Willpower is Bullshit
Updated: Jul 20
Think about every diet you’ve tried. Most have the same start. You are amazingly strict with yourself for weeks on end. You were perfect about not eating any sugar or treats or typical foods you tend to overeat (your trigger foods), or you are having them, but in small amounts and are tracking all of your calories etc.
You have been calorie cutting and/or treat cutting and have been killing it at the gym consistently. It's the weekend and you are headed out to dinner, and you decide to treat your self and decide to have an amazing cheat meal or day full of hyper palatable foods.
You have a stressful moment or day and decide to reach for that trigger food.
You are headed to a birthday or special occasion and you have been so good, so you are going to treat yourself with the food/drink or drug of choice.
You deserve it right?
The first thing most of us do at this point, is celebrate the fuck out of how good it tastes.
“OMG This is so good, I missed you "insert trigger food or drink". Oh how I’ve missed you” You almost moan over the flavor explosion in your mouth and then feel that immediate shift in your brain of almost euphoria. Before you know it that small amount you "counted" turns into a little binge fest.
You just trained your brain to reach for that food again to get that same amount of pleasure. You hit those fun feel good centers of the brain with the hyper palatable foods and the celebration of it helps reinforce reaching for it again and again.
So next time something in life happens or you try and restrict for too long and restrict too much, your brain wants that feeling of happy again, and is like a drug pusher telling you to just do it. You can only muscle through it for so long before your brain training wins.
This has NOTHING to do to with your willpower. It has to do with how you are training your brain.
What if there was a group of food that were good for you and provided the same brain happies that you could reach for instead?
I’ve included two charts from Simplify Self Care by MO (https://www.simplifyselfcare.com/) of foods that are not only good for your body, but also provide those same happy receptors as the junk foods we normally gravitate towards.
The Key is to this is reframing your thoughts around the “Good Mood Foods” every time you eat them. Before you know it instead of auto-pilot reaching for that bag of chips or cookies, you will instead reach for one of these.
Celebrate these things like you would junk foods. It seems silly almost too simple, but I promise it works.
Tell yourself OMG this is so good, tastes so good etc. Just like you would when a toddler goes on the potty. Celebrate the heck out of the better food choice for your body. Remind yourself why you are eating it and enjoy and savor it the same way you would a trigger food.
You are re-wiring YOUR response to foods that help your body vs. hurt it. You are creating a positive loop and association to the foods that nourish your body while also providing your brain with a happy hit.
The opposite is true for creating a negative loop to the foods that are your triggers.
To re-wire and reframe your brain to not eat the junk food, do the exact opposite.
When you have a piece of cake at a party or you cave and give into a junk food reach, create that negative loop. Remind yourself why that food is a trigger for you and how it hurts your body.
Is it keeping you further from your goal?
Is your skin or digestion going to be impacted?
Is it going to make you tired?
Is it going to let your weight start creeping back up again?
Is it going to cause an auto-immune flair?
Is it going to make your joints ache?
Is it going to impact your sleep or mood?
Whatever the thing that trigger food usually does, remind your brain when you have it. It helps break the cycle of reaching for it every time your brain needs a happy hit.
This takes time and patience and was NEVER about your willpower, but instead kept you stuck in a cycle of reaching for foods that harm your body instead of nourish it.
This is not about never having a treat again. This is why everything in moderation doesn't work for most people. We generally aren't honest with ourselves about our own "moderation" and can't afford to have or pay someone else to hold us accountable forever. That is also a short term solution similar to a dieting.
Everything in moderation is a slippery slope for most people and allows trigger foods to sneak back in slowly and more frequently. That one treat once a week may turn into a few times a week, then to a small daily one, and before you know it you are back to eating all the trigger foods while the good intention healthy ones you bought are rotting in your veggie drawer.
Teaching your brain to work with you and for you is key to sustainability and breaking the diet cycle. This is how you break up with trigger foods and habits for good.
Have a treat at special occasions, but re-training your brain will prevent that spiral yo-yo again of reaching for the treats as medicine when our brains need some help.
Layering the simple things like this has the largest impact to not only your body and health, but they are sustainable habits that you can build on slowly and effectively.
These are lifelong habits!