Can you improve your willpower to lose weight?
Yes you can!
This blog post comes with a caveat: I can tell you how to improve your willpower and I’m going to give you strategies that will help. But I don’t believe this is the best long-term strategy for managing your cravings! That said, it can help significantly when you’re just getting started and need some wins to get you going, so if you feel like you need a plan to start, then definitely keep reading.
(If you’re ready to dive deeper for big results, then I’ve made something just for you. You can check it out here.)
What is willpower?
Willpower is essentially delaying instant gratification for long-term gains.
It’s about resisting temptation because we have bigger goals for ourself.
That could be: not eating the cookie because we’re determined to start losing weight.
It could be getting up at 6am to go to the gym because we know it will make us feel great for the rest of the day, even though it’s raining outside and the bed is just so cosy right now…
The thing about willpower is that it’s in limited supply.
Why do I run out of willpower?
Imagine you have a mental energy bank account: every day it gets topped up with 100 credits. That’s all the Credit you have to spend – there’s no overdraft, no facility to borrow. Every decision you make costs you some Credit – and that’s EVERY decision.
Do I drive forward now, or wait for a bigger gap in the traffic?
Should I have chocolate sprinkles on my skinny mocha?
What time do I need to leave to pick the kids up?
Every day, you’re wasting Credit repeatedly making the same decisions over and over when you try not to think about or eat certain foods.
By the end of the day, your Credit account is running low. You stop caring so much about your long term goals and desires, because right now, you have nothing left to pay your way out of “trouble”. So you make decisions that you go against your healthy eating plan. You do what feels easy and good in the here and now, even if it means letting yourself down by sabotaging all your effort so far.
Eventually we always burn out the Credit balance and fall back into our unwanted, destructive habits. Because of this, there are definitely much better long term strategies for managing cravings than using willpower – but if you want to learn how to make those Credits go further so you can get the best value from your mental energy account, then here’s how you do it.
How can I improve my willpower to lose weight?
1. Make decisions the night before: and stick to them:
Planning ahead is powerful because it switches on our logical brain: the part that we have to back up with our Credits. When we decide ahead of time WHAT we’re going to do, and decide that the following day we just need to carry out the plan, it takes a lot less willpower actually follow through.
Make the hard decisions and make a promise to yourself to carry them out as planned, no matter what. Planning what you’ll eat the following day can be SO effective for weight loss for exactly this reason: because if I ask you what you’re eating tomorrow that would be helpful for you to lose weight, you’re never going to plan a giant binge or a night at the all-you-can-eat buffet, right?
You’ll plan sensibly: a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can plan in treats too, just decide it all the night before. Then all you need to do is carry out the plan. It takes away all the stress, overwhelm and wasting energy with: “do I eat one or two of these? Should I eat this or that… because I thought this but that looks SO good, even though I know it’s so sugary…”
2. Use an "if/then" framework
One of the big reasons most people sabotage their healthy eating is because they have lots of old, unhelpful food habits hanging around. These habits are what you’re spending your energy and “Credit” deciding against doing.
Habit says: “There’s a cupcake. I should eat it.”
Logical mind says: “I’m not hungry and eating it isn’t going to help me lose weight.”
It takes willpower to lean into that logic and decide not to fall back on that unhelpful habit.
Creating ‘if/then’ responses also involves planning ahead of time, but it’s more of a trigger-response system that helps us create new, helpful habits to replace the old ones. You think up a habit you want to change, and what would be a better thing to do instead. (eg. “I’d like to drink less soda and more water.”) Plan an if/then framework around that, and decide to stick to it.
“IF I want a soda, THEN I drink a large glass of water first, and see if I still want the soda after.”
3. Think about something other than food
This sounds pretty obvious, but I know from my own experience and from speaking to other women that a lot of us spend more time thinking about food than we care to admit. Worst of all, when we’re telling ourselves NOT to think about food, it’s literally impossible for us to focus anywhere else.
When you tell yourself “Just don’t think about chocolate [cake, junk food, whatever you want to avoid]”, you immediately conjure up an image of that thing. It’s just how our brains work – they have to think about the thing to imagine not thinking about it. And then your focus is on the chocolate you’re trying so hard not to think about. Whatever you do… chocolate.
And so you start making the decisions over and over “I will stop thinking about chocolate.” (But you won’t. You can’t! So long, Credit!).
What else can you focus on? Pick out a positive that works for you: it could be anything! If you’re not sure, try writing affirmations that focus your attention on your goal in a positive way. Imagine how your life will be different when you achieve the weight loss you’re working towards. Hone in on something that won’t draw your attention to the things you want to avoid and you’ll find your willpower is massively improved!
4. Hide temptation
This is DEFINITELY not a good long-term strategy, but it will help in the short term and studies show that it goes a long way to reducing how much we eat.
Having tempting foods in your line of sight can leave you some 70% more likely to keep reaching for them: so having things left out on counters or on display when you open kitchen cupboards can make it hard to keep resisting. Either don’t have triggering foods in the house, or make sure they’re hidden somewhere you’d have to go looking for them.
This can be a very effective way to make things feel easier in the beginning, and when you’ve worked on your habits and come up with better ways to cope, you can definitely move things back to where you want them.
5. Reduce Stress
Stress hormones have a huge impact on our food cravings and on our self-control: so managing stress in your life is one of the most effective ways to support your weight loss goals.
If you want to increase willpower and aren’t sure how to reduce stress, you could start with something as simple as a technology detox.
And don’t forget about reducing stress on your body! A really simple but effective way to improve willpower is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You’ll have more energy, so won’t feel the same level of craving for sugar or caffeine that you do when you’re tired. It helps you balance hormones and means you’re more able to control your emotions: which in turn makes reaching for food a much less tempting proposition.
Willpower isn’t most effective thing you can do to help you control cravings or lose weight, but it’s one step you can take.
If you’re done self sabotaging and ready to make real change for big results, then you’re going to want to keep reading. I have a new FREE challenge starting on Monday 18th November – Stop Self Sabotaging, Start Losing Weight, and in just 5 days you’ll find out exactly how to: