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How do I improve my willpower?

“I have good intentions, but I don’t have enough willpower to eat properly. How can I improve my willpower?”

How many of you now are nodding along like, “I need to improve my willpower?” Yep, yep, I hear you. I feel your pain. That takes me right back to when I was deep in diet clubs. How many times have you heard “just do it. You’ve just got to do it.”?

Willpower at slimming clubs

When I was at Slimming World I thought I should just be able to do it. I should just have the willpower to “just do it”. 

Why can’t I do this diet?
Why is it so easy for everybody else and not me?
Why am I the one struggling?
It can only be willpower, right? That’s my problem?

You go to group and you sit around sharing losses and gains. There will be girls announcing big weight losses and I’d be sat there trickling along. Tiny, tiny bits of weight loss each week, or plateauing completely.

There would be girls who would infuriate me because they would be drinking and eating at the weekend, would not be on plan, would say that they were “well behaved” through the week and then at the weekend they would just say “to hell with it” and then come in on Tuesday morning with a big fat loss. Haha, big fat loss, no pun intended.

But they would not be sticking to plan 100% and they would still be losing weight, so why can’t I do it? 

I’d feel like I had to explain myself and apologise for the poor job that I’d done that week. I was sure that everybody in the room was thinking, “well, you say you’ve stuck to plan, but you couldn’t have, because if you had you’d have lost weight”.

Then the whole room starts giving advice. 

Do this.
Do that.
Don’t do this.
Don’t do that.
Swap this for that.
Try saving your syns up.
Try spacing them out across the week.
You have to have the right amount each day.
Do have them all otherwise you’re not eating enough.
Don’t have them all.
Save yourself some calories.

But whatever……… just do it!

I never believed that I had an unhealthy relationship with food. I just thought I needed more willpower. I needed to just do it.

I couldn't be trusted around food

I was sure that I couldn’t be trusted around food. That was my problem. I didn’t have the willpower to leave food alone. I would eat too much because I want to, because I didn’t have enough willpower to not eat it. 

Maybe you’re just not buying things because you don’t think you can be trusted around them, so if you don’t buy foods that you can’t be trusted around then that’s no problem. You just won’t eat it then!?

It isn’t really about willpower. You subjected yourself to so much restriction over the years, that is where the problem lies. You have dieted over and over again for years and years.

You have things that stem from childhood. Maybe you were limited on the foods that you could help yourself to. Or maybe you’ve grown up being told that foods are bad or good for you. It’s ingrained in you from an age where you’re learning, growing and forming beliefs.

Maybe you’re avoiding foods because you don’t think that they’re good for you. Enter keto and the avoidance of carbs!. 

Maybe you’ve put yourself on time restrictions. You can’t eat after a certain time of day, or you can’t eat until a certain time of day.

Restriction causes problems

Even the thought of restriction can create problems. So if you think there’s not going to be any food available, or you’re going to go on a diet, you find yourself thinking things like how you’d better eat everything today or you’re going to go a long period of time without access to food. You had better stock up and eat.

There are lots of reasons and situations in which this restriction can happen, and because you’ve done that for years now it’s ingrained in you. All the messages around you are so harmful and reinforce that too. Diet culture, beauty standards, all telling you that you need to restrict something or another to make yourself better in some way. 

Add in to that social pressure. Maybe your friends are eating or drinking something. Or maybe they’re following this fancy new diet and you’re pressurised into doing it.

Maybe alcohol gets the better of you as it does most of us. It lowers your resolve, and when you have a drink you eat more. That’s a very natural thing to happen. Gathering’s happen. Social events happen. There’s food and drink available. 

There’s lots of reasons why you don’t stick to plans that you put in place, and when you can’t, it’s because of your lack of willpower. 

Why can’t you improve your willpower and just do it??

Why don't I have any willpower?

You do have willpower, but you have it for a limited amount of time. 

When you first start a diet you have got all the willpower in the world. You are good to go, you are not eating this, you are not drinking that, you’re going to do this every day, you’re not going to do that anymore. 

But after time, that willpower dwindles because your body is designed to fight back. Your body is designed to protect you. 

It doesn’t know the difference between diet and famine. The longer you’re restricting, the longer you’re not having things that your body needs to function correctly, the more it’s going to kick back and try and protect you. It’s trying to help you store energy and nutrients for another time of famine. 

So no, if you don’t have long term willpower, that is actually perfect. That’s what you want, because your body should be fighting to protect you. 

I know that with this comes a whole range of emotions. Guilt because you think that you should be doing better. Shame because you might have to admit to other people or even simply feel that you haven’t been able to do something that is so easy for other people. Fear because you lose control, and that’s a scary thing. And disgust is often one that comes up. Actual shame and disgust in yourself for the way you’re behaving. Followed by upset and worry about how you’re going to claw it back, and how disappointed you are in yourself.

And you’re back to square one, searching for that solution to the problem that you thought you had when you first started your diet. But, you know, when you release all these restrictions, you in turn release the need for willpower.

Forget about willpower. It's time for why-power. Your choices are only meaningful when you connect them to your desires and dreams.

Darren Hardy

willpower when you stop dieting

Why are you dieting? What are those desires and dreams that you think you are going to satisfy by being thinner? It seems to me that dieting is just bringing you a heap of stress and misery around food, making you question your willpower and why you can’t “just do it”. You can make the choice to stop dieting and start focussing on being happy and having a better relationship with food. Dieting is not making you happy.

When you stop dieting, when you stop restricting, when you start to eat more intuitively, you don’t need willpower anymore. 

You’re not trying to stop yourself eating things any more. You’re just trying to tune in and see what you need to eat, what your body wants to eat. Your body will tell you what it needs when you practise it and you tune in.

As an intuitive eater, there is really no logic to what you’re feeling at any given time, really. That’s what I think anyway. I’ll be looking for something to eat and I’m often surprised by what I feel will satisfy me. When we stop to ask “What do I actually fancy? What do I want right now?” and then honouring that there is no need for that willpower. 

When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, and you allow all foods in, you don’t need it. Unconditional permission is knowing that you can have whatever you want to eat in the moment without restriction, without fear of what’s going to happen after you’ve eaten it, without guilt, without shame, without the upset.

So if you let go and you start listening to what your body is telling you it wants, not only will you eat a wider range of foods probably, but you’ll be more satisfied by them when you eat them as well.

Remind me again why I need to improve my willpower around food?  Oh…. I don’t!

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Please note, this post is intended to be general information only. Every care has been taken to ensure that facts and figures are correct at the time of posting. As always, please seek the support of a registered professional before making changes to your diet or lifestyle⁠, or if you feel that you are affected by any of the topics discussed.

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