Why Willpower is Keeping You Stuck
We have all said it (or thought it) before.
“If only I had more willpower, I would be able to lose weight!”
When in actuality, your lack of willpower is one of the best things that has ever happened for your health and your body.
Willpower may give you short term success in a diet, but in the long term it just increases feelings of restriction and deprivation—you feel like you are missing out on the foods you love and the social life that makes you feel connected.
After a while of following a restrictive diet plan and exercising your willpower, you cave—often with a big binge—and revert back to your original habits because no one could live a happy and fulfilled life making those kinds of sacrifices in the long term. This continues the yo-yo diet cycle, which has negative effects on our metabolism, blood sugar and cortisol levels.
What we tend to label as a “lack of willpower” is actually attunement and connection with our bodies.
If you are following a strict diet and are craving something off-plan, that is often your body sending you a message that you are depriving it of a nutrient or a feeling that it needs.
In that sense, not having willpower is really great news! It means that there is still a connection to your intuition, to your body’s innate knowledge of what it requires.
This is the basis of mindful eating: being able to connect with our bodies and tap into that intuition about how our bodies need to be fueled, both physically and emotionally.
We tend to eat for one of two reasons: for health and hunger, or for emotional reasons. When we are practicing mindful eating, we are able to check in and discern whether a craving is a sign of physical or emotional hunger, and then make a choice about what we need based on that knowledge.
If it is a physical hunger craving, we can make a choice based on what would feel most nourishing and satisfying to us in the moment.
If it is an emotional hunger craving, we can ask ourselves what we really need to express or soothe that emotion; often the tub of Ben & Jerry’s is just a way to numb it, not to heal it.
Practicing willpower to stick to a diet plan that was not created for your specific body takes away your power to choose. It disempowers you and cultivates a distrust of yourself and your body.
“Self-control is a practice of constantly doubting, fearing, and second-guessing our decisions and our ability to handle outcomes when they arise.”- Samantha Skelly
Exercising willpower is essentially saying that you don’t trust yourself or your body to make decisions and handle whatever repercussions they may have.
Willpower makes certain foods wrong or off-limits, which triggers the scarcity response in your brain. This is the response that leads to a binge because our body feels so restricted that when we are faced with the thing that we have been wanting, we ravenously consume as much of it as possible, instead of trusting ourselves to have a what we are craving in the moment.
Think of it this way: if you were raised in a strict household with rules around drinking and smoking and staying out late, chances are when you moved out of the house you went a little crazy indulging in all of the things that you weren’t allowed to do growing up.
You don’t actually NEED to eat pizza and easy mac every day or to binge drink on the weekend, but it is the freedom of knowing that you can and that it is somehow taboo that makes it attractive.
The same thing happens with our diets.
The more we exercise willpower, the more we crave the things that we aren’t "supposed" to have. But when we take away the rules and give ourselves the freedom to eat whatever we want, those “naughty” foods lose their appeal. Because they don’t actually make us feel good when we eat them.
The ability to listen to your natural intuition is a gift; when we exercise willpower, we block that off entirely. Connect to what your body is telling you, rather than manipulate it with rules.
And if your body is craving something that you don't believe will feel good and healthy for you, maybe try making a healthier version or just taking a couple of bites to see if it satifies the craving. Developing a healthy curiosity around your cravings and exploring them from a place of self-discovery can lead to a much healthier mental and physical lifestyle.