Why Willpower Won't Work (all the time)

**Willpower (noun): control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control.** With the holiday season coming up, many of us will try to rely on our willpower alone to resist the 2nd (or 3rd) plate of food on Thanksgiving or the yummy tray of desserts at the office holiday party.  Unfortunately, many of us will fail.  Why?  Well, willpower can only get you so far.  There are times when temptation (food, alcohol, sex, etc) is so great that all the self-control you can muster eventually goes out the window and you succumb to forbidden.  We’ve all been there, even people who live healthy, fit lives.  I find it funny when people think that I have some  superhuman willpower that allows me to eat clean 80 to 90% of the time and work out 5 days a week.  HA!  If willpower were the only thing I had to depend on, you wouldn’t be reading this, because I wouldn’t have this blog, because I would have given up a long time ago.


Willpower DOES work... sometimes.   I don’t know about you, but I feel  so triumphant when I’m  able to exhibit tremendous self-control that I want to shout it from the rooftops “Girl, I was able to sit in front of a tray of chocolate chip cookies and not eat ONE!  I’m so good”...but then I get completely deflated and defeated when one (or more) of those cookies make it from the tray and into my mouth.  At some time or another, we’ve all tried some diet which required more willpower than anything else.  No wonder it didn’t work.  I’m not saying willpower doesn’t play even a small role in sticking to a goal, but it’s not the only thing.  When it comes to losing weight AND maintaining it, the factors that allow you to be successful are far more complex than “Just say no”.  Here are a few examples:

1)Hunger Hormones: The human body likes to keep things in balance for all of it's major functions and processes, including appetite.  Hormones known as ghrelin (a hunger-stimulating hormone that tells your brain that you’re hungry),  and leptin (a hunger-suppressing hormone), work together to keep your appetite in check.  Studies show that sleep deprivation can increase ghrelin production, making your body think you’re hungry, when you're really not.  So in a situation where overeating is a result of perpetual sleep deprivation,  willpower doesn't stand a chance.

2)Undereating: Back in the day when I was trying some new diet, I would  start of the day being "good" by eating very little food.  Yeah!  My willpower was working!  But by 3PM I was eating everything in sight and it usually didn't end until I went to bed.  At the time, I thought that I was weak and would never be able to lose weight.   It turns out that my body was actually hungry because I was starving it.  Go figure.

3)Motivation and support: In addition to being educated about proper nutrition and exercise, I’ve found these two things are critical to successful, sustainable weight loss.  Supportive friends and family trump willpower ALL DAY LONG!


If you’ve been depending on willpower to avoid eating your favorite junk foods or to keep you on the treadmill for an hour, you've probably seen that it’s not very effective.  The self-control that we try to force on ourselves usually ends up feeling like self-punishment…leaving you feeling guilty, unhappy and emotionally drained. Who wants to sign up for that???  Not me.  Just have the damn cookie and move on!

In addition to being REALISTIC and FORGIVING, here are some things that help me stay on track and focused:

  • I make a list of my fitness goals and keep track of them on a regular basis in my journal
  • I eat a balanced diet that keeps me full, satisfied and HAPPY; this decreases the chance of always giving in to some crazy temptation
  • I understand that I might fall face first into a chocolate cake…but life happens and it’ll be ok
  • I surround myself with positive, supportive family and friends who motivate me to keep going in the right direction
  • I made a commitment to myself to treat my mind, body and spirit with respect

So, in preparation for the holiday season AND for the rest of your life, what strategies will you use to set yourself up for success?