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Willpower ... for emergency use only

Are you relying on discipline to eat healthy and become your best self? If so, keep reading to learn a few important things you need to know about willpower.

This might sound familiar because you’ve been there, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. You vow to take a break from your “guilty pleasures” because you want to look or feel better. You’re feeling empowered and confident because you’re able to walk right past the doughnuts and cookies that used to be undeniable.

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. Then, just your luck, your co-worker happens to bring in your favorite pastry. But ... that’s not going to stop you, so you walk right by it! But as you sit in your office, 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. You grab one and try to sneak back. It’s delicious, but then the guilt and shame kick in ... you broke your winning streak.

What the heck happened? Was your willpower to blame? Well, research on willpower has shown that it’s a depletable source that can be affected by overuse and challenging or stressful situations. It’s also affected by nutrition (especially blood sugar). Think of it like a battery losing its charge the more it’s used.

Let’s learn a few strategies to help you power through those “weak moments” on your road to looking and feeling your best.

First, when you make a new change in your life, like avoiding sweets, you are relying heavily on willpower. After you do it for a while, it gets easier. This probably seems like your willpower is getting stronger, but you are actually forming and strengthening a new habit. Habits don’t require willpower, so you can save it until you really need it ... like the pastry dilemma earlier.

Second, don’t undervalue the power of physiology and your blood sugar when it comes to willpower. If you skip lunch and come home hungry to some convenient chips or cookies, before you know it, you’ll be down to the crumbs! Get your body working for you, not against you, by not skipping meals, having healthy snacks on hand and maintaining your blood sugar with meals balanced with fat, 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. Just focus on eating healthy 90 percent of the time, and the other 10 percent be reasonable. If you get off track a meal, let go of the shame and guilt and get back on track. Getting back on track is the No. 1 thing that allows you to accomplish your goals.

Challenge yourself to go beyond that first feeling of willpower fatigue because you have more in you. Don’t plan to be perfect with your nutrition because it’s neither needed nor realistic. Cheers to your success!

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