When we set out to make healthy decisions around food choices, whether it's to improve digestion, or lose weight, or just feel better overall, we often talk about willpower and whether we do or don't possess it. There's this feeling of control that we must exert over our impulses and a sense that we aren't in control of our behaviour due to laziness. The dictionary gives us other meanings for willpower:
determination, strength of will, strength of character, firmness of purpose, fixity of purpose, resolution, resolve, resoluteness, purposefulness, single-mindedness, drive, commitment, dedication, doggedness, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power, backbone, spine
Some of these words sound harsh and restrictive in themselves.
Do you ever hear yourself say the following in certain situations?:
'if I see a cake I must have it' or
'if there's chocolate in the house I have to eat the whole bar' or
'if my mother puts dessert in front of me, I can't refuse it'.
There's a sense that it's all out of our control. However instead of focusing on willpower and how that makes us feel, we could consider having personal autonomy over our decision making. We can build some positive behaviours.
Then, once we take steps to build autonomy over our decisions, these situations will be so much easier to face .
Here’s what you can do:
– and surprisingly, it’s nothing to do with dieting! Instead you can pay more attention to your mindset, your habits and the people and environment around you:
1. Firstly and most important! - keep a strong nutrition foundation by eating well throughout the day – 3 meals with a snack if necessary; low Glycaemic Load carbohydrates, adequate protein plus good fats every meal and snack. This will prevent your blood sugar dropping too low so that it's difficult to make decisions sensible eating decisions. Keep a handful of nuts ready for when hunger hits! Remember that 75% of building willpower will be helped by the food you eat, leaving only 25% for situations or habits.
2. Change your routine – if you normally go to the coffee shop in the mornings and can't resist the muffins, change your routine for the first couple of weeks so that you will find it easier to avoid your triggers. Take a coffee with you or make it in the office or at home - go for a walk instead. The same can be applied to the pub after work or the cafe that serves your favourite cake!
3. De-clutter – if you find yourself getting annoyed because things are building up around you take some time each day to de-clutter and avoid procrastination. Clutter depletes willpower as it uses up our energy and causes unnecessary stress which can lead to eating.
4. Have a coffee in the afternoon – I know this is strange advice coming from me and depends on your individual tolerance level to caffeine – however cravings often occur at 4pm even after a day of good eating and, if you keep yourself busy and prevent tiredness setting in, you might find that it’s easier to resist sugar cravings. I don't tolerate coffee too well, so for me it's a green, ginger or peppermint tea.
5. Aim to sleep well and this will help your hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin, stay balanced. You'll also feel better, have more energy and reduce cravings.
6. Build in enjoyable activity to your daily routine. If time is short, aim to walk and move more. Being sedentary day to day offers more opportunity for boredom and mindless eating. There's no point in going to the gym for an hour and sitting the rest of the day; also some of us compensate for gym activity by 'allowing' the creamy cappucino or cake as a reward. Look out for compensatory behaviour.
7. If you find yourself wanting chocolate or cake, tell yourself that you can have some AND an apple, or some nuts combined – you’ll find that you’ll probably have less of the chocolate or cake!
8. Try postponement strategy – when the craving hits, imagine it like a wave and, within a couple of minutes it will pass – say to yourself ‘I could have chocolate later/tomorrow’ and see how this makes you feel. Often you’ll go on to do something else and forget about the chocolate! Other strategies might be making a cup of tea or distraction like getting into the garden or making a phone call.
9. Point 8 leads into this one – choose your friends wisely! When you hear ‘go on, one won’t hurt!’ try the postponement strategy, or say NO, or move away! Be gently assertive and stay true to your values and vision for your health!
10. Reward yourself! What would be a good non-food reward for you? Often a light at the end of a tunnel helps to keep us on track, whatever the challenge.
And finally, I love the saying: 'if you believe you can or you can't you are right'. Believe you can and you will!
Do any of the above work for you? Let me know as I'd be delighted to hear from you! For more information on my Joyful Eating Programmes, click here
Or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org