The Science Of Dieting Willpower
If you feel like your life has been following the same script and nothing works out, and you can’t seem to lose weight? You might be lacking something called “self-control.”
Self-control and willpower are two components of your psyche that are in constant dialogue.
Oftentimes, we blame ourselves for not doing the things that have to be done to achieve our goals, especially when it comes to weight loss and diet.
For instance, that ice cream you ate last night, contrary to your weight loss goal, felt natural and temptatious…
Or maybe, you got as far as buying a gym membership, but you only attended once for a half-assed workout.
If the answer is “Yes,” then you’re in to learn something new in this article.
Let’s talk about willpower.
The Biology Of Willpower
Willpower and its development is without a doubt a hot topic for many people, which is why you can probably find a lot of people talking about it online.
But really, to fundamentally change how your willpower functions, you have to understand how it works on a physiological level.
If we trace the human history, we can find that willpower & self-control are instincts formed throughout our evolution.
For instance, when humans were more primal, you had to know somehow that you should stay away from other humans’ things, or otherwise, you might get hit in the head.
This is exactly how, in time, the prefrontal cortex has developed – This is the section of the brain responsible for self-control.The thing is, this part of your brain uses up quite a lot of energy, and when you’re tired, underfed, or under-recovered, it suffers the most.
This means that you are practically off your leash in terms of self-control if those conditions are present.
And the problem is that nowadays, we are exposed to such conditions EASILY, leading to more and more people finding less and less motivation and willpower to do the right things for themselves.
Stress vs. Willpower and Self Control
If you know a thing or two about stress, you’d be aware that the body has the so-called “stress response.”
This self-protection response arose back when our ancestors were living in the wild, where predators were behind every tree.
The stress response is also known as the “fight or flight” response and is characterized by an increased heart rate, alertness, lowered immune function & high cortisol and adrenaline levels. (1)
The same response gets triggered in animals, such as when a gazelle gets attacked by a cheetah.
Contrary to the fight or flight response, the instinct of willpower kicks off another response, called the “pause and plan” response. (2)
This is basically the moment of rationalization when you’re responding to an internal conflict.
So, you see, with the stress response, you respond to a threat in the environment…
But with willpower, you realize you are your own threat.
If you trigger the pause and plan response, you will be able to induce self-control and develop more sustainable, healthier habits, and overall, make the right choices in any situation.
It’s All In The Heart
Your heart rate variability (HRV) is one of the most important variables that can speak about your internal response and whether it’s a stress or self-regulation response.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is basically the variance of time between the separate beats of your heart.
When under stress, the heart rate goes up, and the variations decrease, pushing the heart to work closer to its maximum capacity.
In turn, this triggers the feelings of fear or anger relevant to the fight or flight stress response.
Oppositely, when you successfully trigger the pause and plan response, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over to induce a relaxation signal.
This makes the heart rate come down while the HRV increases, and this, therefore, creates the feeling of calmness, present alertness, and focus.
You see, willpower, self-control, or however you like to call it, is not just about one component of your brain, such as the prefrontal cortex.
The moments of self-regulation and willpower are the end product of the work of a countless number of intricately connected neurons and systems in the body.
But we can certainly look at two specific organs that seem to govern most physical and mental responses.
Those are namely the heart and the brain.
Studies find that the heart has its own “mini-brain,” which is basically a bunch of brain neuron-like cells. (3)
This means that the heart can do almost everything the brain does, independent of the brain.
And then again, these two organs are intimately connected through the neural network, constantly governing each other’s work.
Isn’t It All Autonomous, Though?
When we talk about biology, most of the processes in the body are automatic.
You don’t consciously digest, control your blood pressure, heart rate, etc.… (4)
BUT… There is ONE autonomous function that can make you capable of powerful self-regulation responses… Breathing! (5)
Now that you’ve read the word above, you’re probably breathing consciously, but don’t worry, you’ll switch back to autopilot in a second.
However, whenever you decide to, you can take conscious control over your breath.
Even when willpower needs to come into play, you can use breathing to induce powerful self-regulation.
Breathing Willpower Practice
Remember, most of your responses and thoughts are a repeating pattern, and you have the willpower to change that in case it impacts you negatively.
Here’s something you can do during moments when you need willpower/self-regulation:
- Breathe in deeply and slowly (4-6 seconds)
- Hold your breath and pause the world for 2 seconds
- Exhale slowly
- Repeat a couple of times
Though you may think, “Hell, what will breathing do?” this sends a powerful relaxation signal to the brain and the heart.
Each breath takes you further and further from the stress response, thus opening the doors for a brief moment of pause and plan to improve your thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions, and, therefore, results.
How to Boost your Willpower and Stick To Your Diet.
One of the most important things when trying to change is understanding why you want this particular transformation
. You need motivation that will help you forge ahead and endure. Otherwise, all your efforts are for naught.
Motivation can be found in many sources: family members, friends, or colleagues who share similar goals with us, but ultimately it comes down to what we believe about ourselves-whether our old habits have served us well or not so much anymore.
It is important to really ask oneself, “What am I hoping for?”
To maintain good mental health, one must know what one is looking for from a situation.
Knowing this allows us to make calculated decisions and not act out of sheer impulse or emotion, which may result in consequences we do not want.
Be open with yourself about your motivations so you can work towards them without too much resistance on your end!
Imagine if you could live 10 years longer to see your grandkids.
It’s not too much of a stretch because eating healthy can dramatically affect how long you will live!
If I remind myself what it feels like when I don’t eat well and then think about the reward at age 80-plus (10 years), that helps me know my motivation is worth fighting for.
Yes, it’s crucial to stay on track with your diet.
However, for weight loss, perfection is not what matters the most when it comes to success in this area.
What you really need is consistency, which might make a few mistakes along the way (1).
Some studies show that self-control can be limited and exhausting if we overdo things like strict diets for too long, which means our biology may cause us to go off of plan soon after doing so many weeks cutting out food or alcohol while faced with temptation such as the happy hour at work or social events where there are drinks available.
Here are some tips to get you started
Did you know that willpower is a limited resource?
And did you know that it can be depleted by as much as 50% after only one day of eating too many sweets or watching too much TV?
This means that if you want to have the willpower to resist temptations, get up earlier in the morning, and work out more often – then you need to increase your willpower stores.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways for anyone to do this! In this article, we’ll outline how increasing your willpower will make your life easier.
1. Believe in yourself
Believing in yourself is one of the first steps to increasing your willpower.
Studies have shown that believing you’re capable of accomplishing a goal or task can be just as important for success as any physical ability, intelligence, or skill set.
A positive outlook on life will eventually lead to more positivity and happiness – so start by refusing negative thoughts about who you are and what you do!
2. Set Goals
The more specific your goals are, the easier it will be for you to achieve them.
If you’re trying to increase your willpower to accomplish a certain task or goal, make sure that the tasks are clear and narrow-minded – instead of setting an overly broad goal like “get healthier.”
A better way is by setting small but achievable steps toward success: commit yourself to drink two glasses of water every morning before breakfast as part of a long-term diet plan.
Setting measurable goals can help give you motivation during times when things seem rough! Plus, they’ll keep track of how much progress you’ve made with just one glance.
3. Make a Plan
The next step is to make a plan!
Decide on the best time of day and place that works for you, as well as what your structure will be.
To increase willpower, it’s important not only to have goals but also to set up concrete plans to achieve them.
You could do this by scheduling these tasks into your calendar every day or week, depending on how often you want them done.
For example, if I wanted my goal of drinking more water every day to become part of my daily routine, I would schedule at least two glasses one hour before breakfast each morning, so it becomes an ingrained habit.
4. Keep Busy
One of the easiest ways to increase willpower is by staying busy. Busyness can be a form of productivity that will increase your sense of accomplishment, increasing self-confidence and discipline!
This list provides some ideas for how you could stay busy:
*Find an activity partner who shares similar goals as yours so that when one person has trouble completing tasks, they have someone else there to help them out or keep each other accountable.
For example, it would be easy for me to work on my patience with another patient at home because then we both get what we need from those interactions (they get companionship and I practice being more patient).
5. Reduce Stress
Stress can not only cause you to hold on to unwanted belly fat but can also make you crave sugary foods and affect your mental capacity to hold strong to your resolutions.
The following are some tips to reduce stress:
Set goals with realistic deadlines so that you can accomplish things in small increments and feel accomplished as you reach them, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on your list.
For example, if I wanted to do laundry today but didn’t get around to doing it yesterday, then my goal would be to “wash clothes,” not “do all household chores.”
If I completed this one task successfully for the day, then I would consider that a victory!
6. Avoid Temptation
Turn your home and surrounding into a healthy sanctuary for yourself.
Clean out your pantry and kitchen cabinets of all junk foods.
Clean the house, have a tidy-up day, or run through some spring cleaning tasks to get it spick-and-span so you can be proud of where you live.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment and focusing on the present.
It can help reduce anxiety, increase focus, and boost your willpower because it stops you from worrying about what may or may not happen in future events.
Take some time each day to enjoy a few minutes of silence; sit somewhere with no distractions for a short while before starting your day (or during lunch).
Easy mindful exercises include listening to soothing music (try classical or meditation), going for a walk outside without any headphones, taking ten deep breaths throughout the morning as soon as you wake up and right when you’re lying down at night.
You might also want to take advantage of this mindfulness by getting into bed an hour earlier than usual.
Willpower and self-control are instincts that have allowed us to survive, thrive, and evolve.
Much like the stress response, the willpower response doesn’t get triggered as it used to during the times of our ancestors.
Nevertheless, it remains a functional part of people’s character and can be worked on.
It is just a matter of YOU taking conscious control over your own actions, thoughts, and feelings.
Remember, you are the master of your body and mind. You are capable of powerful, internal self-regulation.
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