Understanding Willpower

Pigging Out

Many people rely on willpower when it comes to eating, but there are some interesting things you need to know that can help you.

I was reading a book called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shaw Achor and he talks about one of the willpower studies done by researcher Dr. Roy Baumeister. He used college students as subjects and told them not to eat anything for at least 3 hours before the study and broke them into 3 groups.

Group 1 was given a plate of chocolate chip cookies, which they weren’t allowed to eat and a plate of radishes, which they could eat as much as they wanted.

Group 2 was given the same 2 plates, chocolate chip cookies and radishes, but could eat off of either plate.

Group 3 wasn’t given any food.

After making the subjects sit in these situations for a significant amount of time, they were given geometric puzzles to solve. They weren’t aware that the puzzles were unsolvable.

The Results: Groups 2 and 3 lasted the longest trying to solve the puzzles while Group 1 gave up the quickest because they used up their willpower from avoiding the chocolate chip cookies.

Dr. Roy Baumeister is co-author of the book, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” where he talks about how willpower acts like a muscle and can be strengthened and fatigued.

Some things that can fatigue your willpower muscle are resisting desires (people spend about 4 hours each day resisting desires), suppressing your emotions, acts of self-control, decision-making, getting a cold, a premenstrual cycle (this may be one of the reasons women find it hard to resist sweets during this time) and low glucose.

He explains that glucose fuels willpower. Glucose is a simple sugar that comes primarily from digesting carbohydrates and provides the body with its primary source of energy (proteins and fats can be converted into glucose if extra is needed such as after intense exercise). When glucose is low, willpower is low.

Here are some suggestions to help you with your goals and to keep your glucose supply steady.

– Don’t diet but make small, gradual changes to your eating plan(restricting too much food means low glucose which means low willpower and you eventually give up)

– Select slow burning foods (low-glycemic index)
or have balanced meals  (proteins, carbohydrates & fats with each meal)

– Eat smaller meals more frequently (e.g. 5 meals per day)

– Don’t skip meals

– Avoid sugar free products (they have no health benefits and they have no impact on glucose levels)

Some other things that can help boost willpower are laughter and positive thinking.