Is Willpower a Real Thing?

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We tend to think of willpower as the ability to control oneself. Culturally, we speak about weight loss as if willpower is the thing we most need to achieve it. We desire more willpower to control our appetite.

But what if that’s all wrong? What if appetite was a natural, healthy drive, no more subject to our willpower than breathing? Yes, you might be able to stop yourself from breathing in the very short term, but ultimately, your body’s need for oxygen will win. What if that were the same for appetite?

If we’re trying to lose weight, we tend to see our appetites as the enemy. But appetite itself is a neutral, even positive drive. Did you ever have the experience of being very sick and having no appetite for days at a time? It’s when your appetite returns that you realize you are starting to get better. Appetite is a normal, healthy bodily function. It’s not an enemy to be fought against with willpower.

You may be confusing appetite with cravings for unhealthy foods. If you crave unhealthy food, it’s best to understand why that’s the case and to fix the underlying reason rather than try to “fight” the craving with “willpower”.

Here’s an example. For breakfast, you have a cup of coffee and an apple. At lunch, a large salad. Then by 3:00, you’re going nuts with a desire to eat your way through the office vending machine. Trying to control your appetite with willpower at this stage is not the right solution. Your body is craving snacks because it’s starving! Your whole eating rhythm is off.

Instead, you need to work with your body’s natural bio-circadian rhythm. That means you need a real breakfast with some protein within an hour of waking up. And a real, healthy lunch, not “just a salad”. You’ll be able to digest and metabolize your meal most efficiently if you eat lunch while the sun is highest in the sky (generally between 12 noon and 1:30 PM). If you give your body what it needs earlier in the day, you won’t find yourself fighting it later in the afternoon.

In general, there are better solutions to the underlying issues with food cravings than “fighting” them with “willpower”. Next time, we’ll talk about how nutrient density (basically the quality of your food) affects your appetite and what you can do to improve the quality of your food.

Author: Rebeca Espinoza

Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon.  You can find her on at Like the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon page on Facebook or follow us on Pinterest for healthy eating tips, inspiring quotes, videos and photos and more.

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