Since the release of Roy Baumeister & John Tierney’s book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” I’ve had many people mention to me that they believe willpower is something that you “run out of” over time. Whether food choices seem tougher as the day progresses or after each diet attempt, or the longer we stare at the dessert menu on the table, the harder it is to opt out of dessert, it may appear that willpower dwindles down over time.
At Green Mountain at Fox Run we discuss how restriction, involving undereating or eliminating essential nutrients, can lead to overeating or bingeing. After the binge, a person could feel that they have a lack of willpower, but in an underfed or physically deprived state, it’s not about willpower at all. One definition I found for willpower was simply “energetic determination.” How could one be expected to exercise determination when energy depleted? Breaking a diet, overeating, or bingeing after restriction is not a lack of willpower, it’s a common response to putting the body in a physically uncomfortable and unsustainable position.
In fact, research points towards a correlation between low blood sugar and a loss of self control. This makes sense to me, that if you are not well fed, it would be very difficult to demonstrate “energetic determination.” In a well-fed state it’s easier to resist the temptation of food exposure or food thoughts. Long term food exposure, regardless of how well-fed we are is typically difficult to deal with, as demonstrated in the myriad of replications of Daniel Goleman’s 1960’s Marshmallow Test with children.
The next time you feel that your willpower is shot, reflect on whether or not you are well fed. Could that be the bigger issue?