Why your lack of willpower isn’t the problem.

Intuitive Eating doesn’t require willpower.

I know this sounds counter to everything you’ve learned from diet culture.

Dieting is about following the rules, the list of good/bad foods, avoiding the bread and cookies. It’s based on deprivation and avoidance. At some point, life happens and you end up eating the bread (and most of the time too much of it), You can only white knuckle it for so long. You’ve got willpower, but it takes effort and control! When you let go and give in to the bread, you lose your sense of willpower.

One of the many reasons diets fail you, is that they are hard to stay on for a long time. They become unsustainable. It takes too much effort to exert willpower over our bodies. No wonder diet’s don’t work.

A lot of clients will tell me that they wish they had more “willpower.” If they had more willpower, they think would be able to stick to their diets better.

Let’s be real here. Diet’s do work in the short term. Many diets have seductive promises like, “Lose 10 lbs. in 10 days,”, or “6 weeks to flat abs”. This is very tempting. And you think to yourself “Ok, I just need to have willpower for 10 days (or 6 weeks) and that’s it…I’ll reach my goal, the diet and the misery will be over.” We can use our willpower to follow a 10 day or 6 week diet. Seems easy enough. Just avoid bread for 6 weeks. Resist temptation. You have willpower and it’s working. BUT, we can only resist our favorite foods for so long. At some point, willpower erodes, life happens, emotions get triggered, and the intensity of the craving takes over.

What happens after the diet is over? For most of us it’s, bring-on-the-bread … we cave into the cravings of the restricted foods.

Most of the time, this starts out with just one serving, but quickly spirals into more. For some, this might mean a binge. Feeling out of control, feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness. You feel like a failure and negative self-talk and body shame thoughts are loud.

You tell yourself, “If I could just have more willpower.”

The definition of willpower seems innocent but let’s scrutinize it further. Definition of willpower: the ability to controls one’s actions, emotions and urges.

There are times in life where we need to use our willpower. Think about a road trip where you really have to pee and the next rest stop isn’t for another 10 miles. It makes sense to control your urges so you don’t have an accident.

We get into trouble when we try to use our willpower to control our urges with food. Our bodies need to eat a certain amount of calories, carbs, proteins, etc. every day. These are mechanisms that are hard wired for our survival. Our brains preferred energy source is glucose which comes from carbohydrates. If you F with this system and try to use willpower to tell your body how much and what it needs to eat, all hell breaks loose. Your body will fight back eventually.

You don’t need more willpower.

Willpower is not the problem. Dieting causes a disconnect from the wisdom of your body. Diets suppress our natural biological cues by telling you what, when, and how to eat. These external rules undermine trust with your body. Your body is not designed to go on diets. It’s not designed to resist eating when hungry or to avoid bread or carbs.

When your body is deprived of key nutrients (carbs), it increases cravings for those very foods. Your body is just trying to get your attention for survival and optimal functioning. And, your body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and starvation.

Once the diet is over and the restriction lifts, the out-of-control eating ensues. It’s a vicious restrict-binge cycle.

Diet culture will tell you that you need to try another diet and try harder- you need more willpower!

The problem isn’t you and your lack of willpower, the problem is dieting!

So go ahead and throw in the towel. It’s time to ditch dieting! Yay! You can now use willpower for other things instead of trying to control your appetite and hungers.

I know that letting go of dieting isn’t the easiest thing to do. But, keep in mind the pain of the dieting cycle and be willing to try something new. Intuitive eating will help you to break out of this miserable cycle.

The good news is that intuitive eating does not require willpower!

Intuitive eating entails re-learning to listen and trust your body. It’s a practice of moving away from external control and shifting the awareness back into your body (internal control). Your body is desperately trying to restore trust with you too! It wants you to listen and honor its signals. It loves to eat when hungry (not too hungry) and loves to stop at comfortable (not too full). Intuitive eating is a practice that will set you free from the stress and exhaustion of dieting.

Willpower isn’t needed with intuitive eating because you honor and trust the internal mechanisms in your body that drive how much, when, and what you eat. There is no need to rebel against the strict rules of dieting and some external plan that your body really doesn’t want to follow.

Once you give yourself full and unconditional permission to eat WHATEVER you really want, the control around eating becomes your own again. You regain that sense of feeling out of control around food. Willpower is a thing of the past and only needed on long road trips when you don’t want to pee your pants!

Become aware of your thoughts and the diet mentality.

The diet mentality uses willpower. If you find yourself still thinking, “I need more willpower to resist a food or situation.” Gently call yourself out and label this, “diet thinking.” Don’t be hard on yourself. The diet mentality take a long time to dismantle.

The more you can gently call yourself out on these thoughts, and remind yourself that you don’t need willpower with intuitive eating, you will start to notice that the diet mentality will lose its grip and begin to fade.

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t have a problem with willpower, dieting itself is the problem.
  • Dieting makes your body go into starvation mode and will intensify cravings for survival. 
  • Begin to listen and honor your hunger/ fullness cues instead of using willpower to ignore them. 
  • Intuitive eating teaches you to restore trust with your body and to ditch diets for good!

P.S. If you want to get started to become a more mindful and intuitive eater – check out my free guide here: https://www.mindful-nutrition.com/


Much love,

Karen Louise

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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