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Why Willpower Isn't The Answer To Losing Weight

October 04, 2015 4 min read

It is so easy to believe that if you could stick to that one diet plan, you'd lose weight. If only you had more willpower! But the thing is, white-knuckling your way through that 3 p.m sugar craving will more than likely end in disaster. Here is why the experts say willpower will not get you to your goal weight:

The Problem With Willpower

“We like the idea that we can be in complete control of our bodies and emotions,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D., Cleveland Clinic psychologist and author of 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. Willpower is a real thing but it isn't something you can use to fight food cravings on an ongoing basis. When you use willpower to eat what you should eat instead of what you want to eat, it becomes harder and harder to make good choices. This is called ‘decision fatigue,' says Albers. Research has shown that we make over 200 food related decisions a day and by the time we get to dinner, the decision making power is exhausted. This can lead to zombie like nighttime snacking says, Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivation scientist and author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.

Put Your Mind To Work

Mindful eating is powerful tool. “Mindfulness isn’t about playing tug of war with your appetite and cravings,” says Albers. "You need to work with your cravings by responding to them and figuring out how you can work your favourite foods into a healthy lifestyle." It is about knowing what you want to eat and enjoying each bite you take. “Stop telling yourself, ‘No, I can’t eat that,’ and start asking yourself how you can eat it in a mindful way,” says Albers. If you crave chocolate and have avoided it for a month, you're pretty much doomed to fall off the wagon in a messy chocolate binge. Instead, find a way to incorporate it into your diet with the knowledge that too much can sabotage your goals while the right amount will keep you from losing your marbles.

Figure Out Your True Motivators

Are you doing all of these healthy lifestyle changes because you like the way it feels to be healthy or because you think you need to look a certain way? There is nothing wrong with wanting a bangin' body but research suggests it isn't the best motivator for success. “Research shows when you decide to work out more or eat healthier for your own wellbeing, you'll feel motivated for a longer period of time,” says Segar. If you are doing things that don't feel good, like going all out in crazy intense cardio classes simply to burn as many calories as you can, you may start to look at your workouts as a chore. Instead, you should focus on what makes you feel good. Maybe that spin class isn't it -- if going for a long walk makes you feel better, do that instead. If you make healthy food and exercise choices because it is good for your health, you're more likely to stick with it and cement the habits in place that will sustain your work over time.  

Focus On The Now

You want to look great at your sister's wedding. It is good to get you hitting the gym in the short term but it isn't good for long term success.  “Your brain is wired to go after the quickest reward because a long-term incentive isn’t always guaranteed,” says Albers. This means that if you have to choose between eating dessert now or abstaining so you can look hot in a few months, you will likely cave and eat the dessert. Experts recommend focusing on the short term gains of eating right.  “Focusing on the now is much more successful than trying to convince yourself you’ll lose weight sometime in the future,” says Albers. This short term gain thought process also works with exercise. Do you love the way you feel after yoga? Focus on that and the next time you're torn, you'll be more likely to hit the mat instead of the sofa.

Make Healthy Eating A Habit

When those afternoon cravings hit and you're faced with a decision between an apple and some almond butter or a trip the vending machine, decision fatigue may lead you to the vending machine. BUT, if healthy eating is a part of your every day routine, your brain will make the smart choice automatically. Albers suggests meal prepping every Sunday and keeping delicious, healthy and filling snacks on hand to help create these good for you habits.

Be Realistic

When you are feeling really motivated it is easy to think that you can completely overhaul your life, get maximum, perfect results in next to no time. And when you fail to do that, success seems impossible and may lead to giving up.  “We often call on willpower when something is above and beyond what we’re truly able to do,” says Segar. The solution is to start small. Set achievable goals for yourself. Instead of saying you will work out 7 days a week, start aiming for 3.  “When you’re more realistic, you’re more successful,” says Albers. “That’s a win-win that can help keep you motivated.” Have you fallen into the willpower trap in the past? Share your solutions with us. Source: Women's Health  

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