So you’ve decided to start eating healthily and exercising. You want to lose a few pounds, tone up, have more energy and feel better about yourself. And this time it will be different…. if only you can maintain enough willpower to stick with it. Sound familiar?
Willpower isn’t a muscle that needs to be exercised; it’s a state of mind affected by our environment. So if we focus on changing our environment then we’ll change our willpower.
Joanne Henson, author of ‘What’s your excuse for not eating healthily?’ and ‘What’s your excuse for not getting fit?’ offers seven tips to help you beat a lack of willpower and achieve your health and fitness goals:
1) You only need willpower during times of temptation. If you’re not being tempted, then you don’t need willpower. So consider how you can remove temptation from any environments which you can control. Start with your own home and your office space. For example, if you don’t want to find yourself eating a whole packet of chocolate biscuits at your desk, buy individually wrapped ones, one at a time. Then it doesn’t matter if you feel you have no willpower – you won’t need it, there’ll be nothing to tempt you.
2) Be aware that many salty and sugary foods are purposely formulated to be moreish. The problem isn’t you, it’s the food. So ditch the guilt, but ditch these foods too. Know that you are never going to be able to flex that imaginary mental muscle enough to eat them in moderation, so keep them for a very occasional treat.
3) If you do eat a sugary or high carbohydrate snack or meal, don’t be surprised if shortly afterwards your energy levels slump and your mind turns to food. Those cravings aren’t a lack of mental muscle but a physical condition. So try to avoid meals and snacks which are mainly carbohydrate and choose foods which have a good proportion of protein and good fats; these will give you a more prolonged, steady supply of energy and most importantly no extreme blood sugar peaks and troughs.
4) If you’re trying to stick to an exercise regime, make it as pleasant as possible for yourself. Invest in some well-fitting kit in appealing colours - you’ll enjoy wearing it and you’ll feel so much better about yourself when you’re exercising. If you like to listen to music make sure you’ve got your most uplifting music on your iPod when exercising.
Exercise does not have to be painful, boring or unpleasant. So if you don’t like running - don’t go running. When you find something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore, and you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
5) Make sure you fully commit to your plans. Remove the word ‘try’ from “I’m going to try to go to the gym three times this week”. Tell others what you intend to do - it’s always easier to let yourself down than it is to let others down.
6) Surround yourself with supportive and positive people. If your friends are constantly trying to tempt you to eat what they know you don’t want to eat, then you’re going to struggle. Ask for their support and if they are good friends they should be happy to give it.
7) Finally, understand that healthy living does not have to be 100% perfect. Aim for 80-90% healthy, and don’t beat yourself up for the occasional treat. If you’re eating a bar of your favourite chocolate with a side order of guilt, you won’t enjoy it, and what’s the point of that? Savour it instead, embrace the pleasure it’s giving you, and know that it’s not the end of your healthy intentions – pleasure is a nutrient too.
So the next time you’re feeling guilty about having no willpower, give yourself a break. Expend that energy on developing a different approach instead. Remove the temptations, make exercise as enjoyable as possible, and commit fully to your plans. Add supportive friends and the occasional guilt-free treat to that mix and you have a recipe for success which doesn’t involve an imaginary mental muscle.