When Your Willpower Is Lost
When your willpower is lost
How many diets have you been on in your life?
How long have you been able to maintain diet momentum?
If you’re anything like most women, the answer is too many and not for long enough!
Doing things differently
Change is such a personal thing.
I don’t want to be someone that says follow my rules. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve been bombarded with diet rules for as long as we can remember. Eat this, eat less of that, don’t eat this after 6pm, eat off this list, don’t eat off that list; the messages are exhausting. As someone who has been a chronic dieter for my entire adult life, making a decision to give that life up came with its share of mixed emotions.
Unlearning what you think you know
When I first entered therapy for the eating disorder (notice I never call it ‘my’ eating disorder, I don’t want to give it that privilege), I came to understand that the first time I restricted was the first time I put myself at risk of developing a disorder. The moment we restrict ourselves, we set off a chain of events that always lead us to the same place. If you decide you’re going to give up bread for example, you start off all guns blazing, committed and determined to stay strong using your willpower to avoid this terrible carbohydrate. You have great success the first few days, then you start dreaming about bread, every café you walk past is baking it, everyone you look at is indulging in glorious sourdough sandwiches, the temptation grows, the willpower you call on to keep you strong having run its course, you buy a loaf of bread and eat way more of it than you intended. You feel stuffed full, you feel full of regret, and you feel ashamed that you’ve failed, yet again. This sends you spiralling into a cycle of punishing your weaknesses, your inability to maintain your willpower angering you to the point where you drown your sorrows in a large piece of cheesecake, or a gruelling workout. Does this sound familiar?
Did you know?
One of the most powerful things I learnt was that willpower is short term. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the theory known as willpower depletion, with some experts likening it to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse (apa.org). If all diets require us to use this finite resource long term, is it any wonder we all end up back where we started- feeling like failures and usually heavier than when we began? It’s incredible to me to think that as a society we’ve all been so badly played by the diet industry. I was so shocked to understand that the entire industry is based on our failure, our repeat business their driving force, and yet we continue to fall for their lure time and time again.
So, what’s the answer?
From where I sit, the only way forward is to remove diets and restrictions from our lives. When we are told that we can’t have something we want it more, it’s human nature, however once you remove the restriction and put things under the domain of choices, they somehow lose their power.
Initially I was so worried that I would be out of control, ravenously consuming sugary treats and other forbidden foods if I didn’t have tight restrictions over myself- after all, I believed I couldn’t be trusted around food, requiring diets to keep me on the straight and narrow. Dieting tends to come with a requirement for all or nothing thinking, we’re either on plan or off plan, we are being good or we are being bad. When I removed myself from diet plans altogether, I was left with two choices, I could have whatever I wanted, but did I want it? I often found that I didn’t want it, especially since I could have whatever I wanted if I so chose. I came to realise that those foods I once longed for weren’t going anywhere, their ready availability diminishing somewhat their appeal.
Forming new understandings
Learning to trust yourself is all part of a process of change. Realising that we do in fact have control and that we do have power is scary and for those of us who have been absorbed in a diet culture that tells us that we don’t. I can assure you of one thing; giving up dieting is tremendously liberating and worth every ounce of discomfort and fear you will initially face. Healing from the damage caused psychologically by dieting is not linear, there are ups and downs and many in-betweens, but you can do this.
Let’s be the change
We are smart women. It’s imperative that we share what we know with others, especially our daughters. Had I understood at 13 that diets always fail would I be where I am today? Had I grown up with a mother who had a positive relationship with food, there’s much less chance I would be writing this blog today, but it’s not until we know better that we can do better.
In a time where there are more diets than ever before, more clean-living options than ever before, why are we heavier and unhappier as a Nation than ever before? We need to move towards ditching the diet culture once and for all. Our daughters are growing up fast and they’re watching us; we need to empower them with the messages and the understandings we needed to hear when we were younger. Just imagine a generation of girls not having to walk the path we’ve walked.
But wait, there’s so much more
Over time I will continue sharing with you the steps I took to find peace with food, and freedom from the cycle of diet culture.
But today I’d love to ask you this; how old were you when you first went on a diet and why did you make the decision to first go on a diet? Was it something someone said? Was it because your friends were doing it? I’d love to hear your experiences.
To leave you with one of my favourite quotes:
And I said to my body softly: ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied: ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’