have it 20 minutes from now.
This will calm the screaming in your head because you’ve made the decision to have the brownie, but by delaying the eating of it, you’re taking the power away from the reward centre of the brain and giving it back to the self-control centre, thereby dramatically increasing the odds that you’ll stay on track.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindful eating is one of the most powerful tools we have when we’re trying to figure out how to have more self control with food.
When we’re distracted by the TV, our phones, or deadlines at work, we tend to make much poorer choices than we would if we were paying attention.
How often have you been at a party, or other social situation, surrounded by not-so-great food choices and found yourself eating things, not because you even wanted them, but just because they were there and you weren’t paying attention? I’m pretty sure we’ve all been guilty of this.
When we’re being mindful (meaning we’re fully aware and present), we’re much better able to consider the options in front of us and make a conscious choice that won’t leave us feeling stuffed, ill and wondering, “why do I have no willpower?” later on.
So, when you first feel that desire to eat something, check in with your body and ask if you’re really, physically hungry (i.e. an apple would be irresistible right now), or emotionally hungry (i.e., you’re bored, stressed, anxious, etc.), or caught up in a craving (i.e., you MUST have those potato chips in the cupboard, or the ice cream in the freezer). Be conscious and aware and think about what your body really needs.
When you’re eating, slow down, be present, chew more, focus on the food and pay attention after each bite. Really tune in to how your body is feeling and when it feels satisfied (not full, but satisfied). Give yourself permission to stop mid-meal if your body says it’s no longer hungry (put the rest in a doggie bag, or in the fridge for delicious leftovers tomorrow).
4. Redefine success
Changing our old eating habits and creating new ones is hard work, and it’s sometimes easy to see the reward for all that hard work as just a lifetime of more hard work.
If the journey towards losing the weight or better health feels like a constant struggle of missed fun and self-deprivation, part of you understandably assumes that reaching your goal will simply mean a lifetime of more of the same.
No wonder you end up sabotaging yourself!
When we’re thinking about how to strengthen willpower, the key is to redefine what success means to you. If success to you is just avoiding the foods you love, or reaching a lower number on the scale, then the journey will always appear as a struggle – a recipe for self-sabotage.
However, if you redefine success as creating an entirely new relationship with food where making healthy choices starts to feel natural, automatic and easy. then suddenly success looks exciting and the journey to get there worth sticking to.
For this exercise, I encourage you to sit down, tune inward, listen to your heart, and write a new definition of what success means for you.
Don’t stop at “losing 20 pounds” or “not craving sugar any more.” Those are goals that have an energy of struggle to them. Go further. What would losing 20 pounds or being free of sugar FEEL like? How would your life change? What would you be able to do or have that you can’t do or have now?
Maybe success looks like, “Reaching a place where I have an easy, happy relationship with food. A place where I naturally crave, and am fully satisfied by, the foods that truly nourish my body, mind and soul. A place where I don’t constantly obsess about what to eat, what not to eat and how my body looks.”
Sounds like something worth sticking with, right?
Get out your journal and start redefining success for yourself. Go beyond just the weight and the food. Think about how you really want to FEEL, what you really want to DO, and who you really want to BE.
5. Automate your eating
One of the best ways to have more self control with food is to automate the majority of your food choices. This doesn’t mean that you just eat salad for every meal for the rest of your life, but it does mean that, wherever possible, you try to plan ahead, prep a portion of your meals in advance, and repeat meals often.
Remember that your willpower is like a muscle. After a long day of making choices and decisions while at work, with the kids, or just getting through your To Do list, that muscle is feeling worn out. By the time dinner rolls around you’re almost out of willpower and this is when eating out, or grabbing take out starts to seem like a really good idea.
In order to prevent this, spend some time earlier in the week (when your willpower muscle is still strong) planning out your meals for the week (Sunday is often a great time to do this) and grocery shopping based on that plan so you will have all the ingredients you need on hand.
This way, when your willpower muscle is feeling tired later on, you won’t fall victim to poor choices.
Batch prepping healthy meals (or parts of healthy meals) ahead of time, so that they’re ready and waiting for you in the fridge or freezer, will also take a lot of pressure off your willpower muscle.
Carve out a few hours on the weekend to make a big batch of a couple of meals. This could include a big pot of chili, rice and beans or just lots of washed and chopped vegetables and greens for big salads.
Being creative in the kitchen is wonderful, but when we put too much pressure on ourselves to constantly come up with new ideas, we tire out our willpower muscle. Keep that adventurous spirit alive one or two nights a week, but for the rest of the time, don’t feel bad about repeating the same tried and true meals and snacks again and again. This means your willpower muscle doesn’t need to be constantly working to make healthy choices for you, and can rest up for the times when you really need it.
Oatmeal or a green smoothie every morning for breakfast is great. Soup and salad for lunch every day is delicious, and if most of your dinners are fast stir fries with lots of veggies, perfect!
You do have the power to improve your willpower.
I hope these five tricks were helpful in showing you how to have more self control with food, so that you never again have to ask, “why do I have no willpower?”