Let's clear something up about a particular word we hear ALL the time —especially now that it's almost the New Year and all the diet and fitness advice is in overdrive.
That word? Willpower.
One phrase we often hear this word used in, especially around food is "build your willpower muscle".
But... here's the thing about that...
Willpower isn't a muscle.
I was a personal trainer and built muscles for a living for over 8 years.
There's no such thing as a willpower muscle. Not in the brain, not in the body. Nowhere. It doesn't exist.
Here are three reasons why the idea that you need to build your willpower is BS:
1. It will never, ever be able to sustain you forever.
Trying to control your food intake through willpower is like trying to hold on to the edge of a building by your fingertips.
Sure, maybe you can hold on for a little while but the longer you try, the harder it gets until eventually, your grip gives out, you slip and slam into the pavement (or in this case, a bag of chips or something 😝).
And when you fall, you don't get a single second's worth of credit for all the time you held on.
You're just suffering, face down on the pavement (or with a sick stomach and a heart full of food shame).
That's sort of what it's like to try to use willpower to control your food intake.
Now, those who say "build your willpower muscle" will take this analogy and say, just build your grip strength!
So okay cool, let's just pretend for a second that you could. Let's pretend for a second that willpower was a muscle that you could build.
Even if you could build it, then what? Maybe you can hold on a little longer. Cool. How does that help anything? You're just hanging on the edge of the building, suffering for even longer before finally falling and caving.
Because that's the thing, even if it were a muscle (or like a muscle) muscle strength and endurance are finite.
No matter how much time you spend building it, there are limits to how much strength and endurance you'll ever be able to build.
That means even if willpower was a muscle you could build, it will never be strong enough to help you "hold on" forever.
Eventually, it gets tired.
So, even if you managed to build it some, you're still on the side of the building, hanging on by your fingertips—and they'll still always, always give out eventually.
And you always end up in the same spot—facedown on the pavement.
2. Our survival instinct is stronger than anything
This brings me to the second reason why trying to use willpower (with food in particular) is so ineffective.
Because everything about the survival instinct that's been built into our species since the beginning of time has been designed to search out food... and the less access we have to it (the more we try to NOT eat it, using willpower or whatever), the more we're obsessed with wanting more of it.
Which makes willpower especially ineffective when we're talking about trying to use it to control our food intake.
I mean, when hungry enough, our species has eaten its own to survive. Do NOT underestimate our innate survival instinct when it comes to food
3. It forces you to try to ignore why you want to eat.
Another important reason why willpower is useless for controlling our food intake which sort of relates to the last one is that it ignores why we feel drawn to eat, in general, or a specific thing.
There is always a reason we feel drawn to eat at any given moment and the desire to eat is not a bad thing that we're supposed to be trying to fight with willpower.
The desire to eat is communicating a need and instead of trying to fight it with willpower (that never works for very long anyway), we need to learn to understand and honor it.
Perhaps our bodies are genuinely just hungry. In this case, trying to muster willpower to keep ourselves from giving our bodies what they're trying to tell us they need is just self-punishing, unhealthy and unkind.
Perhaps we have an emotional need that's not being met another way and we're mistaking it for hunger. And that's sooo unbelievably common. So common in fact that much of the time you're mindlessly reaching for food, it's probably for this reason.
And again, if that's the case, trying to ignore and willpower your way through it without understanding what those needs are and giving yourself what you need is unkind and unhealthy.
Based on the research of greats like Peter Levine and Gabor Mate, there's even an argument to be made that ignoring our emotional needs is a major cause of disease.
And make no mistake, if you are trying to WILL yourself to not eat something when you feel like you want it, you are not honoring your own needs: mental, physical, or emotional.
How could you be? Because again, the desire to eat is communication. Any time you feel like reaching for food, there is a need of some sort driving that desire.
How do you have any chance of figuring out what that is if you're busy fighting with yourself trying not to eat?
And isn't that exactly what trying to rely on willpower feels like? Fighting with ourselves.
And every time willpower fails (which it always eventually does), our grip on the side of the building lets go and we slam into the pavement below (blame, judge and distrust ourselves a little bit more, etc).
Trying to control your intake with willpower (or discipline, etc) keeps you feeling alone, unable to change and like a failure.
But you are none of those things.
You are not the problem. The willpower lie is.
Forget willpower and focus on present moment awareness and body connection.
It's not about "resisting" temptation, it's about being connected to yourself and your body in this moment so you understand why you feel compelled to eat when you do and are then able to respond accordingly—to give yourself what you truly need.
How do you feel right now?
What do you need right now to feel your best?
What's stopping you from giving yourself that?
Answering those questions is where your power really lies.
And that's what you'll learn how to do when you join the E-CET Academy.
Embodied Cognitive Eating Training Can Help You
E-CET combines a wide range of scientifically proven, evidence-based modalities into an easy-to-follow step-by-step process that helps you understand why you can't stop eating in ways that don't serve your best interests and how to stop. It has been meticulously crafted and tested for over three years with one goal in mind - helping you move past all the things that are keeping you stuck repeating the same self-destructive patterns so you can find peace and start living and feeling better.
Award-winning coach, speaker, podcaster and author with a passion for helping women redefine healthy eating and living through wholehearted being: being present, connected, curious and intentional. As a former fitness and nutrition professional, she writes about weight, food and body image along with health, healthy eating, self-love and more. Learn more about her work with her free Why We Eatvideo series.
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