I know what I have to change. I want it to change. I just… don’t do it.
Is this a willpower issue?
We are taught that if we have enough willpower, everything is possible, so if we face failure often, it must be something wrong with us, and our willpower. People who are often on diets know this very well. When the day starts, willpower is strong and motivation is high. But soon, some troubles occur and your day turns into something you didn’t want.
Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist known for his work on willpower, self-control and self-esteem explains that we have only one source for the willpower during the day, no matter for what reason we use it - for controlling thoughts, feelings, cravings, impulses, or task performance. And this is not only about self-control; it is about making any decision, small or big ones, initiatives and taking an action. If we know how many situations happen during just a normal day, that we will have to make a choice, or resist a temptation, then it is obvious how quickly we can spend all the internal resources we have.
But still, some people use their willpower successfully. Why are they different? These people are more successful at work, school, and have better relationships. They are less prone to stress, more stable, healthier, happier, they even live longer. What is their secret? A common conclusion is that they use their willpower often; but the truth is actually the opposite. People who have strong self-control don’t use willpower frequently and when they do use it, they use it to make good habits and break bad ones. This is the best way to save a huge amount of willpower for the really important things. Another reason for their success is that they expose themselves to fewer temptations.
This story is related to nutrition in two different ways.
Many people think that the reason why they don’t succeed in diets is a lack of willpower. If we know that we use the same source for self-control for every challenge, it is easy to capitulate to the tasty donut at the end of the day, or find ourselves deep in the fridge in the middle of the night. Instead of feeling guilty, a much better option is to change your strategy –making new, better habits and taking baby-steps. The good thing about habits is that we don’t need much energy for them once the habits are made, but they need small, persistent efforts to create them. The result can be that you will no longer need a diet, when you learn how to eat well.
Interestingly enough, there is a very strong relation between glucose levels in the bloodstream and self-control. Many studies showed that after exerting self-control, there is less glucose in the blood. If people are temporary depleted in willpower, it recovers after a dose of glucose. Of course, it doesn’t mean if we crave sugar that our willpower is screaming for help, so we have to hurry up to assist it with a big bowl of ice cream. Actually, it is one more reason to keep blood glucose levels stable, and our daily food choices can help.
If you are the one who struggles with diet and willpower, maybe it’s time for a new a strategy. Don’t blame yourself, but start with small, positive changes in a daily routine. Celebrate every success, no matter how tiny it can be. In the long run, it will make all the difference.