#73: Women, Willpower & What To Do About It

Women, Willpower & What To Do About It

Willpower is the thing I consistently hear women say they need more of. But if you’re focusing on using willpower to restrict certain foods, you’re bound to run yourself in circles of guilt and shame. This episode talks about what to do instead, and how to change the conversation around food and cravings.

You’ll hear about:

  • How our bodies respond to blood sugar imbalance
  • Why it’s smart to center your meals around protein and fat (and fewer carbs)
  • What happens when we stop treating food as “forbidden”
  • How listening to your body helps you recognize what you really need, on a deeper level

Mentioned in this episode:

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Is there a food that you just can’t stop eating once you start?

In my early 20’s, Wheat Thins were like that for me. Remember Wheat Thins? They’re crunchy and salty and just a touch sweet. I used to eat them by the family-size box.

Even though I believed they were healthy, I knew that a whole family-size box of crackers was Way. Too. Much.

But I couldn’t stop. I figured I just didn’t have the willpower.

Women constantly tell me that they need more willpower. But it’s not as important as you think. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Do you need more willpower?

It’s hard to stick to a lifestyle that other people think is weird. My grocery cart is full of green things that most people don’t even recognize. I have to tell the cashier what all that produce is: “That’s radicchio. That’s endive. These are collard greens.”

My clients’ spouses laugh at them for making a change, like going gluten free, even when it’s the right thing to do. (Case in point, Hashimoto’s disease.)

And you know the general attitude towards someone who packs a salad for lunch while everyone else orders pizza!

It makes you feel like an outsider to be that person.

So how do you prioritize health in this unhealthy world, and stick to it? It’s not all about willpower! Here are three things that work for my clients – and one of them is EXACTLY what I used to stop binging on Wheat Thins back in the day.

Prioritize protein & fat to keep cravings at bay

It’s challenging to rely on willpower to avoid sugary snacks when your blood sugar is all over the place. If you want fewer food cravings, you need balanced blood sugar.

If you ever get that hangry feeling between meals, or if you tend to get shaky or spacey and need to carry a granola bar in your purse, that’s your blood sugar talking.

When your blood sugar drops too low, you’re going to reach for the nearest snack you can get your hands on, healthy or not. It’s really important for your body to maintain its blood sugar level, so it will send strong messages to eat when you’re out of balance. Willpower is no match for that.

To balance your blood sugar and fix this problem, start centering your meals and snacks around protein and fat, and ease off the carbohydrates.

Protein and fat are long-lasting fuel for the body, keeping your blood sugar steady over extended periods of time. Carbohydrates burn off quickly and cause a spike and fall in blood sugar (but you do need carbs in moderation, so don’t cut them out entirely!) 

If you want more details, I talked about this in depth back in Episode #23, Keeping Steady in an Unsteady World.

Forbidden foods lead to overeating

When a food (or anything else) is forbidden, we just want more of it. That’s human nature.

I often tell my clients: if you want a cupcake, eat a cupcake. But also think about what you REALLY need in that moment. Are you tired and need energy? Are you bored and need a thrill? Are you lonely? Sad? Anxious?

I truly don’t care about the cupcake. It’s way more important to figure out the larger need that you’re trying to meet. Food can be wonderful, but it’s not the same as a hug from your loved one when you’re sad or a big belly laugh with your besties when you’re lonely. 

Back in my Wheat Thins days, I finally came to a realization: I had to STOP telling myself to STOP eating Wheat Thins. I told myself to go ahead and eat them. Forbidden no more.

Yes, I ate a lot of Wheat Thins that day. So many that I started to lose my taste for them. Soon, they just weren’t that interesting anymore.

In retrospect, I was pretty darn lonely then. Those Wheat Thins were keeping me company. Once I got a job with more people my age and had more fun things to do after work, I don’t think I ever bought Wheat Thins again.

So don’t put certain foods off limits. Take away the taboo. Then ask yourself…what am I REALLY craving? 

Once you can start to meet your actual needs, the overeating tends to resolve itself.

Notice how you actually feel

The final key to living a healthy lifestyle without relying on willpower is to feel the difference in your body.

Most of us don’t pay enough attention to our bodies. We throw down the coffees and bagels and aspirin and red wine, but we never notice how it really makes us feel.

If you knew something you were eating made you tired, bloated and irritable, would you want to put it in your body? Probably not! And definitely not every day.

But you’ll never know unless you make a change and feel the difference in your body, mind, and emotions.

I had a client who was super skeptical about making changes. But she also was experiencing all sorts of autoimmune-related pain. She agreed to experiment for a few weeks and BOOM. The pain went away.

She went back to her old way of eating and, guess what? The pain returned. That was all she needed. Once she could feel it literally in her bones, she had no problem sticking to the foods that kept her feeling good. It was a no-brainer.

Caring for yourself on a deeper level is key to letting go of overeating and food cravings

By balancing your blood sugar, taking away restrictions, understanding your true needs, and paying attention to your body, you can stop trying to muscle through food cravings and start making healthier choices – willpower not required.