It’s probably safe to say that most of us — even those of us who’ve fully embraced intuitive eating — struggle at least a little with food willpower this time of year. There are so many tasty, seasonal treats right there for the taking!
But if you’re trying to stick to your healthy habits, you’re in luck. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., a brain and cognitive scientist who specializes in the psychology of eating (and is also President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neurology of sustainable weight loss and helping people achieve it — talk about a multi-hyphenate!) has five tips to boost willpower this holiday — plus some insight into why our willpower sometimes fails us.
Here’s the scoop. Willpower isn’t a dimension of personality or character, but rather a cognitive function available to us in limited doses. In her upcoming book, Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free (coming from Hay House, March 2017), she discusses research showing that we all have as little as 15 minutes of willpower at our disposal at any given time before it runs dry. Yikes! No wonder it becomes harder and harder to resist that cookie, right?
This is what Susan calls the “Willpower Gap.”
But that’s not the end of the story. The key is to be aware of the Willpower Gap and plan accordingly so you don’t fall into it. Here’s how.
Plan ahead. Don’t leave yourself to make decisions in the moment when you’re tired, hungry or overwhelmed by the crowd. Decide in advance what you will eat each day — and when you’ll eat it — so you won’t be making food choices at times of day when your willpower is depleted.
Eat regular meals. When regular meals become part of the scaffolding of your life, it takes the burden off of willpower. A schedule of eating three meals a day at regular mealtimes — breakfast, lunch and dinner — not only helps eating the right things become automatic, but also makes passing up the wrong things in between much easier.
Reduce stress. Stress and the emotional regulation that go along with it taxes your willpower. So wherever possible, modify or avoid the things that tap your resources. Where it can’t be avoided, just bringing awareness that an upcoming situation is going to deplete you — such as that dreaded political conversation with your dad’s aunt — can prevent your falling into the Willpower Gap.
Get enough sleep. Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. Sleep is a powerful willpower replenisher.
Practice an attitude of gratitude. Research shows that something as simple as expressing gratitude will replenish willpower. Gratitude also helps shift the focus from what you want or crave, to what you have.
Have you ever used any of these tips? I’m huge on the first one — planning is so, so helpful! —Kristen