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Weight Loss and Willpower

Posted on July 13, 2016 at 11:14 AM by Lia Bahls, RD

How many times have you congratulated yourself for avoiding the brownie sitting on the table, or for running the extra mile during your workout? You had the willpower to say “no” and to keep moving forward, right? So on those days that you do eat the brownie and you stay in your pajamas instead of going out for a run, has your willpower failed? Do you beat yourself up on those days and feel guilty for indulging in dessert or for resting a day? Is willpower really the issue?


In today’s society it is not uncommon to hear that obesity is due to a lack of willpower in regards to food and exercise. A large amount of the general population assumes that being overweight is only because that individual was unable to walk away from the brownie or didn’t care to get out and go for a run.  Whatever the case may be, there is a stigma about obesity, which needs to be eliminated. Willpower plays a small role in the overall achievement of long-term weight loss.


The truth is, while we want to believe that we have free will over our body (which, to a point we do), there are other factors at work internally and externally that lead to over-consumption.


The enzymes in our bodies are continuously working to maintain optimal health. This includes making sure that the body receives enough fuel from food and is able to conserve some of that fuel for later use when food may not be available. This process can become impaired in individuals who have dieted for a majority of their life. Having cycles of overeating and deprivation can lead to the body being placed in a confused state and storing food whenever possible to prepare for the next cycle of deprivation. This generally leads to increased caloric intake and eventually to increased weight gain. Food, especially sugar, has an effect on the pleasure centers of our brains similar to that of drugs and alcohol. Think of that happy feeling you get immediately after eating a cookie, or even a slice of garlic bread. While understanding how the body works to maintain a certain weight, it is still important to know that weight loss can happen and be maintained through healthy changes.


To start, lasting weight loss will not happen overnight. It will not be easy in the beginning and it will require an openness to change unhealthy habits. This being said, it does include enjoying your foods and it does not require elimination of all foods thought to be unhealthy. There are some items that you may be asked to eliminate on a regular basis such as soda and candy, but this does not mean you may never have these items. To think that if you aren’t “perfect” (insert your own definition here), that you have failed and that you have no willpower is only going to be detrimental to your weight loss. You will have setbacks. It is human nature to not be perfect. Being open to the fact that you may eat a brownie and letting yourself enjoy that indulgence and then moving forward is allowing yourself to have a lifestyle that you can maintain. One brownie will not impact your overall health, however feelings of guilt and remorse towards eating that one brownie, which will typically lead to eating more than one, can impact your health. Self-punishment is never going to lead to a lasting and healthy change. 


Commit to yourself. The decision to be healthy is the first step. From there, address the concerns you have and find small changes that you can make. Changing everything all at once is overwhelming, change one small thing first, whether it is drinking more water or decreasing your soda intake. Once that becomes easy, add in something else. Eventually these changes will become habits. Just as you have unhealthy habits, you can create healthy ones. Find what works for you. Maybe that is a food journal; maybe it is writing out your goals; maybe it is finding an exercise partner. Whatever works for you, do it.  If you feel like you’ve hit a plateau or don’t know where to start, contact us and we can help guide you. You deserve to feel cared for and you deserve to live a healthy life.

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