September 18, 2022

Why you don’t need more willpower or self control when it comes to food

Have you ever found yourself half way through a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream pint knowing all too well that you’re absolutely going to finish the entire pint, while simultaneously loathing the fact that you’re going to finish it, but you feel like you just can’t stop? Maybe you’ve even thought to yourself, “I don’t understand, I have enough will-power to show up for practice and train at a high level…WHYYYY don’t I have enough discipline to just PUT DOWN the ice cream?!”

I hear ya. I feel ya. And I have to share something with you that just might surprise you…I’m a registered dietitian and fellow former athlete, and when former athletes says to me they have no “self control” around food and they need “more will power”, I absolutely cringe!

You might be wondering…well how come? It seems pretty harmless to say you need more willpower around food, right? It’s a pretty common thing for people to say! You probably hear it in the breakf room at work when your coworker says “Oh I could never keep those donuts in my house, I have no self-control!” Right?

Okay, so maybe it’s the worst thing someone could say…but hang with me! Here’s why it makes me absolutely cringe when I hear a former athlete say they just need more “will power” or “self discipline” when it comes to food…Because you’re a fellow former athlete! You have all KINDS of willpower! More will power, dedication, determination, self-discipline and focus than the majority of the population (#straightfacts). 

Will power is not the problem. Even if it feels like it. Even if society is making you feel like it is. Even if you feel like it’s entirely your fault you can’t eat just ONE cookie. Keep reading!

Because I get it! When you’re feeling so out of control around food that you can’t stop eating even when full. Or you have to throw out the rest of those desserts because they can’t exist in your house without feeling like you’ll plow through all of them in one sitting (no matter how much you try and resist it). Or you try desperately to load up on veggies when eating first so you’re “full” already. Or the age old adage to drink water to fill you up. But then you just end up eating more anyway! 

I get it. I’ve been there too (really, I have!). And it’s not a fun space to be in.

But what I can tell ya is that more willpower isn’t what you need. You already have enough willpower.

Soooo, what is it that you need? Not to worry! I’ll tell ya!

Before bashing yourself for not having willpower and throwing out every sweet/salty food in your pantry, check these 3 things first!

1. EATING ENOUGH

1️) Are you eating enough? And doing so consistently! Even if you feel like you’re eating more than enough, are you doing so consistently throughout the day? Our body thrives on adequate consistent energy. If you’re going long hours without eating, you’re probably showing up to meals more hungry, and that leads to feeling less in control (because physiology friends). This is not a will-power problem. It’s a physiological take over. No matter how much will-power you have, if you are showing up to eat absolutely starving…you stand no chance! This is why understanding hunger and fullness is crucial. 

2. SATISFACTION

2️) I ain’t got no…(dun nun naaa) satisfaction! (read in the tempo of the song…too cheesy?) But really…are you leaving meals just full? Or fully satisfied? Because it makes a difference. Sure, you could be physically full, but if you’re not satisfied with most of your meals, you’ll find yourself in the pantry at 11:00 pm questioning why you’re in search of food when you’re “full”. Well…it’s because you’re not satisfied! I’m not saying every meal needs to be the absolute best meal of your life (a little unrealistic although that would be nice). But most of our meals should also be satisfying and enjoyable. I love to think about what I can ADD to meals to make them more satisfying and enjoyable! Maybe it’s as simple as chocolate chips in your smoothie (a fav of mine) or sprinkles in your yogurt (it’s so pretty!) Whatever it is, a little addition of satisfaction can really improve how you feel showing up for, and after, meals. 

3. PERMISSION

3️) Have you given yourself permission? Okay, this is where I usually lose people, but hang with me! You have made it this far (for which I thank you). And this right here is so important to get over food FOMO! Because fear of missing out impacts how in control around food we feel! If there’s even a hint of restriction (such as: “I’ll only have a couple bites!” “I really shouldn’t be eating this.” “I’m throwing this out after this.”) your body and your mind reads that as scarcity! So OF COURSE you’re going to eat more while you can! Get it before it’s gone right? If I said, after today, you will never be allowed to eat ice cream again (wow, that would be so sad…) what would you do? Probably eat all the ice cream you physically can! If you know you have permission to eat all foods at all times, you don’t have to over do it in one sitting. Because it’ll always be available to you. I’m not saying this means to eat ice cream all day every day…but remember that you have PERMISSION to eat it when you want.

I’ll admit, the permission piece is hard to convey over text, and is often misinterpreted as a free for all with food. It’s not. But having permission IS important. And it’s a huge part of feeling in control around ALL food.

The TAKEAWAYS

To recap: if you’re feeling out of control around food, like you just can’t stop once you start eating, or there’s no way you could keep sweets in the house, it’s not willpower you need more of! And it’s not self-control either! It’s possible, more food, more satisfaction, and more permission.

You already have enough will power.

If you’re tired of struggling with food in life after sport, check out The Fueled Former Athlete Academy! A program designed specifically for former athletes by a former athlete (me!) to help you feel confident around food, comfortable in your body, and guilt-free on rest days! 

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