As I write this post, it’s the day after Halloween, but it could be the day after any number of other sugar-heavy holidays: Easter, Valentine’s Day, a day at the boardwalk or a theme park, a family member or co-worker’s birthday… The feeling would still be the same. There are a lot of people walking around with a sugar hangover. They’re feeling groggy and tired. Their thoughts aren’t as sharp as usual. Even crazier, they’re craving more sugar!
I’ve definitely been there. In fact, I used to eat so much sugar at this time of year that I’d always get sick the week after Halloween. Every year. Like clockwork. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t eat much candy and I don’t get sick.
But it’s not because I miraculously developed some kind of iron willpower.
In fact, I’d say I still have very little willpower. Virtually NONE, actually. This surprises some people, especially when they find out I maintain a vegan diet at home (and 99% of the time when I am elsewhere). I can only do that because I've discovered this:
You don't need willpower made of iron
to maintain healthy eating habits.
This is great news, because if you’re relying on willpower to succeed in achieving or maintaining a healthy diet, you'll fail. It’s just a matter of time. This is why “diets” don’t work.
Willpower is like a muscle that gets tired. This is not some defect in your character. It’s not a unique talent that some possess and others don’t. It’s certainly not something to be ashamed of. Muscles get tired. Even highly trained muscles. It may be hard to imagine, but even Husain Bolt would eventually fall down if asked to run too far or for too long. (Did you know that he's never run a mile?)
If willpower is not the solution to maintaining a healthy diet, then what is?
It's this: avoid willpower fatigue by minimizing the number of times you need to call on it in your day to day life. So then on those unavoidable occasions when you could use some help from your old pal willpower, it’ll be there in full force to help you out! (Like Anakin Skywalker, above!)
Here are four ways you can reduce your need for willpower while maintaining a healthy diet.
1. Reduce or eliminate unhealthy foods in your own house.
The world is full of unhealthy and tempting foods, but your house should offer a respite from resistance. If eliminating certainly items is not possible, store them away in cabinets, not on the counter or, even worse, in the candy bowl. (What kind of masochist invented the candy bowl, anyhow?)
If you need help doing this, I detail this process in my free guide Reclaim Your Kitchen you can get by subscribing to Your Veggie Coach’s newsletter.
2. Be a discerning shopper.
You’re probably heard the advice to never shop hungry and always bring a list. They are both very good ideas, but I’d add “bring discernment”. Simply asking yourself, “Is this a good choice?” or "Would someone who cares about their health choose this?" may help you make better choices.
Just maybe don’t ask yourself out loud. Unless you don’t mind quizzical looks from other shoppers nearby. If you’re unsure of the answer, taking a look at the ingredient list can really help you out.
3. Make healthy food easy to prepare and enjoy.
We humans are naturally inclined to follow the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to finding food to eat when we’re hungry. Even if you’ve taken the chips or the cookie jar off the counter, you still need to have easy to prepare and enjoyable healthy foods on hand to avoid a desire to call for takeout. A jar of dried beans and a cabbage aren’t going to cut it when the family wants to eat NOW.
When you think of the word “prepare,” don’t think it all has be done from scratch by you! I don’t grind my own flour, I rarely make my own almond milk and I buy salad dressings my kids love to help them enjoy raw vegetables in their lunches. Be realistic about what you have the time and willingness to do. (A little planning ahead helps too.)
4. Discover the story behind the foods you wish you could resist.
Consider looking into the story behind how the types of foods you’d like to be able to resist are made or how they impact your health, animals or the environment. If there are some foods you wish you had help resisting, there are probably some very good reasons to avoid them! For some people, knowing exactly why it’s good to avoid something can suddenly make it super easy to avoid. (A video about how gummy worms are made did just that for me.)
When in doubt, Google it. Whether you’re looking to reduce or eliminate refined sugar, animal products or certain processed foods, there are dozens of reasons to be found for why it’s a good idea. Find an article, a video or other information source that resonates and your need for willpower will be vanquished.
A diet formed by your choices,
rather than by relying on willpower is one
you’ll both enjoy & be able to maintain.
Here’s the added bonus: Those occasions when you do eat some candy or indulge in whatever else it may be will no longer be framed as a failure, but as a choice. Who wants a life formed by resistance, when they can have one created by CHOICE? After all, maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most powerful choices you can make.
YOUR TURN: What choices are you going to make to reduce your reliance on willpower in creating a healthy diet?