If you’re on the hunt for better willpower to improve your nutrition, it might be time to change your focus. Willpower isn’t the only part of making change. In fact for many people it’s not what they need to focus on.
One thing I often hear people say is that they simply have no willpower. They can ‘be good’ for a period of time, then they give in and overindulge in treats. This is a frustrating cycle, and leaves people despondent and feeling hopeless. And it gets blamed on willpower. I know I used to blame all my issues on lack of willpower! But the truth is, it’s not willpower you need to focus on.
Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Sounds like something we could all do with right? While willpower IS useful, it’s not something in its self that is going to get you to your goals.
Firstly, willpower is a depletable resource – the more you exert willpower the harder it gets to use it again in another circumstance. It’s kind of like a muscle – the more you use it in a short period of time, the more fatigued it becomes and the harder it is to use. If you’ve had a day where you’ve been trying hard to be “good” and turned down that muffin, walked past a jar of lollies, had to bite your tongue when dealing with difficult people, then someone offers you a chocolate, you’re much more likely to say yes than if that was the first time you had to use your willpower that day.
To make change, we need more than willpower. We need SMART goals and internal motivation. We need to learn to listen to when we really feel like food, and for many, we need to work on our relationship with food.
Here’s some tips on what you need to focus on instead of just willpower.
Get your relationship with food right
Lack of self control is often driven by a poor relationship with food, rather than any type of defect in willpower. The two of the biggest triggers for overeating are deprivation and guilt – and for those trying to lose weight or control their food intake, deprivation and guilt are often mainstays of their eating routine. You vow not to eat anything ‘bad’, then after a bad day or when you’re out with friends, you go for a food on your mental ‘bad’ list. You feel guilty – then think well you may as well just start again later and continue for a period of time eating ‘bad’ foods.
When we tell ourselves we’re not going to eat our favourite foods, because they become forbidden they become all the more alluring. If we really feel like a certain food, but we continue to deprive ourselves, eventually we give in. This is the tipping point where many overeat or binge. For me, working on my relationship with food was key to improving my diet and reducing overeating.
I’d recommend working with a health professional that specialises in intuitive eating to help you with this. Keep an eye out for some upcoming programmes and resources that I’ll be offering later in the year.
Mindful eating is more than just eating slowly and enjoying your food. It’s also about letting go of judgement. Guilt has no part in mindful eating. When you start to feel guilty about eating, you generally eat quickly and keep eating to get it out of the way. You don’t really savour and enjoy it. You feel a little out of control, a bit stressed and guilty and tend to eat it quickly. If you eat mindfully, you acknowledge any thoughts/feelings, let them go, and eat without judgement. You eat it slowly, notice the flavours and textures and notice how it makes you feel. You stop when you are satisfied, rather than when it’s gone.
Eating mindfully is a bit of an art to learn, but research shows it reduces binge eating and improves feelings of self control. It also enhances enjoyment – food should be pleasurable, so savour the experience of eating 🙂
Know your internal motivations and goals
Internal motivators are the reasons that do something because it is personally rewarding, rather than doing it for the desire for something external reward.
As an example, an internal motivation to exercise is because you enjoy it and you like how it makes you feel, rather than working out simply to burn calories or change your body shape. For me, years ago I used to be a bit of an on again off again exerciser because I saw it soley as a way to burn calories and lose weight. Today, I love how exercise makes me feel. It helps my mood and helps me to manage stress. I always feel amazing after doing a workout. And for these reasons I keep it part of my life. Some weeks I might do more than others (especially now I’m pregnant!), but it’s a part of my routine now.
While external motivators such as rewards or fears can be useful, long term change comes from internal motivators. You’re never going to stick at an exercise programme long term simply because you want to change your body shape.
Think about the reasons you really want to make change and focus on these.
Focus on creating healthy habits, one at a time
Change isn’t easy! Sometimes one of the best things you can do is pick a few things you want to concentrate and work on building those habits, rather than trying to change everything at once. As soon as you feel you’ve mastered those, add another couple. This has a powerful additive effect over time to create lasting healthy habits.