A guest post by Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.
I was introduced to this doctor through her upcoming new release that I will be publishing a review on later this month. Her approach to food and the addictive qualities of it is eye opening. I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager. I think with the information I have learned, there will be a huge change in my life…
I invite you to read this interesting and informative article!
The Truth About Willpower, Weight Loss and Food
Have you ever been told by a well-meaning friend, trying to psych you up when yet another diet attempt has failed, “You just need to have more willpower.” We think of willpower as an aspect of our moral character, something some of us just mysteriously “lack.” That we could accomplish everything we want in our lives if we could just mobilize, rally, raise, and summon it. And If we fail, then shame on us.
But willpower isn’t what you think it is, and doesn’t work how you think it works.
The Truth About Willpower, Weight Loss and Food
Willpower is a simple brain function. And it’s not merely a mental faculty that resists temptation—it also governs other things, like the ability to focus. It monitors our task performance, regulates our emotions, and, most important, helps us make choices.
The seat of willpower in the brain is the anterior cingulate cortex. The anterior cingulate cortex sits right behind the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of rational decision-making in the brain.
The entire brain runs on glucose, but the anterior cingulate cortex is especially sensitive to glucose fluctuations. When brain glucose levels drop, activity in this area slows to a crawl. The cruelest trick of nature is simply this: after we’ve been working for a few hours, or at the end of a long day when blood sugar levels are at their lowest, our brains abandon us and leave us incapable of making a wise choice about what to eat.
Moreover, each day we spend a lot of time and energy resisting the temptation, specifically, to eat. And resisting temptation actually depletes willpower. There are all sorts of temptations we resist round the clock, like the temptation to eat, sleep, kick back and relax, or even check Facebook. But food is everywhere, and caving to its temptation is socially acceptable (unlike walking out of work to catch a movie, losing our temper with our kids, browsing Facebook during a meeting or having sex with our cubicle-mate).
That’s why weight loss plans must absolutely assume you have no willpower at all—because at any given moment you may not. They have to include mechanisms for taking the burden off willpower.
Don’t leave yourself to make food decisions in the moment when you’re tired, hungry or overwhelmed. Decide in advance what you will eat each day and when, so you won’t be making food choices at times of day when your willpower is depleted.
Eating regular meals
When regular meals become part of the scaffolding of your life, it takes the burden off of willpower. A schedule of eating three meals a day at regular mealtimes—breakfast, lunch, and dinner — not only helps eating the right things become automatic, but also passing up the wrong things in between.
It’s not a question of if you should take one of the doughnut holes being passed around the bleachers, if you’re not at your dining table you don’t eat. Within a few months you will change your brain cues so that it will actually feel weird to eat in the wrong context, like taking off your clothes at the dentist, you don’t need to do it and you just wouldn’t.
Stress and the emotional regulation that go along with it taxes your willpower. So wherever possible, modify or avoid the things that tap your resources. Where it can’t be avoided just bringing awareness that an upcoming situation is going to deplete you — such as a PTA meeting, quarterly employee review, or taking your kids to an amusement park — can prevent you from falling into the Willpower Gap.
Getting enough sleep
Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. Sleep is a powerful willpower replenisher.
Practicing an attitude of gratitude
Research shows that something as simple as expressing gratitude will replenish willpower. Gratitude also helps shift the focus from what you want, or crave, to what you have.
But most-importantly, the next time someone suggests you need more willpower, explain to them we all have about the same amount. What you need is a diet that doesn’t care how much willpower you have.
About the Author:
Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people live Happy, Thin, and Free.
She is the author of Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free (Hay House, March 21, 2017). Look for my review on the 21st about this impressive and eye opening book!