Thursday, February 16, 2012

on willpower

For decades, we were all told that the only thing we had to do was to eat a small amount of non-fattening foods and exercise like maniacs, and we WOULD be thin.  When we were younger and our metabolisms more robust, it seemed to be true.  With a little determination we could drop a few pounds pretty quickly, though when we stopped paying strict attention to what we were doing, those pounds returned rather fast.

As i approached literal "middle age" (half of the "threescore years and ten"), and weight loss was becoming more difficult, the low-fat paradigm took over and i naturally jumped on the pasta-wagon.  And remember the "Rotation Diet," ladies?  :-)  "Eat to Win," if you participated in any sports?  (I was a fencer in those days.)  One lenten season, i vowed to keep my daily fat intake within 10 grams, and i managed to lose one pound per week, eating all i cared to.  ...Trouble was, i was always unsatisfied on the low-fat regimen no matter how much i ate, and when weight loss stalled, i had no incentive to continue, so i never reached my goal.

Atkins was a blessing, because i was even older and harder to reduce, and on it, hunger no longer was a problem.  Yes, weight loss stalled eventually, but it's easier to be "good" when you're not obsessing over food every waking hour.  I "fell off" when my husband's job had me spending a goodly amount of time in New Orleans, where the food is HEAVENLY, and staying out of the french bread, Handgrenades and Hurricanes is darned difficult.  OMG, how i LOVE NOLA!

Sounds like i've been digressing from my proclaimed topic, but no -- i just have a habit (a bad one, my husband thinks) of having to indulge in a lengthy prologue before i can get to my point. 

What with all my diet "failures" and a lot of other things in my life, at which i haven't been as successful as i should like, i took society's judgement of people like myself and came to believe i had poor willpower.  When the going gets tough ... Tess moves on to something else.  In many respects, it HAS been true, but i've reassessed the subject in the recent past -- more on that later.

In one of J Stanton's articles in his OUTSTANDING series on hunger, he discusses willpower and what happens when you exercise it to limit eating.  Not only is it highly stressful, therefore making one secrete extra cortisol and thereby inhibiting fat-burning, it also puts a drain on our blood glucose levels, and until those are normalized, willpower is lessened because we have less fuel on board to sustain it.  Yes, you got it -- exercising willpower makes you more hungry and lessens your ability to exercise it some more!  In this sense, exercise makes you weaker, not stronger.  Read the article linked above -- it's excellent!  His conclusion is that a successful weight-loss program must minimize the requirement of willpower, and i couldn't agree more, but that's not where i'm going with this....

If you've ever been accused of being stubborn, chances are you have all the willpower you need -- if you really value the goal you've set.  When a cookie derails a person's low-carb or paleo diet attempts, that person doesn't want to be thin and healthy as much as s/he wants pleasure in the short term.  It's natural in human beings and i'm not in any position to cast stones -- i cave in far too often, myself.  But i no longer brand myself with the "lacking in willpower" label.  I know better. 

I engage my stubbornness (aka, WILL) when i want to accomplish something difficult or unpleasant.  I say, "this is MY goal; screw the forces which try to derail or distract me.  Temptation can't get the better of ME!"  Here is where exercising willpower does make you stronger:  you use your stubbornness to want an outcome greatly enough so that you override petty temptations.  When the month of "being perfect" taught me how good i can feel without dairy, sweeteners and alcohol in my diet, it fueled me to want to feel that good some more (as well as continue losing weight and gaining health).  My stubbornness is a match for the difficulties of the path.  Hell, my stubbornnes is a match for just about anything if i get it wrought up enough.

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