Ugh… where is my willpower? Why can’t I stick to my goal? Why can’t I just say no to the cake/chocolate/icecream/chips? What is wrong with me?!
Nothing girlfriend, nothing is wrong with you.
What is wrong is that we’ve been led to believe that willpower is the answer (spoiler alert: willpower research was wrong it turns out). Oh, and we’ve been led to believe that being smaller is the answer to everything (feeling unhappy in a relationship? just go on a diet, feeling annoyed about your lack of career progress? just go on a diet), but that’s a discussion for another day. Back to willpower… or our lack thereof.
Willpower is basically saying no to stuff, according to psychologists.
But we’ve been led to believe that the willpower version of ‘no’ is some mythical, powerful, muscle that we can grow and develop and our ‘no’ will become more powerful and permanent. Ooh so exciting, the potential is endless! I could be anything and do anything if I just had that mythical willpower right?!
Psychologists did studies years ago, that showed people’s ‘willpower’ would wear out if they used it too much, that we needed to practice using it more to build our willpower muscle. Only it turns out that research was a bit flawed. Okay a lot flawed.
In the last couple of years psychologists have been trying to reproduce those willpower studies and they can’t. They can not get the same results. Which means they can’t draw the same conclusions. Which means – what we’ve thought we know about willpower for decades, is actually, probably, very likely, wrong.
Some researchers are arguing that willpower is more like an emotion than a muscle: like the emotion of happiness, willpower is either there or it’s not, you can’t force it to happen, just like you can’t force yourself to be happy.
Trying to fight food desires and cravings with ‘willpower’, to fight your thoughts, your emotions, is more likely to get you stuck and overwhelmed, explain willpower researchers. Just like sitting there feeling unhappy and telling yourself to “be happy damn it!” That’s not going to fix anything. It’s probably going to make you grumpier if the truth be told.
Other researchers question whether ‘willpower’ even exists – it’s really just a term that’s been tagged onto certain actions, when we see people achieving something they said they wanted to do we say they have ‘willpower’. But do they? Maybe they just really wanted to do it.
So what does this mean if we want to eat healthy?
You can’t force yourself to eat a way that you truly, deeply don’t want to eat. Sure you can do it for a while, but eventually you’ll become overwhelmed, annoyed, and suffocate under cravings for the foods you really want to eat, then you inevitably give in to your cravings and the whole restriction-cravings cycle goes around and around, leaving you feeling like a failure (when in fact you were just acting like a normal human, go figure).
Those who have jumped off the diet wagon, and chosen to eat intuitively will tell you this truth – when you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, you find that many of the foods you used to crave suddenly become less desirable. Now that you can eat chocolate, ice-cream, cookies, and cream any day you want, you don’t need to load up in secret in the evening. You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want.
I have clients who craved bread – they gave themselves permission to eat it, cut loose for a couple of days and then said, “errr… it’s not that exciting actually.”
I have clients who craved chocolate, and used to hide their choccie biscuits from themselves to stop eating too many – then they gave themselves permission to eat them, and now they have half-full packets languishing in the back of their pantry as the desire to scoff them at first sight is gone.
We’re so used to thinking that it’s normal to ‘control’ our food intake and food choices. But it’s not. It’s just not. Food freedom is the path to Happy + Healthy Eating.
So say goodbye to the mythical unicorn that is willpower today. And instead say hello to discovering what foods you enjoy and which foods nourish your body – you are the author of your own healthy eating style and that can include cake for breakfast if you want it to.