Dr. Kristen Mitteness
Food Choices: 7 ways to maximize your willpower
Updated: Dec 23, 2018
I'm asked all of the time, "how do you have the willpower?". The truth is, I have very low willpower so I have to set myself up for success. If there is chocolate in the house, you better believe I will be eating it, like, now. Here are a few tips on how to maximize you willpower when it comes to your food choices. Remember, when it comes to food, you always have a choice.
1. Set yourself up as though you don't have any willpower. If you buy it, you're going to eat it. And unless it's cooking oil, anticipate that you'll eat it within the next week. I don't keep anything in the house that will tempt me. This can be tough when you live with other people. You have a few choices here. You can either deem their things truly theirs (not yours to eat) or you can kindly ask them to support you in your journey of better eating and hope they will be okay eating those things outside of the house. Let's be honest, that pint of ice cream you buy "just in case" WILL be eaten. If the day comes when you truly want to have a "treat" go out and buy a single serving size. Don't keep anything in the house "just in case". If you have to go out of your way to get something, you'll think twice.
2. Put it off. If you are really craving something, don't tell yourself "absolutely not", but rather, "in a bit". Oftentimes cravings will come and go. Do you really want that chocolate cake? Sure! Just have it tomorrow. It will taste the same. It might be even better because you had to wait. Or maybe, you will realize you don't want it at all. You don't have to completely restrict yourself, just give yourself some time.
3. Eat the good stuff first. Are you truly hungry or do you simply want a treat? Fill up on some fruit, nuts, veggies or protein first. If you still want it, go ahead. Oftentimes, when we are craving sugar we are low on protein. Keep lunch meat or leftovers around so you can make better choices on the fly.
4. Always keep a spare meal or two in the fridge. When you have something ready to go, you are less likely to make a poor choice. Every time you make a meal, make a bit extra as an emergency back up. You can also keep quick, quality foods around in a pinch. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds, apples, cut veggies and meat sticks are great, quick options.
5. Make sure your first meal is big and full of nutrients. If you can keep your insulin levels in check, you shouldn't have big crashes resulting in more cravings and hunger. Fat helps you feel full. Most of us don't get quality calories in the morning. Make it a point of getting quality protein, fat and lots of veggies during your first meal. You have the most willpower at the beginning of the day and week because you haven't had to make a bunch of decisions yet. A big, quality breakfast will definitely set you up for success.
6. Exercise, but don't overdo it. Excessive exercise or calorie burning can put your nervous system into fight or flight mode. If you are continuously over exercising your body will not only need extra fuel, it will refrain from burning fat because it wants to keep it in case you work that hard again tomorrow. There is a fine line between adequate movement and excessive exercising. If you are keeping your heart rate below 160 bpm (walking, hiking, biking, light jogging, strength training with moderate weight), you are in the fat burning zone. If you are doing high intensity interval training and sprinting more than 3 times per week you might find yourself more hungry and craving more sweets. If you are working out, you will need more food to fuel yourself and rebuild your body, just don't overdo it.
7. Decide which foods aren't worth it. I've come to the point where some foods simply aren't worth my time. I don't eat bread. To me, it's just not worth it. The nutrient value is low, I feel bloated after I eat it and I'm crabby for a few days afterward. I'd rather eat more sauteed vegetables. There are certain foods, I simply don't consider food choices for me. For some people, an all or nothing approach works, for others it doesn't. You'll have to play around with this one.
On a final note, be patient and kind with yourself. Don't strive for perfection, but rather progress. Speak to yourself the same way you'd speak to a friend. Life is a journey and the destination is death. Every day, for the rest of your life, you will be making multiple food choices. Skipping a meal isn't the end of the world, you might only be in Italy once to eat the pizza and the local bakery will probably be there tomorrow. The chocolate cake didn't just end up in your mouth. The food you eat is always your choice. Will your food choices today promote health or illness for tomorrow? That's for you to decide.