Monday, January 4, 2010

Diet Success Tips: It's NOT About Willpower

By Amy Phillips-Gary

It's difficult not to notice the countless ads for various diet plans and products lately.

Of course, this is to be expected. Shedding pounds is, by far, one of the most popular resolutions that people here in the U.S. set for themselves after the December holidays.

As you might have experienced, after intending that this is the year we will drop a clothing size or two, people often become distracted, overwhelmed, disenchanted, or frustrated in some way and our bathroom scales seem to indicate that we've failed to meet our weight loss goals...again.

I'm right there with the masses who struggle with diet and weight loss. I've set countless goals for myself regarding what I eat, how much and when in an effort to create the body size and shape and I desire.

And I'm right there with the masses who feel like we've failed when it doesn't happen.

Sometimes, when I've slid back into my usual eating habits (the ones that I deem to be unhealthy), I feel as if I have little or no willpower. When it comes to chocolate and sweets in particular, it can appear to me that I am simply unable to say “no.”

Saying “no” is what dieting seems to be all about, doesn't it?

It's actually NOT about willpower.
When I look at the areas of my life in which I feel more successful in reaching goals and creating what I want, I can see that willpower and the ability to say “no” are not necessarily the keys.

In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the findings of various scientific studies about willpower that support this assertion.

Neuroscientists are discovering that the area of the brain that is associated with things like willpower, short-term memory, focus and abstract problem-solving can become overloaded more easily than one would assume.

When faced with too many tasks, this part of the brain can only handle just so much.

This is why, according to the article, our resolve to go home from work and eat a big healthy salad for dinner flies out the window when we are tired and have had a particularly challenging day. Pizza is ordered and, pretty soon, we are sitting there feeling fat and bad because we've eaten more of a food that we were trying to avoid.

When it comes to eating healthier and losing weight, I am coming to believe that the emphasis needs to be on making conscious and affirmative decisions about food, the body and exercise.

“Yes” needs to be said to the activities, behaviors and thoughts that will support us in the changes we want to make.

Instead of saying “no” all of the time to those “junk” foods, find ways to create more space and openness within yourself to the new foods you're willing to try and the potentially new eating habits you're wanting to adopt.

Create a plan that you can stick to.
The research findings discussed in the Wall Street Journal article, also show that when the brain is focused and intentions are clear and manageable, tasks (including behavior changes) can be easily followed through with.

Keep this in mind as you choose a program or product to help you lose weight.

Check out what's available to you. If the program or product sounds like it would be a good fit for your life and intentions, give it a try.

You might not want to pay money for a program or product, but you'd still like to shed pounds. If so, there is a vast variety of free resources at your library, on the internet and even in the examples of your friends and family members.

Whatever kind of weight loss plan that you create and choose, make sure that you feel hopeful, eager and even excited about it.

How does it feel when you consider doing what the resource is asking you to do? How does it feel when you actually eat these different foods or in a different way?

If your plan feels overwhelming or unrealistic, perhaps that's your signal to step it back a bit or look for another approach.

It can be very healthy to challenge yourself-- especially when it comes to habits that are not serving your overall well being. But challenging yourself doesn't mean you feel overwhelmed or doomed to eventually fail at the outset.

Again, pay close attention to what has supported success for you in other areas of your life. Apply those supports to this new and, perhaps, trickier issue.

Visualize what you want as you make changes.
I urge you to also pay close attention to what you are thinking about and envisioning for yourself and your future.

Whether you decide to keep a food diary, count calories, weigh your portions or whatever actions relative to eating that you choose, keep visualizing what you ultimately want along the way.

Take time every day to visualize yourself happy, healthy, fulfilled and walking around in the body size that you desire. See yourself enjoying the act of eating and exercising.

Above all, expand your acceptance yourself the way that you are right now. Coming to peace with what is-- and even appreciating it-- can powerfully carry you through to the changes you want.


  1. Coming to peace with what is--that's so true. If you feel good about where you are at, even as it is not where you want to end up, then you are far likelier to succeed at reaching your goal. Encouraging words. Thanks!

  2. I think, too, that eating the thing that you want is important; just not as much of it. Simple, but not easy.

  3. I totally agree with that Karen-- something I'm striving for myself.