Fit Life Essentials for Real Life

Willpower Is So Overrated

decorated cup cakes

In many offices, treats seem to be everywhere.  Giant tire-like bagels in the morning, a birthday cake on the counter, the co-worker with the dreaded bottomless candy bowl. Often shared with love and good intentions, community treats can undermine our personal goals, especially if we’re working on fat loss. This can be such a struggle for so many of us, myself included.  But this is not the end of our story.  The good news is this: mindful eating is a skill, and actually way more effective (and pleasant) at helping us reach our nutrition goals than striving for willpower of steel.

Here’s a sampling of the tools that can help on the path to mindful eating:

  • Accept the struggle.  It can be so tempting to put off our nutrition goals until we “finally, once and for all” learn to overcome our challenges.  I did this for years!  Once I stopped wishing that I could simply be stronger, I felt different.  I accepted that I am wired to love sugar, and I probably always will be, so I might as well get busy and learn to manage my cravings instead of trying to squash them.
  • Take care of yourself.  We all deserve time and space to eat well–meaning the kind and amount of food that makes us feel good, both emotionally and in a physical sense.  One ritual I have is protein pancakes with a little coconut butter frosting.  They’re mostly eggs, oats, and whey protein, and they’re incredibly filling and tasty to me.  I make time to enjoy them most mornings, no matter what my schedule.
  • Be curious. This is a game changer.  The next time a temptation arises, get really curious, and look inside to see what you might be feeling in that moment.  For me, the worst temptations often pop up when I’m feeling a sense of dread about something I don’t want to do–like a difficult e-mail I really don’t want to write.  One evening when this happened, I gave myself permission to call it a day, and was surprised to see the temptation pass pretty quickly.
  • Watch out for FOMO.  Perhaps the best mindful eating tool I’ve seen is awareness of the ominous Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).  Described by Jill Coleman, FOMO can drive us to eat because we think if we don’t, we’ll miss out on something big.  This is the ridiculous idea that you gotta chow on candy on Halloween because it’s not like you can buy candy 365 days a year.  Try it sometime: when that box of cookies appears on the filing cabinet, remember you can get or make cookies all kinds of places, almost anytime.  This has worked wonders for me, time and time again.
  • Indulge when it’s worth it.  Sometimes the treat is really worth it.  I am crazy about pumpkin pie, so when it appears in the office cafeteria, I often snag a piece.  I may or may not eat the crust (I’m a pie crust snob with my own beloved recipe), but I love the heck out of the filling, with no regrets.  In contrast, the typical office cake is almost never worth it, so unless it offers some kind of unusual cake bliss, I usually let it go right by.
  • If necessary, forgive yourself and move on.  Sometimes, despite the best efforts, we indulge when we wish we hadn’t.  We all do this. Luckily, our nutrition and fitness are based on what we do every day consistently, not on isolated samplings.  Consistency beats perfection, every time, so simply get back on track at the very next snack or meal.

None of this is magic, of course, but it can be empowering–and even a little fun–to look at mindful eating as a skill we can learn and play around with to see what works best.

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