Why Willpower Will NOT Work For Long-Term Weight Loss

dieting willpower

Why Willpower Will NOT Work For Long-Term Weight Loss

Willpower might get your diet started, but it won’t get you long-term weight loss results. Before you know what happened your willpower gets replaced by cravings.


Do you give yourself pep talks?

“Come on, you can do this. It’s only food, no problem”.

Pep talks are the launching pad for many diet attempts.

And this strategy works…for a few days.

Typical pep talks are then followed by an empowering moment that involves throwing away all of the cookies, chocolate, and boxes of ice cream in your house.

For those first few days, you are focused like a laser beam.

You eat nothing but the good foods that nourished your body and turn your nose up at any food that’s not on your plan.

Willpower is your ticket out of the overweight prison that you are living in.

This time long-term weight loss is mine!

Willpower works, until…

Then there’s a glitch.

You get stuck at work and miss your chance to run to Subway for a turkey sandwich with no mayo.

At first, you tell yourself that this is fine and that it might actually work out to your advantage.

After all, no lunch means fewer calories.

But, by the time you leave work at 5, you’re starving.

The salad with slices of broiled chicken that is waiting for you at home does not sound appetizing or satisfying.

Your brain starts to quiz you. “Would a burger really be that bad, if you ordered it without cheese?”

You decide to swing into the fast-food drive-thru and order one junior burger and a diet coke.

You eat it in your car and tell yourself that you’ll still have your salad with chicken when you get home.

But, as soon as you walk in the door, you see a plate of cookies that your husband brought home from his office.

You tell yourself you’ll start fresh tomorrow as you devour five of the cookies and a half bag of chips.

The thing that kills willpower’s control of long-term weight loss

Let me ask you a question.

Where do you think this diet went kaput?

Was it in the drive-thru lane?

Was it with the first bite of a cookie?

Was it when the thoughts of cheating were allowed to take hold?

Was it the missed lunch?

We can make an argument that the combination of these issues created a perfect storm, but if we have to pinpoint the first nail in the coffin, science would point to the missed lunch.


Because low blood sugar lowers your willpower

Your brain depends on blood sugar (a.k.a. glucose) for energy.

When you skip meals or dramatically lower your food intake, your blood sugar level drops, which in turn lowers your ability to resist the impulse to pick out all of the tootsie rolls from the office candy dish.

According to Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist at Stanford University, there are many scientific theories that attempt to explain why temptation increases as blood sugar decreases. She states:

One common explanation: the brain needs high levels of energy (i.e., glucose) to exert self-control. When blood sugar runs low, the brain can’t (or won’t) spend the energy to override impulses.

Another theory has its roots in evolutionary psychology: when your blood sugar drops, your brain shifts into survival mode. It instinctively pushes you to consume more energy (increasing food cravings).

On the flip side, we see that restoring blood glucose levels improves self-control.

This explains why everyone decides to diet after the holidays.

Think about it for a moment.

When is your desire to go on a diet highest?

Is it after a hectic day, when you didn’t eat much or is it on Thanksgiving evening after stuffing yourself with turkey and pumpkin pie?

When you overeat you restore your blood glucose level. This improves self-control and makes you want to give dieting another shot.

Of course, gaining the willpower to diet by overeating seems like a poor strategy for long-term weight loss.

The better option is to prevent your blood sugar level from dropping and therefore avoiding the willpower pit of doom.

How to steady your blood sugar and stick to your diet for long-term weight loss

1. Choose slow-digesting carbohydrates

Foods that contain carbohydrates provide a direct source of blood sugar. But, not all carbs are created equal.

Choose These: Some, like non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains digest slowly because of their high fiber and nutrient content. Eat these at every meal and they will slowly break down providing an even, steady and long-lasting lift in blood sugar.

Avoid These: Others, like candy, cookies, and white bread digest quickly because their fiber and nutrients have been removed. Avoid these carbs as they will spike your blood sugar (this feels good), then send it crashing down (this feels bad).

2. Plan ahead for long-lasting results

Our dieter from the beginning of this post encountered an unexpected problem when she was forced to skip lunch.

This is called life.

If you are committed to losing weight, then you need to take a few minutes to plan for the unexpected.

  • Each night, think about your schedule for the next day.

-Do you have a meeting that could make it hard to fit in your meal? Five minutes of thought can save you five hundred empty calories.

  • Pack your lunch, so you have it with you. That way it is there when you are ready.
  • Fill a small baggy with an ounce of almonds and keep it in your purse or desk.

-I don’t recommend eating nuts as a regular snack because they are too easy to overeat. However, they are convenient to store as an emergency snack.

-Just make sure you portion them first. One ounce of almonds is equal to about 20 to 24 whole nuts. An ounce contains about 160 calories and six grams of protein.

These tips will keep your blood sugar level high enough to ward off temptation and cravings, but successful long-term weight loss is not just about the right foods, it is also about the right mindset.

For more on how your thoughts and mindset affect what you eat read The Worst Thought To Have While On A Diet

Limiting thoughts, and the negative feelings that come with them, are a much bigger threat to your long-term weight loss success than properly following your eating rules.

You might also like to read:

-Why Comfort Foods Feel So Good (Hint: S.O.S.)

-Why You Eat Foods You Know Are Bad For You-And How To Stop

Did you find this post helpful in achieving long-term weight loss? If so, share it by clicking the Facebook Like button below. Thanks!

About the Author

Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.

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