The American Psychological Association (APA) regularly conducts a survey asking participants about their success in making healthy lifestyle changes. Survey participants regularly cite lack of willpower as the No. 1 reason for not following through with such changes. Where did this concept of willpower develop? Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That irresistible apple, or in today’s world, that Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. Willpower is synonymous with self-control. If I can resist or practice self-control, I must be better than someone who gives in, right?  Wrong. In fact, much of what we think about willpower is just plain wrong and hinders our ability to live healthier lives. A lack of willpower is not the problem, it’s a lack of consistency that keeps us from achieving what we want. 

What is Willpower? 

Willpower is the ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals or objectives. Many people, despite there being no evidence, believe that we have a certain amount of willpower and when it gets dangerously low or depleted, that is when we give in to our temptations. They conveniently ignore the science that when you deprive your body of calories it needs, it becomes a biological imperative of fighting against blood sugar, not your will. Willpower will get attention because it’s like an epic battle in our minds, whereas consistency is boring and boring does not sell in the diet industry. Seeing self-discipline in terms of pure willpower fails because beating ourselves up for not trying hard enough simply doesn’t work.

Losing a consistent amount of weight over a longer time means what you’re doing IS working

A study published in the journal Obesity found that dieters whose weight fluctuated the most during the first few weeks of a two year long weight loss program were less likely to keep the pounds off long-term, compared to those who dropped a consistent number of pounds each week. It makes sense when you think about how when you go all in on a diet, with an all or nothing mindset, you might see a quick loss, but if you suffer a setback or gain back even a little weight, you are more likely to want to give up. Small behavioral shifts that leads to steady, albeit small weight loss, is easier to maintain than overly strict behavior necessary to drop pounds quickly.  

Consistently eating same things can help you lose weight

Apologies to the foodies and the “variety is the spice of life” folks but it’s just easier to lose weight when you eat the same foods consistently. The American Heart Association, in conjunction with Marcia C. de Oliveira Otto, PhD, lead author of the scientific statement published in the journal Circulation, argue that encouraging a variety of foods will inevitably lead to people eating healthy and unhealthy foods in sometimes equal measure. It’s easier to keep track of what you’re eating when it’s the same. Just ask anyone who has ever used a food tracker app on their phone. Consistently fixing the food yourself at home is key since you’ll better understand what went into the dish. Many restaurants don’t have calorie counts or nutritional information available and you might not know how much oil they used or that the serving size is really enough for two people. 

Consistently eat at the same times to stave off hunger

In terms of timing the all-important morning meal, a 2015 Obesity study found that consuming a high-protein breakfast between 6:00 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. was linked to a reduced risk of body fat gain and less hunger throughout the day, compared to those who waited to eat until after 10 a.m. Your body will take about 2-4 hours to digest your breakfast, so having a snack three hours post breakfast is about the time when your blood sugar will start to plummet. If you are truly hungry, have the pre lunch snack. Similarly, lunch should be eaten earlier and not after 3 pm.

Two recent studies support the argument that earlier lunches are more conducive to weight loss. It makes sense when you consider that by the time 3 pm rolls around you are famished and not likely to make healthy choices. Not to mention that you’ve now pushed your dinnertime to much later meaning you’ll either skip it completely and wake up starved the next day or eat late and disturb your sleep. A recent study from Harvard University suggests that, no matter how healthy you eat, if your mealtimes don’t jive with your circadian rhythms your blood sugar levels will increase more than normal—which can ramp up levels of the fat-storing hormone insulin.

We get it. Consistency seems so boring when we want quicker results on our health journey. It’s easier to say, “I don’t have enough willpower,” but doing so means we will keep fighting an internal battle where we won’t prevail. Consistency may not be exciting, but it is effective. That’s why we encourage patients to develop new healthier habits they will continue to do for life. Challenge the idea of willpower as being as outdated as “No pain no gain” and as shortsighted as a fad diet. 

Find Consistency With A Team Approach

At Healthful Life MD we have a psychologist who can help patients leave their “all or nothing” approach behind and develop the necessary mindset to create new healthy habits. In terms of what to eat and when, our experienced dietitian and nutritionist help you select the foods that work for your tastes and your schedule. To find out more about our programs, including Food, Feelings and Freeing Yourself, call 720 336-5681 or contact Dr. Abby Bleistein at dr.abby@healthfullifemd.com