Why You Have No Willpower (and what to do about it)

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A friend sent me a song to listen to yesterday, Jerry Garcia's live version of Dylan's "Going, Going, Gone." It's a beautiful 15 minute ballad performed in Garcia's distinct style. He opens with the usual song lyrics and after a few minutes he breaks into a bluesy jam that continues uninterrupted for 6 or 7 minutes. And for those minutes I was completely lost in the song and my thoughts went silent.

In retrospect those were the only minutes out of my day that my mind slowed down enough to rest, to be quiet and enjoy simply being. If my eyes aren't on my laptop screen, they're probably on my phone. And in case I don't have either of those I have my handy Apple watch on at all times so I never miss a beat. I'm plugged in even when I'm working out. My heart rate monitor talks to an app on my phone, my watch is tracking everything, tapping on my wrist every other minute, and I've got music streaming through my headphones. Talk about stimulus overload. 

But that's just the life we live, right?  At all times we've got something flashy trying to grab our attention. We're plugged in and connected. But what are we connected to? 

The mission of this blog and this brand is to disconnect you from the food industry and diet culture and to help you reconnect with YOU.  All of those distractions we encounter every day look to do one thing: to pull you away from your rational intuition and into whatever culture/way of life they're trying to sell you. The food industry and diet culture are absolutely no different. They profit from your vulnerability. They intentionally muddy the waters and create noisy confusion so you arrive at the conclusion that you need them to tell you what to eat. They tell you that eating right isn't simple or easy. If you want to be your best, healthiest self you have to play by their rules. 

Well I call BS. 

If you put it into the right perspective, the diet culture just doesn't make sense. The idea that eating well is a complicated endeavor that we may never get right is complete nonsense.  We, as human beings, carry out our lives in a miraculously intelligent body.  It does as the body does, working to maintain homeostasis and carry out the bodily processes that keep us alive. At no point does our body wonder what it needs to function optimally. If there is a deficiency, it knows. If there is a surplus, it knows. We have been disconnected from our intuitive common sense understanding of what to eat and have been corralled into being fad diet consumers. 

If you strip away everything that the food industry has brought into society, what are you left with? Real food, the original fuel that has sustained mankind for thousands of years. And what happens if you take away the mass of information that the diet culture has broadcast for the last seven decades? An intuitive, no-nonsense common sense approach to nutritional lifestyle. We wouldn't question when to eat, because our body would be well adapted at communicating its needs. We wouldn't wonder what to eat, because all of the external influences that have thrown us out of balance would be nonexistent. We wouldn't have a hard time knowing when to stop eating, because our food wouldn't be hyper-palatable and addictive. We would never look to someone else for a diet, because if it ain't broke... 

And what happens when you follow the rigid rules of a diet? You do well at first, but ultimately come to the point where your compliance is dependent on the strength of your willpower. Willpower has an expiration date and it's sooner than we'd all like. You're able to white-knuckle your way through the diet for a little while but eventually you will fail. And that's a fact - nearly 98% of all diets end with the dieter never reaching goal weight and gaining back (plus a few pounds) all the weight that they'd lost in the process.

It's such a demoralizing process. You start the diet with such high hopes only to end in disheartening frustration. You look at what happened, what went wrong, and inevitably you put all blame on the person in the mirror. I've seen it and experienced it time and time again.

"The [insert diet here] works! I just fell off the wagon..." 

"I'm starting over Monday - I cheated Thursday night and had ice cream and it turned into a four day food fest..."

"If only I had more willpower, it would have worked..."

Think about this: if the diet industry has a 98% failure rate, then why are you the one who is made to feel broken? 

You have no willpower but that does not mean you are broken.  It means you're a normal human being.  Willpower is defined as an energetic determination and no person alive has that resource in unlimited amounts. You weren't made to direct your life based off willpower, and if you're doing things correctly you won't need it in the first place. 

Willpower comes alongside a fear-based decision to live in restriction in some capacity. As I mentioned above, if you tune out the confusion of the diet culture and look to fill your plate 80-90% of the time with real, nutrient-dense fuel you won't need to implement forceful restriction. It may take some time but eventually your body will begin to reset.

Your body wants and craves nutrients, not necessarily calories. Your brain can be reprogrammed to seek the rewarding experience of indulging in over-sweet/fat/salty/starchy foods, but at your core you know that those things alone cannot sustain you. Your cells rely on vitamins and minerals to regulate metabolic processes. If you give your body what it really wants - nutrition first, calories second - you won't be dependent on willpower to guide your choices. You'll fall into your own natural rhythm and back in tune with the ebbs and flows of your life.  

But, yes, there is a catch. If you're like the other 99.99+% of people alive it will take a while to forget the disordered eating habits you've accumulated over the many, many years. And so we welcome self-discipline into our lives. 

Self-discipline is the correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement. Webster even includes the foundational motivation to act in self-discipline right in the definition: for the sake of improvement. 

Self-discipline is a decision you make in order to better yourself, even though you know you're choosing the uphill climb. Rethinking the way you approach your nutritional habits requires self-discipline. It requires it now, and it will require it ten years from now. But the amazing thing about self-discipline is that it's guided by your intuition, the intelligence within that knows when to bend before you break. 

There are times when the line between willpower and self-discipline will begin to blur. At that point stop and ask yourself, "what does all of me need in this moment?" 

Do you need nourishment? Or are you at a gathering with friends or family and need the fulfillment of celebration, which often involves indulgent food? Don't forget that food has two purposes: to fuel your body and to feed your soul. You need some of both in order to be truly healthy head-to-toe, inside and out. 

Here are my key points to consider when embracing self-discipline and saying goodbye to willpower:

  1. Assess yourself. What do your nutrition habits currently look like? Are you eating to fuel your body? Or are you eating to feed emotions or resolve stress? Do you have any intention behind your eating at all?

  2. Know that where you are today is simply a starting line. If you look at yourself in a negative light you won't make it very far. Remember, you aren't the broken one. 
  3. Be mindful of every bite. Don't eat while distracted or multi-tasking, chew slowly and stop at 80% full. This is a mental reset. 
  4. Fill your plate with goodness. Make a point of getting familiar with your kitchen, cook your own meals from real, nutritious foods. 
  5. Lookout for old habits, they'll creep back in. It is always inevitable for someone to want to just do a quick "3 day cleanse" or "one week of intermittent fasting" or "a round of whole-30 to get a jumpstart on things." Those are diet mindsets. If you are making your food choices based on the effects it will have on your weight or body composition, you are dieting. Choose food because it's fuel. Choose nutrition first. 

To choose to eat in a disciplined manner to support the one body and one life you've been given is the first step towards food and diet freedom. Tune out the flashy trends, see beyond product labeling and keep things simple: real food, mindful eating and self-discipline will break you free from needing willpower, for good.  


Grandma said, "Boy, go and follow your heart
And you'll be fine at the end of the line
All that's gold isn't meant to shine
Don't you and your one true love ever part"

Bob Dylan, 1974