Willpower and Dieting

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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?

3 Responses (Add Yours)

  • I no longer believe in willpower. I think Christie Inge says it best, “There is no need for willpower when you are in alignment with who you are, your true value & your true beliefs. That is it. Because being your awesome self is enough. There is no need to fight against & control your truest desires. Your happiest & healthiest life comes when you are in sync with your divine nature & honor who you are.”

  • Robyn says:

    Great quote; I love it!

  • What an excellent post! Personally, I adhere to the following fitness philosopy:
    > I limit my fastfood eating.
    > I lessen my softdrinks/soda intake.
    > I moderate my alcohol drinking. (I say moderate, not totally stop. It’s not good to deprive one’s self, don’t you think?) ;)
    > I make sure I have a healthy dose of fiber in my diet to get rid of bodily toxins regularly.
    > I consciously make an effort to exercise.
    If it worked for me, I hope it will also help many people in their road to healthy living! Cheers!

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