The Willpower Diet

Hey you - have you ever tried the Willpower Diet?

It's a name I've given to clients who have tried this in the past: dieting or calorie-counting, but failing and blaming it on their will power.

What is willpower? It's simply obeying your rational mind (the part that understands things like long-term consequences and thoughts of right and wrong) over your drive for getting pleasure right now.

Willpower is the "power" to make yourself behave a certain way even though you don’t want to. That doesn't sound like much fun, right?
 

The typical story about sticking to a diet is like this in our minds - that dieting is primarily an exercise in willpower. That you are constantly fighting against your desire for unhealthy but pleasurable foods, so it becomes actually this test of your moral strength. People who “have willpower” deserve praise for winning; people who “don’t have willpower” deserve shame for losing it. 
Let me share something with you.....
 

Every part of this theory and belief is wrong.


First of all, willpower isn’t some absolute quality that you “have” or “don’t have;” it’s simply a skill that you have either developed or not.
Secondly, successfully avoiding junk food and choosing healthy food instead is hardly related to willpower – thin people aren’t thin because they have the iron self-discipline to only drink green smoothies. Nobody can do that. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle depends much more on avoiding the need for willpower in the first place. When I created a long-term program to help my clients with this, avoiding the use of willpower was a driving force. Because everyone knows that diets don't work.
 

Successful Diets don't use Willpower.

Willpower is also exhausting.

Going through each day with a 'fight' in our head causes a lot of anxiety. Stress depletes available brain power for the day, leaving you with even less strength available to stick to healthy food come dinnertime. But it's not about the power - it's about the choice.

The big question is, how do people actually manage to stick to a diet? It’s not because they are a rare & special breed. It’s because they have learned how to avoid using their willpower in the first place. You don’t need to set yourself up for this kind of head-to-head confrontation between your willpower and surrounding temptations. To win the war, avoid the battle.
 

Avoid Relying on Willpower

Prevent the Conflict in the first place....

  • Build habits. Making healthy behaviors habitual means you don’t need to use up your willpower making the decision to do them, they'll come naturally because you know those choices feel good. If a morning walk is part of your daily routine, you don’t have to expend energy deciding to go: you’re just dressed and out the door automatically.
  • Get in tune with you If it’s not a daily habit of yours yet, meditation should be. That way you are more in touch with the foods that make you feel good (and trust me, junk food is not one of them.)
  • Eliminate thought barriers to healthy food. Barriers are walls we put up for ourselves that make life really difficult. For example, if all you believe is that you don't have time to cook and take out is the only option you have, that’s a wall to eating healthy, because it makes cooking more difficult just because of the belief you hold. But it's not impossible - we just think it is. (Common barriers I see regularly include: Not knowing what to cook with the ingredients you have, having other people in the house that influence what you can and can't eat, being too stressed to deal with food, having too many cravings, no proper kitchen tools - if you hate your kitchen all your equipment, you’re not going to want to cook in it! )
  • Cook ahead. One night a week, cook double or triple what you usually would, and store or freeze the extras in single-serving containers. Then, when you stumble home after a long day you don’t have to cook an entire dinner from scratch instead of ordering pizza. You’ve turned the healthy choice into the easy choice, avoiding the use of willpower.
  • Believe in yourself. Know that you have enough knowledge and ability to choose and prepare healthy foods in advance. Make it a priority. You're worth it. Your thoughts are powerful and simply believing that you can do it is a big part of the issue for most of my clients.
  • Meditate. People who meditate regularly have calmer brains and that gives us more room in our mind for coping with the challenge of cooking healthy.


Break the chains that tie you to the war. Eating healthy isn't about building up willpower to dominate everything all at once. It takes mindfulness, the ability to want to change and the skills and support to do so. (This links you to check out our 6 Month Change Makers program. Join us!)