Before going out to for Italian food with friends, Lisa thought she would order the baked chicken parmesan with a salad. Once at the restaurant, hungry and exhausted from an overwhelming workweek, she ordered the ooey gooey cheesy lasagna and ate it all. Then, Lisa woke up the next morning two pounds heavier and feeling shame and guilt wash over her. If you found yourself relying on willpower to make your healthy food choices you may have had a similar experience. This often comes from a diet mentality. It’s the thought pattern ‘as long as I can be good I will be able to [fill in the blank],’ that leads us to drain the willpower tank because we overthink every decision and default into old habits.
At the beginning of each day, most of us wake up feeling confident and determined “today’s the day, I’m going to be healthy!” As we go throughout the day making thousands of decisions and using our mental and physical energy, our tank may get depleted. That is when you find yourself craving something crunchy, salty or sweet around 3 PM (or if you’re like me it’s at 9 PM). Either way, we know willpower is not the solution to living a healthy Well-Balanced life.
3 steps to keep your willpower tank full
- Notice when you’re relying on willpower. Recognize that little voice in your head saying; no, I won’t eat the free bagels in the break room today. Yep, that is good old willpower going to work for you. There is some evidence that states, I won’t statements deplete our willpower more rapidly. First, notice when you are denying yourself something that your brain is craving. Kristen describes it as riding the crave wave. It is okay because most cravings pass.
- Replace ‘I won’t’ with ‘I want.’ Once you’ve noticed the I won’t, you can start to change your thoughts to include ‘I want [something better that will help me reach my goals].’ For instance, if your brain saying I won’t eat the leftover cake that someone brought to work, instead, I want my delicious egg muffins and fruit smoothie, because it gives me the energy I need to do my job. Or simply I want to eat Well-Balanced and I know those donuts will just lead me to a sugar crash and make me feel awful later.
- Create a new normal – aka automation. Research claims up to 95% of all we do is subconscious. Think about the last time you took a shower. Did you stop and think ‘Now I pour the soap. Now I wash my hair. Now I shave my legs…’ Unlikely! It just happens, right? Same goes for food. Our brains are designed to keep us alive, not help us reach our ultimate health and well-being. When the brain senses energy-dense foods, like cheese and French fries, it sends signals to keep eating in case you experience scarcity or famine. Setting up healthier habits, such as packing a sandwich with baby carrots and an orange for lunch instead of relying on whatever you can find near the office will eliminate the task of making another decision.
Food for thought:
Is a diet mentality holding you back? It is common – even socially acceptable and encouraged – to reward ourselves with a special treat. This behavior pattern may have started in childhood when our well-meaning teachers or caretakers would supply candy or snack foods for good behavior. On the road to Well Balanced, there is an important step in recognizing what habits are holding us back. We invite you to take the Diet Mentality Assessment to pinpoint where your downfalls might be sabotaging your health, weight, and wellness goals.