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Willpower: Myth, Magic, or Crap?

Happy New Year to everyone!!

I know you have started working on those new year's resolutions. If you are here, reading my blog, one of those resolutions is probably losing weight.

I want to preface this blog post with a "good for you".

I want everyone to achieve their goals in life.

What I hope to do, is help with those unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves that often lead us to fail at our goals.

Most of us are trying to eat healthier and exercise more this new year. You may have started a new weight loss plan, a new weight loss medication, joined a gym, or all three.

Big changes can be daunting, overwhelming, and scary.

Knowing what we need to do and actually doing it, are two separate things.

The pressure that comes with major life changes can leave us feeling like we have failed when we do not live up to the plan.

These things DO NOT mean you are weak, have a lack of motivation, or no willpower.

They simply mean you are human.

I was at a medical conference in November and heard an awesome quote in regards to willpower and weight loss:

"It is not that our willpower is weak. The problem is, the opponent is much more powerful."

Willpower is defined as the control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. We are capable of controlling our actions and restraining our impulses. The caveat? We are capable some of the time but not all of the time.

That is because that "opponent" is many things. And, those things create obstacles to our goals.

We are in a constant state of conflict:

what we want to accomplish and intend to do


what our habits, coping mechanisms, biology, genetics, and environment dictate

We wake each morning with the intention to eat less calories, make healthier food choices, control our portion sizes, drink more water, and go to the gym.

Then, life happens...

You have a flat tire before work. Your child wakes with a fever and cough. You sleep through your alarm, rush out the door, and forget the healthy lunch you prepared.

Perhaps work is crazy and you have no time to stop and eat a healthy, balanced lunch so you grab whatever is available. It could also be, an unexpected crisis that keeps you at work late so your plans to hit the gym fly out the window.

Or, maybe you are just pooped at the end of the day and do not physically or mentally feel like exercising, cooking a healthy dinner, or losing weight.

That is just one "opponent" working against our willpower.

You can also factor in our bodies biological processes that we cannot control. Maybe you start your period and all you want to do is lay on a heating pad and eat chocolate.

It may be, you are a diabetic and your blood sugar bottoms out mid-morning so you end up eating more than you planned.

Perhaps that arthritis in your hip and knee flared up overnight and walking from your car to the office is painful enough. Going to the gym is just not in the forecast.

It is possible, you slept a total of three hours the night before due to that arthritis, your sick child, menstrual cramps, hot flashes, or stress that would not let your brain turn off.

Lack of sleep equals hunger. So, literally, not sleeping can ruin your best intentions.

This is the conundrum of weight loss. It is not as simple as eating less and exercising more.

It is a battle. And, we have many powerful opponents.

I know, I know. This sounds defeating and you may be thinking "why even try?"

But, the point I am trying to make is this:

Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You do not have to be perfect. In fact, you will not be perfect because no one is perfect.

You can, however, achieve your weight loss goals if you approach it knowing your opponents, having a plan, being strategic, and forgiving yourself:

  1. Start with small changes. You do not have to join the gym, clear out your pantry, and go cold turkey on sweet tea all in the same week. Take it one thing at a time. Once you have accomplished one intention, start another. Small changes repeated over time lead to lasting habits. To be cliché, Rome was not built in a day!

  2. Expect mishaps/slip-ups/relapses. There will be days you will not eat a healthy lunch, you will go over your calorie limit, or skip the gym. That's okay. In fact, studies have shown that making the effort at least 80% of the time will lead to achieving your goals.

  3. Focus on what you can control. Do not let that which you cannot control consume you. This leads to negative thoughts, self-doubt, and despair. And what do we do when those thoughts take over?

Willpower is not a myth. We all have the ability to make changes and accomplish goals. But, we must factor in all the barriers and roadblocks.

Willpower is not magic. Planning, preparing, making modifications, and allowing for imperfection are crucial to maintaining our willpower.

Most importantly, willpower is not the reason we succeed. Taking on weight loss from all sides is how we succeed.

  • This means addressing health conditions that may be stopping weight loss, causing weight gain, or slowing down our progress.

  • Modifying our environment to make our intentions easier to accomplish.

  • Talking to those around us about what we need from them in the form of support, assistance, and understanding.

  • Talking with your PCP, a Weight Management specialist, Health Coach, or personal trainer about your goals and how they may help. This may be a diet plan, an exercise plan, and/or medication.

  • Self-monitoring and mindfully changing old habits that have prevented us from being successful in the past.

  • Seeking help with emotional or psychological issues that may be effecting our eating patterns and relationships to food.

I believe in you!


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