Using Your Willpower in a Healthy Way


People tend to think eating a healthy diet is all about willpower. When someone tells me they're having trouble cleaning up their diet because they "just don't have the willpower..." I want to yell "It's not your fault!" Every day we encounter thousands of opportunities that force us to use our willpower, and the truth is willpower stores are limited. By the end of the day, I know my personal rations of willpower have been used just getting out of bed at 6am when I want to sleep until 8, then putting on pantyhose when I'd rather wear sweats, then making a new pot of coffee in the break room when I just want to take the last cup and go back to my desk. By the end of the day, making a conscious choice to be healthy is really tough.
The good news is, the more we practice using our willpower, the more we seem to have. We can also find ways to conserve our willpower throughout the day so that those cookies won't be quite so tempting after a tough day.

The first piece of advice I can give is to focus your energy on creating a new habit instead of using your willpower to try to break an old habit. It's our everyday habits that have the greatest impact on our health. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to form a habit and an even longer time to break a bad one. So if you are in the habit of grabbing a snack every time you get home (which I do, because as I mentioned, my willpower is usually exhausted by 5 in the afternoon), you might be better off replacing your usual snack of cheesy popcorn or cookies with a healthy snack, like carrots and hummus, or a piece of fruit.


Another example might be to create a rule that you have to take a 15 minute walk in the evening before you watch your favorite TV show, or have your dessert. You're not cutting out screen time or sweet treats, but you're adding a healthy habit that will help you in the long term. Building little 'cheats' into your days can help you stick with your goals when you are faced with the choice to eat the donut or the celery sticks. If you know you have your favorite dessert to look forward to that evening after your walk, you'll find it easier to say no to the donut. It's also not a bad idea to pack yourself a little something that's more appealing than celery sticks- which brings me to my next point.

Do your best to control your environment. It's not always possible, but there are some basic guidelines we can all follow. If you keep unhealthy snacks in your home, you will have to use your willpower every time you see them, increasing the likelihood you'll to give in. Simply keeping fresh fruits and vegetables around the house instead of chips or crackers will save your willpower for times when you have less control, like in a meeting catered with bagels and muffins. This also means you'll have exert more effort to leave the house to curb that ice cream craving, which will greatly reduce your chances of indulging. When you're out of the house, pack your lunch, and plan ahead if you're going to a restaurant. Since most restaurants have online menus, you can easily decide before you get there what you will be eating, so you don't have to even look at the words "Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo" when you're ravenously hungry. Honestly, who can resist that?

Also, give yourself a break. If you've had a tough day and you find yourself with a bag of Doritos in front of the TV, take a deep breath and remember that you have control over the next decision you make. Will you choose to continue to binge and feel bad about your day? Or will you get up and do some yoga, relieving your stress and proving to yourself that you are in control, and you have much more willpower than you thought?

Good luck!


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