On average, I talk to about 30-40 people every week who are working on reaching their health goals using food and nutrition. Sure, we talk about food and calories and all that fun dietitian-stuff; but more often than not, the issue is not what or how to eat. Google yourself a nutrition question and you’ll get everything from solid evidence-based advice to some crazy woo-promoting ideas. Information on what or how to eat is everywhere.
The issue is putting that knowledge into practice. The issue is in the decision at 3:00 pm when your tummy rumbles and you frown at the bag of cucumbers and hummus you have packed for your snack and start thinking about that vending machine down the hall. The issue is in that coffee meeting when you really want that mocha frap with extra whip instead of a plain iced coffee. The issue is in having to work late and now it is 7pm and you feel like you’ve earned those drive-through fries even though you’ve got an already prepped dinner waiting on you at home.
How do you make the more healthful choice when you don’t want to?
You tell yourself – and you tell me – that you just have to make yourself do it.
Oh no. Do not rely on being able to MAKE yourself do something if you really want to success. It is ridiculous to use willpower for food choices.
Think about it. You see an amazing new whatever in the store and you want it. You rely on will power to walk by and then you’re done, you leave the store and it’s no longer easy to get that whatever. Now imagine that whatever is yummy food in your pantry and that store is your living room. You don’t get the benefit of leaving and having the decision be behind you. You have to make the decision to ignore that yummy food about, oh, every 60 seconds. I don’t think that many people could do that – okay, maybe for one night – but for every minute of every night? No way!
We know some things about willpower that can help us. Here is what the evidence reflects:
- Willpower is limited. You only get so much and then it’s gone.
- Willpower is used up over the day. We chip away at willpower with stress, emotions, and all those little decisions we make until there is none left to keep you away from that yummy food in the pantry by the end of the day.
- Willpower resets every night – great news! This is why you can wake up every morning and tell yourself: Self, today is THE day that I make it happen!
My advice is don’t set yourself up to have to rely on willpower. Instead do whatever you have to do to make the healthy choice the easier choice.
- Modify your environment so you see the healthy choices more regularly
- Plan and prepare for meals/snacks
- Carry snacks with you when away from home
- Have a plan for the gas station stop or a drive through or that day-long meeting
- Plan any tempting situations for morning when you have the most willpower. Need to catch up with a friend? How about a breakfast date instead of happy hour?
- Use mornings to plan, shop, exercise – do whatever it is that is the hardest thing for you in the mornings!
Just to be sure though, practice saying no to temptations and people just in case you have to draw on some of that limited willpower. My hope for you is that you don’t resort to “I just have to do it” and rely on willpower because then it’s a crap-shoot.
How will you change your environment or social situations so you can be successful without relying on will power?
Image from: http://pandawhale.com/post/44157/decisions-exhaust-our-willpower-we-each-have-one-reservoir-of-will-and-discipline-and-it-gets-progressively-depleted-by-active-choices