It’s very common for people to think that it’s their lack of willpower that is the reason that they are overweight or just can’t eat in a healthy way. Some research says that willpower is not enough. Nowhere is that more true than in losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.
We all know or have read about people that apply willpower to the task of losing weight with some success. It used to leave me feeling like the most undisciplined person in the world. It seemed so simple—eat less and exercise more.
Yet, there is so much more to having a healthy weight than the willpower required to eat less and exercise more.
The Willpower Catch-22
It’s a catch-22. You blame yourself because you don’t have any willpower. Yet, despite your best efforts you find yourself not losing the weight you want to lose or even worse you find yourself gaining weight.
I can remember feeling that it was hopeless to even think about losing weight. I didn’t feel like I was overeating but I still couldn’t budge any weight off for over eight years. I was resigned to being overweight forever.
Then a few years ago, I discovered that I could lose weight and I could do it without dieting or crazy exercise regimens.
If you are feeling hopeless, I want to share some hopeful news. It really is possible to eat in a way that not only makes you feel good; it can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Of course, there is no magic pill or a way of eating that lets you eat every single thing you want at any time you want. However, it is possible to eat in a new way and retrain your brain and your body to work together so you can eat well and NEVER feel deprived.
Diet as a Way to Lose Weight Versus Diet as a Way to Eat to be Healthy
I started this post with a reference to diet. When most people think of diet they think in terms of losing weight, as if that is the only reason to change the way you eat. But your diet and the food you choose affects so much more than what you weigh.
Your outside body is also a reflection of the health that is inside. I don’t for a minute believe that anyone needs to be thin to be healthy. Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes.
But when you look at healthy older people, you rarely see extremes. You see average size people. Not grossly over weight or over thin.
Many people still believe that to lose weight, it’s all a matter of willpower. Willpower only works in the short-term and modern foods are designed to override your willpower. You are fighting a losing battle if you are depending on willpower alone.
Willpower is a horrible way to lose weight!
Willpower only lasts so long and it’s probably the least effective way to lose weight. The statistics on losing weight are dismal. Most people end up gaining all the lost weight back within a year or too.
That’s because, if you’ve lost weight using willpower, you have to continue using willpower to keep the weight off.
There is a better way than that to lose weight and maintain your healthy weight.
5 Ways to Have a Healthy Weight that Don’t Rely on Willpower
Eat Real Food
I truly believe that a diet comprised of real food in quantities that are appropriate for our size, age, and activity makes the most sense.
What is real food?
The building blocks: proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.
The extras: grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Remove Foods that Create Cravings From Your Diet
It’s actually very simple. Yet, mentally it can be difficult to get your head wrapped around this. How does one live without bread, pasta, cookies, diet sodas, cereals, and all the other things we think are essential?
I was there once. I couldn’t imagine life without those things and tried to keep them as part of my diet. However, after being overweight for about eight years, I really wanted to do something different.
I did a Whole 30. I committed for 30 days to only eat meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats. Was it tough? YES!!!!
It changed my eating and ultimately changed my life. I completely retrained my mind and body relative to food and eating.
Before Whole 30, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I ate snacks between all my meals. I always felt hungry. No surprise that I was overweight and had no idea how to change that. I knew diets didn’t work because I had tried a few and I always ended up even BIGGER a few months after my diet ended.
Whole 30 did NOT lead to an initial weight loss. However, it gave me the mindset, structure, and knowledge to find a way for me to eventually lose weight and keep it off. I am into my third year of maintaining a 25-pound weight loss.
Eat More Fat
Sixty years ago, our country had a crisis. Men were dying of heart attacks at an unprecedented rate. It the effort to fight this, something really bad happened. Medicine, science, and the government decided for the first time in the history of humans, to recommend a diet for all people.
It advised things like eating only lean meats, not eating saturated fat, and removing things like eggs, butter, and cheese from our diets.
Most of you reading this will probably see nothing wrong with that recommendation since we have all grown up hearing that this is how we should eat.
The only problem is that is was wrong. No research ever showed that this way of eating would be helpful. Not only that, but much research showed that it was actually harmful. Look around. Obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease run rampant in our society.
In fact, no one is surprised by any of these conditions any more. We all accept that it is a part of aging. Except that it is not. It is a condition of a science experiment going horribly wrong.
One takeaway is that fat isn’t bad. Fat is one of the most important foods you need to eat to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Let that sink in.
Here’s the important caveat though. This applies to healthy fats: fat from meat that is of good quality, coconut oil, butter, eggs, olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Vegetable and seed oils (even canola) are bad and you should avoid them as much as possible.
So, instead of pasta have some squash with butter. Eat your salad with a delicious fatty dressing. Leave the skin on your chicken. Buy the higher fat ground meat. Add avocados and nuts to your meals. Eat whole eggs.
Avoid Foods that Create Cravings
One example is sugar and foods that act like sugar. It is documented that sugar is not just “bad” for us; it is literally killing us. It is very difficult to consume it in moderation because like many drugs, a little bit can create cravings for more.
I think by now we all realize that sugary foods are harmful. Most people think it’s just about weight. But sugar is inflammatory and causes all kinds of bad things. However, there are lots of other foods that act like sugar in the body. These include: pastas, breads, cereals, chips, tortillas, and artificial sweeteners.
Avoiding these foods is very helpful in keeping cravings minimized.
Don’t Eat Round the Clock
One of the problems with eating low fat and high carb foods is that despite trying to eat healthy, we are hungry all the time. It seems like you no sooner finish your bowl of cereal with skim milk in the morning, then you need a snack. Bring on the low fat yogurt or breakfast bar. This country has a huge snack food industry. We are addicted to eating all the time.
However, by eating snacks all the time, we never allow our body to properly metabolize our food. We don’t get the benefit of our body’s natural fat metabolizing system. Your body needs a break from eating so the digestion hormones can do their job.
The solution? Eat enough at your meals to get you to the next meal. The only way I know to do this is to eat enough real food with enough fat to satiate you and keep you from craving snacks.
How to Lose Weight When Willpower is Not Enough
I wanted to debunk the willpower method we all hope will work. Yes, there are a few people who do make it work. But for the majority, it only works in the short term.
More important is to learn how to feed your body in a way that fills it with nutrients and reduces or eliminates cravings. This is how you become comfortable with eating. Eating is a good thing that most of us has forgotten. Nowadays, we think of eating as something bad or risky. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
Eating is a natural function. It’s good for us and it’s enjoyable. You deserve to be able to eat AND enjoy it as well.
That’s what can happen if you learn to eat real food and break your addictions to modern processed food. If having a healthy weight isn’t enough of an incentive to do this, then also consider how having nice skin, and optimistic outlook, and plenty of energy could feel.
Our food consumption isn’t just about weight—it affects our whole self, including our moods.
Yes, some willpower is needed to break the addictions to harmful food. But if you can do that, then you have something more powerful than willpower to help you maintain your good habits for the rest of your life.
Keep eating the good stuff my friends!
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I'm a former counselor, career services leader, and college advisor. Now I coach and write at My Think Big Life promoting health and personal growth.
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