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There is something even better than willpower

As you set your 2021 health goals, keep in mind that relying on discipline (aka willpower) alone has a high probability of leaving you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and short of your goals.

The good news is that you can learn the pitfalls of relying on willpower and a few powerful tools and strategies to help you reach your weight loss and health goals.

Imagine Jan. 1, 2021, you vowed to take a break from your “guilty pleasures” because you want to look and feel better. At first, you easily walk right past the doughnuts and cookies that used to be undeniable. You’re feeling strong and confident. Then, one day you skip breakfast, wait too long to eat lunch or someone rubs you the wrong way at work and puts you in a bad mood. As luck would have it, that same day, your co-worker brings in your favorite pastry.

You stay strong and walk right by it. But, as you sit in your office, you notice your mouth watering. You can’t seem to stop thinking about the deliciousness waiting for you down the hall. Finally, you can’t resist anymore and walk back to the breakroom, grab one and try to sneak it back (hopefully unnoticed) under a stack of papers you’re carrying. It’s just a delicious as you remembered, but then the guilt and shame of your broken winning streak kick in.

This might sound familiar because you’ve been there. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.

What the heck happened? Was your willpower to blame?

Well, research on willpower has shown that it’s a depletable source like a battery or a tank of gas. It can be affected by overuse (such as making a lot of tough decisions) and challenging or stressful situations. It’s also affected by nutrition – especially blood sugar.

Let’s learn how to save that precious willpower for those “weak moments” when you really need it on the road to looking and feeling your best.

First, when you make a new change in your life (like avoiding sweets, eating healthier or exercising), you are relying heavily on willpower initially. After you do it for a while, you’ll notice that it gets easier. Your willpower isn’t getting stronger, you’ve formed and strengthened a new habit, which no longer requires willpower.

Second, don’t underestimate the power of your blood sugar and physiology when it comes to willpower. If you skipped lunch and come home hungry to some convenient chips or cookies, before you know it you’ll be down to the crumbs. So, get your body working for you instead of against you by having convenient, healthy snacks on hand; not skipping meals; and eating balanced meals with fats, carbohydrates and protein.

Finally, your nutrition plan shouldn’t be unrealistically strict. It’s not about a short-term, miserable diet you hate, but more about finding a long-term, healthy lifestyle that you enjoy and makes you feel your best. Focus on eating healthy 90% of the time and be reasonable the other 10%. If you get off track for a meal, let go of the shame and guilt and get back on track. This is the No. 1 action that allows you to (or prevents you from) accomplishing your goals.

You won’t be perfect with your nutrition and you don’t have to be. But challenge yourself to go beyond that initial feeling of willpower fatigue when you start something new – it gets easier and your success lies on the other side.

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield and offers virtual-coaching options. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.