The Skinny – Amy Brunell

cropped-no-willpower-logoWillpower: Control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain
one’s own impulses
Control: The power to restrain something
Restrain: Prevent someone from displaying or giving way to
Determination: Firmness of purpose; resoluteness
Tenacity: The quality of being very determined
Intention: The thing intended; to aim or plan
Deliberateness: done consciously and intentionally

I hate the word Willpower. So often people use it to shame others by saying, “Just have willpower!” I hate it because in my experience, people use the word Willpower as an explanation for their choices regarding food and negative triggers. Everyone I know has willpower regarding something. Otherwise who would even get out of bed? Pay their bills? Go to work?

But in the world of weight, “willpower” is wielded around as a confirmation of never being enough. The other day, I had a member who, after losing weight said to me, “I’m only doing the program 90%. If I did the program 100%, I’d lose faster!” I responded, “Perhaps, but could you sustain a weight loss program 100% for a lifetime?” And what does 100% mean to her? I can guarantee that my 100% means something very different than her 100%. Does anyone do anything at 100% all the time? Is your willpower the problem? Is it your control? Or is it something else?

Any of you could be on a radical diet and have willpower for a short period of time. I could give all of you measured smoothies for a month and you’d all lose weight. However at the end of the month, when you started eating normally, you would all gain ALL THE WEIGHT back. Would that be a question of willpower? No. Because after having smoothies all month, your body is going to grab every calorie it can and keep it.

Plus and maybe even more egregious is that willpower with regards to weight is the most ignorant word in the Weight Loss dictionary. (There isn’t a dictionary yet, I just made that up!) Cornell University professor, Brian Wansink* has written 2 books about how environment impacts behavior. He has proven in his food labs that we are cued to eat. We are cued by smell, sounds, lighting and even where we are seated at a restaurant. And that’s only a small list of cues. Memories, mood and hormonal states add to the highly complicated world of impulses when it comes to food choices.

Numerous studies have shown people with food triggers when put into an MRI scan. light up in the EXACT SAME PLACES in the brain as cocaine addicts. And WE HAVE TO EAT! It’s not like other addictions, other cues, where you can avoid alcohol, cigarettes and the environments that have those triggers.

And somehow the willpower argument is a reductive device to one’s history of why they gained weight in the first place. Many people with weight issues used food to survive their life at a difficult or even perilous time. I started the process of sneak eating in my pre-teen years. I thought even then, if I got a couple of bites of something sweet, I could survive my family craziness. Well that’s a powerful neuro-pathway wiring! When life gets crazy, I crave sweets. I don’t always give into the craving, but I’ve spent years relentlessly managing that impulse. It’s exhausting.

Being human is a practice. Living healthy, is a practice. And in the practice of anything, I don’t expect 100%. Instead I expect myself to be in the on-goingness of my practice. My deliberateness is to never give up on my practice. My intention holds that my practice has immense long-term value, like meditation; After years, I see on-going results.

Because I’m in the practice of health, like meditation, it never leaves me. If I don’t do it every day, I miss some days, it is still there for me to pick up and return to at any moment. And likewise, with my weight program, I can always plan a good meal, make a new recipe, take a walk, write some of my feelings down. My willpower wanes because being actively perfect about my weight 100% is impossible frankly. It isn’t a process like brushing and flossing. Those are two actions that take less than 5 minutes.

With health, there are many, many components and I must say “no” to as many things as I say “yes” to. There are constant conversations I must have with myself to ensure that I’m taking care of myself. Do you need rest? Is this really hunger? Will this craving pass? Do you have to go to the market to get food? What will you eat? Are there people involved? Have you moved enough today? What does the FitBit say? Are you okay with only 7000 steps and not 10,000? Do your clothes fit today? How are your allergies? How is your energy? Do you need something?

None of you have an issue with willpower. You have issues with caring for yourselves, having clarity with your needs, getting added support, having more passion in your lives, getting enough rest and perhaps finding some small amount of non-food related joy. But you are enough. If you keep telling yourself you aren’t, well…You seem to have enough willpower to keep that message going? Huh?
*Brian Wansink
Mindless Eating
Slim by Design

The Actors' Gang

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