The Diet Detective: Guide to Using Power, Not Willpower

When people begin the process of weight control, or any behavior change, they often wonder if they have enough willpower to succeed. "Willpower" is more or less about self-control, but simply knowing that resisting a piece of cake (immediate gratification) now will help you be trimmer, fitter and healthier in the future (the long-term greater benefit) doesn't seem to cut it. As one researcher explained: A person standing right in front of you may seem larger (short-term reward) than a 70-story building in the distance (long-term, greater reward). So the question is, do you need "willpower" to lose weight and get in shape, or is it something else?

The Cold Reality of Self-Control

Honestly, are you fond of dramatically stomping your foot on the kitchen floor saying, "This is the last time. I will lose the weight. I'm going to empty the refrigerator and cabinets and never eat junk food again"?

The truth is, this approach is unpleasant and a big waste of energy. Do you really believe that all you need is a good healthy dose of drawing a line in the sand to break the patterns you've been living by?

The fact is research has shown that we have a limited amount of self-control or willpower. Mark Muraven and Roy F. Baumeister, reporting in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found "evidence that self-control may consume a limited resource. Exerting self-control may consume self-control strength, reducing the amount of strength available for subsequent self-control efforts."

Think of using willpower as working your muscles--meaning willpower can be exhausted and fail if used too much. There's even evidence to show that watching others use willpower can exhaust your own willpower. Additionally, research at Florida State University found that acts of self-control deplete large amounts of glucose. And self-control failures are more likely to occur when glucose is low. Willpower has been called a "glucose guzzler" -- zapping you of much-needed energy.

So yes, there is some level of self-control involved in weight control, but it's significantly less than you believe.

Are You Really "Willing" It To Happen, or Is It All In Your Mind?

Harvard researcher Daniel M. Wegner argues that conscious will means you're in control and actually doing something to affect an outcome. In other words, you are causing the results by your actions. For instance, exercising more, resisting the cake and eating healthier foods result in your losing weight. According to Wegner's writings in "Pr?cis of the Illusion of Conscious Will," the feeling that we are simply exerting willpower in order to do these things may not be a true reading of what is happening in our minds and bodies. Is it really nothing more than simply resisting temptation? Or is changing a behavior more about doing the prep work that sets you up to succeed?

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