Do you find yourself repeating the same mistakes over and over again with your diet and eating habits? Do you beat yourself up for being a failure and not having enough willpower to stick with your goals?
Why did you eat that entire bag of chips again!!! You told yourself after last night’s chocolate binge that you were going to be good today! What’s wrong with you? Why is your willpower so weak? Why are you such a loser?
Well, getting to your goals is not always about willpower. The truth is, you probably don’t have enough willpower to get the job done. No matter how hard you try, how strong-willed you pride yourself on being, how practiced you are at being strict with yourself, you will eventually run out. You don’t get an infinite supply. So, you have to choose your battles wisely and look to other tricks to help keep your goals in line – like your environment.
There’s a reason you’ve heard the tip to remove all the junk food from the house when you are dieting. This works by simply getting rid of the temptation. Then, you don’t have to walk past that chocolate bar sitting on the counter on your way through the kitchen and waste precious willpower telling yourself “no” 20 times a day. It might seem easy at first to resist it, but at the end of a long day where you’ve already spent a lot of your willpower on other decisions (I shouldn’t buy that dress until my next paycheck comes in. I should just get a regular coffee instead of the one that tastes like a milkshake. I should really study instead of scrolling mindlessly through Instagram on my break. I shouldn't eat those donuts left out in the break room.), you’re not going to have much left over to prevent you from tearing into that delicious, creamy, chocolaty sweetness.
But, if the chocolate bar is not there in the first place, you don’t have that constant depletion of your willpower throughout the day. And, you don’t have the temptation there at your weakest moments when you are likely to give in. Sounds like a simple solution, right? Guess what...it is. But, you have to actually do it for it to work.
I still try to tell myself that I can resist the treats in my house when I’m in the Clean Eating Phase of my Fat Loss Game Plan - I’m strong. I’m well-practiced at this. I want these goals so badly that I can totally resist the temptations. But, inevitably I either make myself miserable trying to squeeze out every last ounce of willpower to avoid cheating…or I give in, eat the treat, and then torture myself with guilt afterwards. It just takes one episode like this for me to learn my lesson and get the junk out of my house for the rest of my cutting phase.
The truth is, your cravings for junk food and treats don’t just come from conscious thoughts and desires. Your cravings are influenced by a whole slew of unconscious things:
"You see, deeper brain physiology drives what, when, and how much we eat — along with its co-pilots of hormones, fatty acids, amino acids, glucose, and body fat. For the most part, our conscious selves just come along for the ride." By Brian St. Pierre (Precision Nutrition)
If this is the case, why just rely on willpower alone to control your cravings? It’s not a sign of weakness if you end up giving in…it’s a sign that your willpower is outnumbered by all the other factors convincing you to eat that treat. So, instead of fighting the battle with willpower alone, you have to use other tricks to overcome the temptations.
Fixing your environment works with other things in life, too. For example, there’s a reason I always wear my hair up. I have a habit of twirling my hair uncontrollably. It’s an anxiety relief thing that I’ve been doing since I was a little girl. (Don’t judge me, I’m weird😉). I haven’t been able to control the habit yet, but I can control the environment. So, what do I do? Eliminate the temptation by tying my hair up all the time. Done. Problem solved. Now I don’t have to waste willpower trying to stop something that is super comforting, pleasurable, and familiar.
The same thing applies to food. When you know that you have to go through a week or two avoiding the foods that really bring you comfort and pleasure in order to get to your body goals, just get rid of the temptation. Create an environment conducive to reaching your goals. Then, you won’t have to burn your willpower out making the decision to not eat that delicious morsel of food every time you walk past it. Save your willpower for other situations during your day…chances are, you’ll need it.
Photo credit: Steve Vaccariello