It's no surprise that the majority of dieters blame a lack of self-control on their failure to reach their feel-great weight. However, if you believe that you've inherited the low willpower gene, think again. In fact, willpower can actually be strengthened with proper training — just like lifting weights can pump up your muscles. And knowing the right exercises for your brain is the key to replenishing this resource.
Ready for the willpower workout? Below are five research-based mental practices that will help improve decision making, conquer cravings, and keep your diet on track.
Eat the Right Carbs
Self-control is in lock step with your blood sugar. Research from Florida State University reported that when blood sugar levels plummet, you lose your ability to resist temptation. In order to keep blood sugars in check, eat slow-to-digest (or low-glycemic) carbs such as fruit, veggies, beans, and whole grains. And keep this tip in mind the next time you decide to indulge on a piece of cake during the impromptu office party: refrain from eating sweets on an empty stomach — this will only result in a quick spike in sugar levels, followed by the dreaded sugar crash.
Out of Sight, Out of Mouth
One of the best ways to keep your ironclad willpower from turning to tin is to steer clear of your downfall foods — meaning your personal "trigger" foods, as well as those universal problematic foods that contain the can't-resist combo of sugar, fat, and salt: French fries, salty snacks, baked goods, ice cream, pizza, and chocolate. Even just being in the presence of these classic comfort food favorites can suck up your self-control. Yet avoiding eye contact will encourage you to stay focused.
Limit Food Media
Studies indicate that watching food advertisements can light up certain areas of our brain, which in turn, heighten our cravings. Also, similar research states the same reaction takes place in our brain when we watch cooking shows (sorry, Rachael Ray!) or spend time scrolling through drool-worthy food images and recipes on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook. So in other words, stop with the #foodporn.
Here's a little food for thought: researchers at Cornell University reveal that we are faced with about 220 food-related decisions every day, so the more of those choices that are left to chance (Which cereal should I buy? Do I want a turkey sandwich or salad for lunch?), the quicker you'll deplete your daily willpower — and the more likely you are to overeat. Put an end to the on-the-spot picks and plan your meals a day (or even two!) in advance. And always shop with a grocery list — this simple strategy will help limit the number of times you need to tap into your willpower.
Get Enough Shut-Eye
Lack of sleep — whether it's due to interrupted sleep, a sleep disorder, or just being a night owl — is a willpower wrecker. Studies consistently show that slumber-deprived subjects, which is generally less than seven to eight hours a night for most adults, consume more calories, have increased cravings for junk food (like sweet, salty, or high-fat treats), and are more likely to be overweight or obese. When you disrupt your sleep, you disrupt your strength.