It Does Take Willpower

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • For years it seems that experts in dieting and nutrition have been tiptoeing around reality. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need willpower. Not just for a short period of time, but pretty much 24/7, or at minimum most of the time. Despite the fact that experts try to explain the obesity crisis by ascribing our difficulties to a host of physical, emotional, environmental and genetic confounding factors, the reality is that to a large extent you just need willpower. Even if my metabolic rate is slower than yours, even if I come from a family of generationally fat people, even if I live in a healthy food desert, even if my parents fed me a lot of processed foods - whatever the cause, I will have to harness my willpower to lose weight.

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    The good news is that you can increase or improve your willpower. Even if you think your friend has a lot more willpower than you, it is an attribute and behavior that you can improve. But just like other behavior patterns, you may have to work at it in order to improve and strengthen it. When psychologists are asked about willpower, they often define it as:


    The ability to delay gratification or resist temptation in order to achieve a "better" long term goal. To put it more simply it is self control.


    It is true that some people seem born with incredible self discipline and self control. But just like you can build your muscles with weight training, you can improve your self control. We all know that if you are able to "say no" several times in a short span of time, to a food temptation, your ability to continue to say no usually improves. Part of that has to do with the positive feeling that being in control imparts; part of it is that distancing yourself from the (taste of the) temptation makes it easier to maintain the distance. Another way to improve your willpower is to create accountability. That's why Weight Watchers works for many people. The knowledge that you will be sharing your week's worth of eating with others and weighing in, goes a long way to empower you to keep willpower in place. That's also why journaling works for many dieters - you have to face your food reality on paper, so you are more vested in making sure that reality matches with your goal to lose weight.


    You will also benefit by creating a less tempting environment (as much as you can) when trying to build willpower. I always tell clients that to buy foods that tempt you and keep them in your home is asking too much of willpower, at least in the early stages. I can almost predict with 100% certainty that tempting foods in your frig and pantry will overcome most people's willpower until dieting strategies and habits are in place for a very long time. You also need to reward yourself when your willpower wins. It doesn't require a purchase or prize, but you need to really acknowledge how hard it was to be strong - really acknowledge it and congratulate yourself. When you are in the process of building your willpower, focus on single goals and really work on willpower as it relates to that one goal. Cluttering your willpower efforts with lots of goals is a recipe for disaster. It takes enormous internal energies to build willpower and succeed in attaining a single goal. Finally, make sure that the willpower efforts are coming from you. If you are dieting to please someone else, or for that matter setting goals because of someone else, the likelihood that you will be able to improve your own inner willpower, is pretty unlikely.


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    Finally, never assume you can tempt willpower. There will always be unexpected challenges and unplanned temptations. You will need great resolve and commitment to harness your willpower. But simply creating temptation for the sake of testing willpower usually ends with willpower losing.

Published On: March 06, 2012