Your co-worker’s desk is always stocked with a tempting candy bowl. You breeze past it barely noticing. You feel proud. You weren’t tempted at all.
You move back and forth all day. Each time you see the candy, you deny yourself your favorite treat. With each pass, your mouth waters more and more.
By 4 PM, you can’t resist. You reach for a handful of chocolate and shove it in your pocket. You take another to eat on the way back to your desk.
Soon, you get a hot, prickly feeling on your neck. You want to crawl into a hole. Your willpower failed. You failed.
You promise yourself that tomorrow you will be stronger. Your resolve will be better tomorrow.
Willpower Failed You
Diet culture tells you that you just need to rely on willpower (and a few diet food products) to lose weight.
Willpower doesn’t work.
I know. Surprising, isn’t it? You hear every day that willpower is the secret to changing our habits, our bodies, and our weight. But it just isn’t true.
Let’s take a look at what willpower actually is.
Diet Culture and Willpower
The idea behind willpower is that you can control your habits if you want it bad enough. If you can be strict enough with yourself, you can bend your behavior to your will. You can be unstoppable if your willpower is strong enough. Anything you can imagine can be yours!
Willpower is the strength you need to make your goals happen. It is the force that will keep you on track long term.
At least, that’s what diet culture says.
Diet culture has co-opted willpower. It uses the word willpower to make you believe that, yes, you can make your body a smaller size than is natural. Yes, you can stop eating sugar. You can stop craving any “bad” food. All you have to do is set your mind to it. You just have to try hard enough, want it, and be “good” enough.
But if you don’t meet your goals? Diet culture says it is your fault. Your willpower isn’t strong enough.
Didn’t make the larger size body you’ve had since middle school into a small size? You have no willpower to lose weight. Strengthen your willpower and try again.
Stopped eating all sugar but got derailed by a birthday party? You have no willpower with food.
Unfortunately, we’ve all been there. We set goals that are unachievable trusting that our willpower will see us through.
But it always fails. And what happens next?
You feel terrible because willpower has been marketed as something that gives you control over your body. You see before and after pictures. You see “willpower” working for others. Shame creeps in. You failed where others have succeeded. Your willpower simply wasn’t strong enough.
Lack of Willpower Is Not Your Fault
Listen up. Willpower is not what you’ve been told. There’s no such thing as dieting willpower.
It is not going to help you radically change your body, your eating habits, or your life.
Willpower is a limited resource.
Think back to the story at the start of the post. Early in the day, you could avoid the chocolate’s temptation. Your willpower was working.
But as the day wore on, you got stressed. You got tired of fighting. Your willpower was all used up.
And that is normal.
Losing your willpower isn’t a sign of a personal failing. It happens to everyone.
What You Can Use Willpower To Accomplish
- Temporary and infrequent avoidance
You are in line at the grocery store. You see your favorite candy. Even though you may want it initially, you tell yourself you will skip it this time. You checkout without thinking about the candy again.
This works because you aren’t in the grocery checkout often. And you aren’t there for a very long time. So willpower can work here. You don’t see the candy repeatedly. You don’t have to use willpower over and over. It is one and done.
2. Things that are already easy for you
Willpower works best when the thing you want to achieve isn’t hard.
It’s a late dinner. You throw fries and chicken nuggets in the oven. You are so tired. But you know you want to eat more vegetables at dinner. You use your willpower to get a frozen steam bag veg from the freezer and throw it in the microwave.
Willpower works here because your goal is easy. You made it easy by having steamable frozen vegetables in your freezer.
What if you didn’t have any vegetables at home? Do you think your willpower would be enough to get you to the grocery store?
What Willpower Isn’t Good For
- Dieting and losing weight
Dieting and losing weight takes a long time. It is impossibly hard. Why? Your body will always fight you. It doesn’t want to lose weight. It doesn’t want to have less than adequate nutrition.
Willpower to lose weight will never work long-term.
2. Controlling your body size
This one fails the test on infrequent and easy. Your body has a natural size and weight based on your body structure and your set point. Willpower is going to fail whenever it is going up against your body keeping you alive.
3. Avoiding foods
Diet culture loves to tell you that you just need the willpower to avoid “bad” foods. But your body has cravings. Sometimes they are for things you need, sometimes for things you want.
People love to avoid sugar. Even though there is no real reason to do so. But, the truth is, your body loves sugar.
Your brain, your muscles want to use sugar to keep you thinking and moving.
Your body is not going to let willpower win out on this one either.
Want to know a secret?
It’s Okay That Willpower Fails
Strictly controlling your food and body with willpower isn’t a good thing.
Why is this so important to understand?
It can take the pressure off. When you understand that it isn’t that you have no dieting willpower, but that willpower doesn’t work, you can free yourself. You don’t feel tied to diet culture. You stop feeling that your weight, your body size, your meals are things ss that are wrong and need to be fixed.
If Willpower Doesn’t Work, What Does?
I want to challenge you here.
Think about what you are wanting to change and why?
Because some things you won’t be able to change with any method. For example, making your body smaller than it wants to be. There isn’t a healthy way to do that.
But if you want to make changes that don’t go against your natural human behavior, there is a way to do it, be successful, and not rely on willpower.
This is what I show women how to do through one on one coaching. But be on the lookout for a blog post giving an overview.
Your Lack of Willpower Isn’t The Problem
Diet culture is the problem. It tells you that you need to be different. You don’t.
Think back to our story from the start of the post.
What if you had a few pieces of candy without feeling terrible after? You now know that you didn’t fail because you ate some candy. Thankfully, you no longer feel “bad” or guilty. You are aware of how willpower doesn’t really work. And you know it is okay to have some candy if you want it.