Tag Archives: weight loss motivation

Forget Willpower, Instead Learn to Strengthen Your Self-Control


You don't need lots of willpower to resist that 2nd piece of cake. You just need to utilize self-control that you already have.

You don’t need lots of willpower to resist that 2nd piece of cake. You just need to utilize self-control that you already have.

I’ve lost dozens and dozens of pounds, dozens of times (because I’ve also gained dozens of pounds multiple times). Each time I lose a noticeable amount of weight I start hearing the same thing over and over from well meaning folks:  “I wish I had your willpower.”

Saying no to cake at all the office birthday parties:  “You have so much willpower!”

Not eating pizza at a family gathering. blah blah blah willpower.

Passing on the bread at a restaurant. blah blah blah willpower.

Getting a good sweat on almost every day of the week. blah blah blah so much willpower.

Honestly, I don’t think I have willpower. What I do have and what I practice is using and strengthening my self-control.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of the word willpower because most of us give it too much power. We give it control over whether or not we take good care of ourselves.

We think about it as something we have a certain amount of and when it’s gone or used up, we are unable to control ourselves. We hand over our personal power and wipe our hands of responsibility and pretend as if this internal willpower is outside of us.

Think about this for a second.


Willpower and Self-Control are the Same Thing but We Think About Them Differently and That’s Part of the Problem


What sorts of things do you use “willpower” for?

We use it to resist eating foods that will keepus from reaching our body goals, we use it to not pick up a drink or cigarette when we’re trying to quit or cut back. And some of us use it when talking about romantic partners. Ever met someone you knew wasn’t good for you but you felt pulled towards? We all have. You’ve probably said “I just can’t resist him (or her), I have no willpower!”

Willpower is really just another word for self-control. But we think about them a bit differently. Self-control is always in your back pocket and you can exercise it to make it stronger. Willpower sounds like something magical and limited. Willpower will disappear on you, in an instant if the right circumstances present themselves. Self-control on the other hand, is always under the surface. You can always choose to utilize it.

You have tons of self-control.

I know you do.

Even if we’ve never met, I know you have self-control.

How do I know this?

You don’t run into the street when a car is coming. You brush your teeth each day even when you are tired. You get up and go to work each day, even when you really don’t feel like it. You pay your bills, even though you’d love to spend the money on something fun. You don’t eat cake for every meal even though you could. You don’t punch people in the face when they irritate you. You watch your language when around small children (or try to anyway). You urinate in toilets in private, rather than peeing on the floor when the urge arrises.

These are all examples of self-control. And self-control is, on some level, something we can learn and improve our mastery of.


Self-Control is Something That Can Be Strengthened


In other words, somewhere along the way, you learned to take certain actions in order to create certain outcomes in your world. Toddlers run into the street because they haven’t learned that it’s dangerous yet. People who want to feel secure in their life pay their bills and don’t throw wayward fists.

You never needed “willpower” to brush your teeth. No one would ever look at you brushing your teeth and say “Wow, look at the willpower on you!”. They would sound crazy. Your parents taught you to brush your teeth and while for most of us it took a certain amount of encouragement, cajoling or even force for it to become a daily habit, it happened because they took daily action with you until it just became something you did automatically.

Self-control gets stronger with use. Take daily action. Repetition. Decisions. Routines. Habits. Discipline. Resolve. Practice.

Toss out your image of “willpower” and exert your already existing self-control. This is how we stop feeling weak and turn it into ironclad strength that we can use anytime, anyplace.


Practice Makes us Perfect at Whatever we “Practice”


Here’s another way to think about this. Whatever we do lots of, we get really good at. An action or thought becomes easy, becomes a part of us. We become skilled at it. When we do something repeatedly, we are “practicing” something. And practice essentially makes us “perfect” at it.

For example:


  • If we study a subject and work daily at it – we’ll be knowledgeable in that area. (practice learning)
  • If we play guitar every day for a year, at the end of the year we’re going to be way better than we were in the beginning. (practice guitar)
  • Babies learning to walk, crawl and take steps and fall down and get up again, and again until one day they are very steady on their feet. (practice walking)
  • A student taking driver’s ed is a better driver at their 12th driving hour than they were their 1st time at the wheel. (practice driving)
  • Someone who begins an exercise program today and commits to 30 minutes a day will be much fitter and stronger after 6 months than they were on day 1. (practice exercising)
  • A person who puts in time and effort to shop for and prepare healthy food will do it faster and more efficiently after they’ve been doing it every day for 6 weeks. (practice food prep)practice makes perfect

Those all make sense, right? We understand the value of how actively practicing something can form and change us.

But what about what we actively don’t do? Or things we’re doing but are unaware of and don’t want to do!? We get good at “not doing” stuff too.

More fun examples:

  • If you never exercise you’re getting really good at the habit of not exercising. (not exercising is what you practice)
  • Someone who repeatedly thinks negative things about their body is learning how to hate their body. (practice hating their body)
  • People who don’t speak up for themselves get good at keeping quiet. (practice not speaking up)
  • If we go home every night and eat everything in the kitchen – we’re getting really good at eating everything in the kitchen. (practice overeating)
  • A person who blames others for their life, learns how to not take responsibility. (practice blaming)

Doing something over and over (or not doing it over and over) creates and reinforces habits. If you are “practicing” something that isn’t helping you get the life you want, you’re going to have to start actively practicing things that do.

This will take time.

Just like a baby learning to walk or someone learning to drive, it’ll be hard at first. You’ll fall down, you’ll brake too hard and you’ll occasionally revert to the old habits you were practicing. But if you keep practicing this new thing, eventually you’ll be good at it too!

The reason we feel like we don’t have enough willpower to “resist” the cake or pass on the pizza is because we have created the habit of frequently having the cake or pizza. We don’t have the willpower to not lay on the couch after work, because we have repetitively laid on the couch after work. We’re amazing at laying on the couch. We could win awards at this couch thing.

If we want to change this, we are going to have to actively work hard at it, at least until it becomes our new normal. Our brains want to do the easy thing, they want to be efficient – and doing anything new, whether it be working out or even just driving a car for the first time, it’s going to take a lot of effort and concentration to get yourself there.

This isn’t a bad thing. This is good. This means YOU have it in you to change it.

If it’s just up to our idea of “willpower” we’re going to fail because it’s limited. But your self-control (the same thing but we think differently about it) is flexible, malleable and can be used like a muscle that gets stronger with each use.

You have to make the decision that you want to be more fit more than you want the snacks, eating out etc. You have to make the choice that you’re going to work your body each day even if you don’t really feel like it. You have to prepare healthy foods that fuel your body daily, not just once in awhile.


Use Self-Control daily with one Choice. One Step. One Action.


Applying self-control to your life is no different than going after a new job or going back to school for a career change. No one would ever say you did those things because you had willpower. You did those things because you worked hard, took daily action, created good habits. You wanted them. You did all of those things because you have amaze-balls self-control that you use regularly. And guess what it all started with? One choice. One step. One action. And then repetition of those steps. Over and over.

You have to choose to use your self-control for yourself, which will include making daily decisions that will seem difficult at first (choosing more vegetables, choosing to walk more, choosing to pass on dessert etc) but that will eventually become your new normal, it will be easier and more automatic. No one can do it for you and no one can share their “willpower” with you. You can’t avoid the hard spots between where you are right now and where you want to be. You have to accept that there is going to be some struggle as you get going – but isn’t what’s on the other side worth it?

Remember that whatever you’re not good at doing right now, whether it’s just getting out the door for a walk 5 days in a row or eating more green vegetables, you’re only going to get “good” at it by doing it over and over and reinforcing the habit. I never thought I’d be writing a blog post every week, but here I am, writing blog posts week after week. It all started with me deciding that that was what I was going to do and then going step by step to get there. Now it’s my normal. Your hard today can be your normal 6 months from now.

A few questions for thought:

What do you wish you had more “willpower” to do?

What are you currently “practicing” that you want to continue doing?

What are you “practicing” that you want to stop doing?

What is something you can do tomorrow towards one of your goals that you can commit to repeating for 30 days?

The Toll Overeating Takes On Us Physically

Think it's just about your weight? I hate scare tactics but sometimes we need a reality check.

Think it’s just about your weight? I hate scare tactics but sometimes we need a reality check.

Everyone knows that eating too much, too frequently can make us fat.

And that seems to be the main motivation most people have to not overeat – they’re worried about the effect eating too much has on their waistline.

But did you know that there are a lot of physical problems that can develop if we overeat too often?

When I decided to finally lose weight, after topping out at 225 lbs, my motivation was part “I want to be skinny and hot” and part “I don’t want to die young like my mom.”

My mom wasn’t grossly overweight, but I know a big part of the reason she isn’t here today was due to lifestyle choices (smoking, not exercising etc) and I knew my lifestyle choices were going to take me down a similar path. Diabetes plagued the maternal side of my family. My mom, Aunt, Pepe and Meme, all died young, all partially from complications due to type II diabetes.

Diabetes doesn’t just affect overweight, sedentary people BUT, I knew that if I remained sedentary and didn’t change my eating habits and my weight, that the diagnosis would be a guarantee with my family history. I also had high blood pressure (another genetic gift from my ancestors!) and worried about my heart, my lungs (I had asthma too) and how every other system in my body was affected by my weight.

I knew my binge-eating, overeating, chronic dieting and being in the “obese” category would contribute to my long term health – but at the time, other than possible cardiovascular disease and diabetes, I didn’t realize how many health conditions can arise because of our eating habits.

I was motivated to change my weight out of fear of death. Sounds dramatic but that’s where my head goes.

I was motivated to change my eating habits because of a fear of health complications while I was alive.

I was able to make both those things a reality when I started to see the payoff in my health (more energy, clearer skin, better asthma control, lower weight, less illness etc).

I was able to maintain those changes (finally) after a lot of trial and error but what finally made it stick, was the internal emotional and mental work I talk about so much on this blog.

Some of us overeat out of boredom, because it’s habit (our families ate a lot so we do too), because we’re out of touch with our hunger cues, or because we’re trying to satisfy an emotional hunger. Regardless of the reason you might be overeating and regardless of where you are in your journey . . .maybe you need to hear this.

Maybe hearing me wax on week after week about getting to know yourself and tuning in to your body instead of dieting aren’t cutting it (for you), maybe you need to hear something else.

I’m not a fan of scare tactics but sometimes we need a reality check, right?

If you don’t care about having a good relationship with yourself, with food and your body, maybe what you need to hear today is all shit that can go wrong with your body if you continue on the path you are on today. If you keep overeating, if you keep bingeing, if you keep playing this game of restrict and consume – well, there are a few things you might have to worry about that go beyond just going up a size, that go beyond your family predisposition to diabetes.

The emotional stuff of food is important and really, in my opinion the key to lasting health, but you can’t get there if you don’t recognize the role your daily habits have in all of it.

So let’s get into it.

What other physical health problems can arise when you don’t listen to your internal cues about when to stop eating?

Here are just a few that you might not be aware of:

It’s well known that people suffering from bulimia and anorexia are likely to have tooth decay issues, from stomach acid during the purging process (in the case of bulimia) or from a lack of nutrients (in the case of anorexia) but did you know that people who binge-eat can also have tooth problems arise from the habit?

Our teeth are made to withstand a certain amount of wear and tear over many years but eating far more than our bodies need, and doing so frequently can physically wear down the teeth faster than normal. All that extra chewing and chomping can also cause damage to the gums.

Eating extra food frequently also exposes the teeth to more of the acidic foods that wreak havoc on tooth enamel! One of the worst offenders is sugar and those of us who have a history of bingeing love our sugar-filled foods. Another common way your teeth can suffer from eating too much is if you have serious heartburn (such as in the case of those with GERD) – the acid from your stomach can enter the mouth and get to that enamel again!

Dental work is expensive, painful and time consuming, and healthy teeth and gums are supremely important to your overall health – it’s really not just cosmetic. If you want your teeth to last into your twilight years you have to take care of them and in addition to brushing, flossing, getting regular check ups, it also means avoiding habits that speed up damage – of which, frequent overeating, is one.

Check out this article from Sept 15, 1948 in the Chicago Tribune. It’s old news that overeating is bad for your teeth (and apparently we should remember to take off our lipstick before we go to the dentist – haha!).

Gastrointestinal Upset and Disorders
If you’ve ever overeaten to the point where you need to go put on a pair of comfy sweatpants to allow for the expansion of your belly, then you know what it feels like to have your digestive system at maximum capacity! You may have experienced gas, cramps or even heartburn (that one can also affect your teeth as mentioned above). It doesn’t feel good!

Overeating once in awhile is normal and it isn’t a big deal but when we overeat on a regular basis, we’re putting extra stress on the organs in our digestive system – stomach, gallbladder, intestines, liver, kidneys etc. They work hard each day to digest and process our food and waste so that we have energy and all systems in our body receive the nutrients they need, but when you fill up your stomach with a ton of food at one time, and do it repeatedly, everything gets clogged up. Tired. Slows down. Can’t keep up. Chronic overeating can increase your risk of constipation, diarrhea, gallbladder disease, diverticulitis, pancreatitis and in some cases, cause the stomach to rupture.

One of the first places we “feel” things whether intuitively or physically is in the gut. Overeaters tend to override those signals because of the comfort eating gives us. Tune back into your body – if you are feeling frequent discomfort in your gut, it’s trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore this stuff.

Deficient in important nutrients
What? I know it sounds a little crazy but it can be a real issue. You’d think that if you’re consuming large quantities of food that you’d be consuming all the vitamins and minerals that you need but think about the foods that most people binge on – sweets, fried food, crunchy processed junk food etc – high sources of calories but low nutritional content. When we overeat, we overeat chips, cookies, candy, breads, cakes. No one is overeating lettuce, carrots and pomegranate seeds!

Heavily processed foods are usually lacking in important phytonutrients (flavonoids, chlorophyll, carotenoids etc) because the high heat or high chemical processing they go through destroys them. If you are consuming a lot of these processed foods in favor of fresh food, you’re not going to get valuable nutrients that can help protect you from disease.

This is not just a problem for those of us in the US. Even in places New Zealand and Brazil they are noticing the effects of low nutrient content and the wide availability of heavily refined products. Increase the amount of colors you eat in your daily diet and you’ll get a wider range of nutrients (and I’m not talking about colors provided by food coloring).

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition where the liver accumulates excess fat which in severe cases can cause inflammation, scarring and in serious even liver failure. Doctors aren’t 100% sure what causes NAFLD but we do know that risk factors include obesity and many conditions that can be triggered by obesity. Overeating is a behavior associated with the disease.

By no means am I suggesting that if you have gallbladder disease, NAFLD, GERD or anything else that I mentioned here that you must be a secret binge-eater. And no, I don’t assume that if you’re overweight that you are doing these things either (people of all sizes struggle with this shit). Obviously there are MANY causes for all of these conditions – but if you stay on the overeating path long enough you majorly increase your risk of all sorts of complications.

What would motivate you to change? Is is something on the outside – your appearance or weight? Is it health worries like I talk about here (and something that motivated me)? Is it the internal stuff, like feeling confident in your skin and being at peace with your choices? Is it having more energy? Sleeping better? Not being in so much physical or emotional pain? Only you know what that pain point is for you.

For me, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was worrying so badly about my health. I needed a reality check to finally make changes – maybe you do too.

This isn’t to fat shame you. I believe some people are overweight, healthy and not doing things to harm their health. But you’re not healthy if you are overeating frequently regardless of your size.

Where do you begin? Baby steps. What is one healthy thing you can do for yourself today? Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.Newsletter Sign Up for Bottom of Blog Posts - 1-2016