The Gift of Good Enough

When my son turned a year old, I made him a Choo Choo Train cake. It did not look like this. It kind of resembled a train “wreck” if you ask me. The frosting was kind of thick and it definitely did not have great wheels. I am not artistic but for some reason, since he was my first (and only) son, I thought he should have a train. When I look back, I realize no matter how bad I felt about the appearance of that very important cake, it was good enough. Now, he lives in a different time zone, and he has a birthday coming up, and I bet he would love to have me there making him a cake and would not care at all what it looked like. And neither would I.

Although this is a “nutrition blog” the idea of “good enough” is relevant. It doesn’t only apply to baking the perfect looking birthday cake for your child. It applies to all aspects of life, and especially to eating (and exercise). I have observed that many people tend to turn to food and eating to feel better about not being “good enough” in some aspect of their lives. I also have seen people avoid eating and starve themselves because they don’t feel “good enough”. Let’s face it, people, women especially, are super critical of their bodies. They are NEVER good enough. I don’t think it is always about comparing yourself to others, but often just being hypercritical of yourself. I have witnessed both women and men be critical of their bodies (but mostly women, probably because we women spend more time on things like appearance….unfortunately). Much of the time the discussions focus on weight loss but sometimes I notice we tend to over-scrutinize body parts. Butts too big or too flat, legs too flabby, arms too thin, chest too small or too big, hips too big or no hips at all. I am always fascinated when I get the chance to people watch on a beach. It is so glaringly obvious how different we all are when it comes to our bodies. Tall, short, muscular or not, round, straight, long legged, short legged, even kids and teens all differ. Dark, light, red headed, brown or black or white haired, curly, straight, bald. No two people look alike. And yet, we still scrutinize as if we can change things, and even worse, when we can’t we blame ourselves.

It is not only our bodies that we want to perfect, it is our eating. I absolutely love those nutrition-innocent adults I know who “just eat”. They don’t read labels, they don’t analyze every ingredient, and they definitely don’t jot it all down in their app. They may be healthy eaters or not-so-healthy eaters, but still, I just love them,probably because in my world it is refreshing to be around people who are not obsessed with it all. Yes, I do preach healthy eating and totally believe in the fact that you do feel better when you tend to eat a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis.But is it really necessary to find that one bar with less than 5 grams of sugar? What if it does have 10 grams but also has protein and fiber and tastes good? 5 extra grams of sugar translates into 20 calories. Do you really think that will matter? Yet, I have overheard people talking about things as minute as this, just to be a “perfect” eater. There are other things people monitor, and actually, some things definitely worth avoiding (such as trans fat). But when we take it to extremes, it just creates stress (not good for health).

Besides bodies, and eating, many people also have unrealistic expectations about exercise. I had a wonderful experience awhile ago with working with a young woman who was not feeling too energetic and thought maybe eating better would help. As it turned out, she was not sleeping well at all. She had recently moved and previously had been working out at the gym for 2 hours a day. Now, she just did not have the time so she stopped. She admitted to being an “all or nothing” kind of person, and said that if she could not do a full 2 hour workout, it wasn’t worth it. I shared with her some recent article I read stating that even 30 minutes of walking daily helped people sleep better. Anyway, I asked if she thought she might be able to incorporate something like that in her life to see if it helped, even though it was not her “perfect” workout. She agreed to try. Only a week later, she came in all energetic and happy. “This changed my life!” she said. Apparently, just adding in the walking helped her sleep which made her feel so much better. We also tweaked a few things in her diet (her snacks and lunch were lacking protein and so she was crashing pretty regularly). After adding in some protein sources and the walking (both doable) she felt much better. The best part of all in my mind was that she was able to do it despite her old “all or nothing” frame of mind. She was totally ready to change from that paralyzing way of life and embrace normalcy. It is not always that easy.

Anyway, I think we all can relate to being somewhat picky about certain things in our lives. We had fun at work the other day talking about all the things we had some OCD (obsessive compulsiveness) about. I just can’t leave dishes in the sink at night (it needs to be empty in the morning). I also can’t be late for anything. I used to have to stop on the treadmill when I was finished (say 3 miles, or 2 miles, but could never stop at 2.5). Now, I stop on some off number just on purpose (2.33 miles, or 2.71 or even 3.2). I do this just to challenge myself and stop being so silly. When I shared that with some co-workers they all cringed. It really bothered one person especially, and she said “Ugh! I could never do that!”

Has anyone every accused YOU of being a “perfectionist”? Can you relate to some of these scenarios? You might enjoy this article on perfectionism in Psychology Today

In the meantime, just for fun, why not challenge yourself? Don’t read that label. Don’t jot it down in that app. Skip the gym and go for a walk. Or stop on the treadmill (or bike or elliptical) on an off number. How does it feel?

And next time you are at the beach, or anywhere for that matter where you are people watching, embrace the beautiful diversity. And remember, “good enough” is a gift you can give yourself.

 

How Kindness Affects Your Health

This past Friday when I left work I was feeling a bit stressed thinking about everything I wanted to do, and needed to get done over the weekend. My husband and I were planning on going out on a “date” because he was finally feeling better after having some minor surgery and I was really looking forward to it, but I needed to get to the grocery store first. I was making dinner on Saturday night for special company and I wanted it to be good. It was a gorgeous and warm Fall afternoon and I was hoping to get a walk in before our “date”since these days of beautiful weather are certainly numbered. Anyway, I pulled into the grocery store and of course, my luck, the car in front of me was taking FOREVER to park. FINALLY this car made it into a handicap spot, and then I felt kind of guilty for having no patience. I pulled around and parked my car, then walked quickly to get a carriage. Being the nosy person I am sometimes, I had to watch as this person was getting out of her car….or attempting to. I kind of froze in my tracks, watched and waited. She was a tiny little white-haired woman of maybe 5 feet tall. And she appeared to be struggling with something (getting out of the car? standing up?). So I just had to go check to see what was going on with her (I was hoping she would not be afraid that some stranger was approaching her). As I got closer I could see her struggling to get her walker out of the car and keep the door open at the same time. “Do you need some help?” I asked. She was so sweet, just like she looked and said “well, that would be nice, thank you”. It made me sad that she was alone, and I made some kind of comment like “wow, that is great that you are driving! My mom hates to drive”. I almost laughed when she said “well, I probably shouldn’t be! I am 94 years old!”. Yikes and Wow. Anyway, she proceeded to tell me that she usually has her niece pick up a few things for her, but today she could not wait because the town was doing a food pantry collection tomorrow morning and she needed to have a bag ready for them to pick up. She seemed so unsteady (after throwing her walker in a carriage she then uses the carriage as a walker apparently….that is the technique). So I just decided to walk around and chat with her as she shopped, giving her my opinion on what I thought would be good for a food pantry. She talked about her older (yes, older) sister who was not mobile, in a wheel chair but according to my new friend, her older sister is still “with it”, so smart “she could do your taxes!” she said. I found out that she has a neighbor who helps her too, and takes out her trash. By the time she checked out and I walked her to her car, I felt like I made a new friend. We actually exchanged numbers (her name is Leah) and I made her promise to call me if she was stuck and needed something (I kind of agreed with her that maybe she should not be driving). I worried about how she was going to get those groceries out (I made sure to separate everything so nothing was heavier than a jar of spaghetti sauce) and made her promise she would only take a few things at a time.

When she drove away I went back and did my shopping, but I felt especially happy. I felt like I shared a special time with someone who has been on this earth for 94 years. And remained sweet and kind and polite and just, well, nice. Someone who had determination and mustered the strength to do something kind of challenging (and scary)……. because she needed to help others. What an inspiration. I got so much from this encounter and it stuck with me.

Finally, after a very busy but fun weekend I had a chance to think about it. I decided to look into the research a bit. My question was “is there any connection between kindness and health?” Because clearly this special woman was so kind and giving, yet despite her older age she seemed content and happy. I also was affected from trying to be kind (not sure what drew me to help her, I think it may have been more about fear of an old person falling than consciously thinking about being kind). Anyway, what I found was striking, although I kind of expected it. YES, there is a connection between kindness and health, and get this….it probably starts with kindness to yourself. Yup, being good to yourself. Treating yourself with love and respect. That “self-talk” I have mentioned before, that can really affect your behavior if it is negative (“why did I eat that!? that was so stupid!), or worse. If you have ever heard someone beat themselves up for what they eat (or if you have done it yourself) then you know what I mean. Well, that kind of emotional beating does not lead to health. It usually leads to self-destructive behavior or even depression. According to this research study: The Affect of Loving Kindness  “Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a special type of Buddhist meditation that aims to cultivate unconditional kind attitudes toward oneself and others”. This is not some kind of religious thing, it is just an approach to life (oneself and others) that apparently is good for us. More research is needed it appears, but even the fact that psychologists are using the technique (or approach) called LKM or Loving Kindness Meditation is amazing to me. The fact that focusing on how you are thinking both toward yourself, and toward others, can affect your happiness is pretty cool if you ask me. We are all different in our brain chemistry (some people may be more prone to depression or eating disorders for instance), and all of us go through hard times and get depressed. But what if we made an attempt to think of others instead of ourselves? Could it really work to make us happier?

I think it needs to start with yourself. It has taken me years to be kinder to myself. I wish I treated myself the way I do now, but 20 years ago I gave myself a hard time. I expected way too much of myself if you ask me. Now, it is funny but as long as I feel I am doing my best (I make mistakes, say dumb things, do dumb things, but if my intentions are good, well, I forgive myself and move on). Back then, I didn’t. Then, when I started to work with people with eating issues, I learned that a lot of people are not good to themselves at all. For them, their eating was the focus of their lives, and it needed to be perfect. Nothing was good enough as far as how my patients looked at their eating, their bodies, or themselves. LKM may have really helped them. Especially with themselves. Learning first to be kind to yourself frees you to reap the rewards of being kind to others.

During the next few days we are going to decide our next President. I really don’t care what side you are on. I know people, really wonderful and kind-hearted friends who think differently and will vote differently than I will. But I am hoping that we all think about loving kindness, and being good to each other. Remember, most people (well, if you ask me) are good. We just may disagree on the way we look at things, but that is ok. Please think of my new friend Leah, a woman who can barely walk, yet who managed to get out and buy food for the needy, because that is what was burning on her mind, and that is what she needed to accomplish, and she did.  I want to be like Leah. I hope you do too.

 

 

The Sliver People

Image result for thin slice of cakeEating behavior has fascinated me for years. Maybe because of my Italian heritage and the tendency to “cook enough for the army, the navy and the marines” as my mom would say…..coupled with my discovery of the research on “restrained eating” and learning about the link between dieting and binge eating. Added to my years of working with people with eating disorders and weight concerns, I have a great appreciation for the complexity of eating, food, and why people do what they do. So I love when people tell me stories about food and eating. Last week at work one of my co-workers told me a story about a family dinner and how something a relative (great aunt) said that kind of bothered her.

It was a celebration and cake was being served. My friend, her son and her daughter were enjoying a piece of cake at the dining room table while this aunt sat on the couch watching. “Look at you all, stuffing your faces!”she said in a way that was kind of negative, as if she were witnessing bad behavior, or behavior to be ashamed of. My friend went on to tell me about this aunt who appeared to be criticizing them for eating cake. Apparently this person is someone who always resists the dessert…..she “does not eat sweets”. She has “willpower”. And she seems to look down on those who give in.

But then, here is the weird part, the question my friend had: she refuses to take dessert EVER…..but then eventually, every single time, after shaming everyone else, sneaks back for “just a sliver”.

OH! I knew exactly who my friend was talking about. She sounds like “The Sliver People”, I said. We both burst out laughing, describing what we see when people try not to eat something they really want but for some reason don’t allow themselves to have. After a good amount of giggling at the term we just coined, I went on to share my theories of The Sliver People. Now remember, these are just my theories (which are influenced by research on cognitive restraint and dieting behavior as well as what lots of my patients have described to me about the way they think and feel about food).

So what is it with the Sliver People? My theories:

  1. They have a “good food-bad food” mind set. Sweets are bad, dessert is bad, cake is bad, so nobody should be eating it. If you eat “bad” food, then you, by association are being “bad”. You have no “willpower”. You are weak.

My Response: if you like it, it is GOOD. If you have cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you won’t feel too good. It’s all about balance and “listening to your body”. If you want something sweet and don’t eat something sweet, you will likely be thinking about food all day. I would recommend eating that darn piece of cake and going about your day.

2. They think cake (substitute sweets, desserts, “bad” food) makes you fat. Magically, one piece of cake can add gobs of weight.

My Response: the scientific fact is that one average piece of cake may have a few hundred calories (except my sister-in-law Michelle’s Mocha Marsh mellow 90 million layer cake she enters into baking contests which she manages to cram in a bit more melted butter and cream I am guessing that makes her a champion baker)….anyway, it takes much more than a piece of cake or one dessert to have any effect on weight, even Michelle’s. When you eat more calories than your body needs, it knows what to do. You don’t have to count. Think about it. When you eat a bigger meal than normal, something very strange happens: you no longer feel hungry, imagine that. You can go longer than an hour without thinking about food. So if you eat the cake and it is more than you normally eat, your appetite on its own will keep you in balance (if you learn to listen and trust it). Not easy for some people.

3. They have been dieting most of their lives. They are on a diet still. Cake is not on the diet.

My Response: when people “go on a diet” and eat only certain foods while eliminating others, we know they eventually have to “go off” the diet. Dieting and food restriction lead to food obsession and disordered eating, often binge eating. When dieters give in and have even “just a slice” feelings of guilt often follow. That is why restrained eating and dieting often lead to depression (in addition to the negative effect of starvation and inadequate energy intake on our brains and mood). I know I will never convince people to stop “dieting” or looking for that magical eating plan that will transform their bodies and their lives….but I won’t stop trying. Instead, if you focus on “healthy eating” and living, then having a piece of cake for dessert at a family celebration does not disrupt anything. It just adds to life’s enjoyment and moments we should be cherishing, creating memories together, savoring every single thing that is good…and I call that “healthy”.

4. They really aren’t hungry,but want to taste it. Their belly is full, but they know they won’t get this chance again (how often do you get a chance to try an award winning 9 million layer cake?).

My Response: I think it is “normal” eating to listen to your body, and if you know you can’t fit an entire piece of cake comfortably into your belly but want a “sliver”, it’s not a big deal. Chances are the person who takes just a bite because they want to taste it are probably not even noticing what everyone else is eating. They certainly are not being judgmental about anyone who decides to eat an entire piece. They are just eating what they want and not what they don’t want. Maybe they may take a piece “to go”. There is nothing wrong with that, honoring your body and staying in tune with it is something we all should be working on, that is if feeling good is your goal.

Are you one of the “Sliver People”? If so, do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? Remember, this is not meant to be a judgement of people who don’t take an entire piece of cake. It is meant to make us all aware of how we have been influenced by a culture that values thinness and weight loss and dieting at the expense of the true meaning of life. To cherish family, friends and celebrate all that we have, all of our blessings as much as we can while we can (if you ask me). To be thankful for all of it, every single day. To miss out because of fears of gaining weight, well, that is just sad.

Oh, and please don’t judge me because I only eat the frosting.

3 Steps to Eating Mindfully:Which One Are You Neglecting?

My hungry husband at Faneuil Hall, Boston

The other day I found myself standing at the kitchen counter, wolfing down some leftovers. I was in a rush to finish packing for a weekend trip, and I was in one of those “multi-tasking” modes. You know, if you can figure out how to do two things at once, try doing three. So there I stood, with the small TV that is stuck in our kitchen wall closely watching the path of Ermine (or was it Hermine?), the hurricane that was maybe going to hit us as we had our yearly outing with good friends in their boat down the Connecticut River. A hurricane would be bad. So I was standing there shoveling this yummy salad down my throat,and it suddenly struck me that I was not even tasting it. And I LOVED this creation, which was a random modification of a kale goat cheese salad I make often (if you ever go to Bricco’s Restaurant, their kale salad is the one I tried to copy…..I got pretty close!). It is a delicious blend of chopped kale, fried chick peas, garlic, red onion, olive oil, balsamic glaze and crispy bacon bits. Anyway, I kind of combined this salad with another bean salad recipe I make with black beans, corn, carrots, etc. and boy, was it good. I should have enjoyed it, but instead, I was just rushing it into my belly so I could move on.

 

Ye, I was in a rush, but promised myself when I got back from the weekend trip, I needed to write about this. If felt important to me because mindful eating, and working on having a healthy relationship with food is one of the messages I hope to send. This means enjoying eating. Shoving food down to get it over with is the opposite of mindfulness. I understand not everyone looks at food and eating as something to be enjoyed, and I chat with people every single day who look at food as “the enemy”. It kind of makes me sad, as cooking and creating healthy but yummy dishes is something I greatly enjoy. I just love sharing what I cook with family and friends, and maybe that is part of my Italian heritage, but being a dietitian definitely affects my cooking, too (“how can I make my mom’s sausage and eggplant but not give my husband heartburn?”).

Ermine missed us, and we sailed down the river easily, and as I joyfully floated one day on a gigantic blow up duck (don’t knock it till you try it) I had time to reflect on how I would describe this eating experience and what bothered me by it. It dawned on me that eating involves three simple (yet not always easy) steps. Each step is important to understand if your goal is to eat somewhat healthy and feel good. Especially if you want to have a healthy-ish relationship to food and eating, and most importantly if you are an emotional or binge eater.

Here is what I came up with:

Step 1. You need to have food available to eat. Now before you say “duh…”, let me ask you this: what are you making for dinner tonight? What are you having for lunch at work this week? What snacks can you have, right now, this minute if you get hungry? Like I said, I love to cook, I know a bit about nutrition, and yet, it is after 12:00 noon and I have yet to figure out dinner, although I have successfully defrosted what looks like 2 gigantic boneless chicken breasts. As for lunches for work, it will have to be leftovers. I am not at all in the mood for grocery shopping. Snacks, well, shriveled grapes and frozen fudge….and the bottom of a chip bag.

The point is, having food available is pretty important because it really does affect what you are going to eat. For those with binge eating issues it can be critical. FYI there are 2 kinds of “binge” eaters. The first kind is the “subjective” binge eater who thinks eating a full sandwich and a cookie is a binge (these are the dieters or even those with disordered eating who don’t allow themselves to eat what most of us might consider a normal meal). The second type is an “objective” binge eater which is someone who truly eats an amount of food most people would consider a large amount, such as the whole box of cookies on top of several sandwiches. Lots of guilt follows an eating episode no matter which type. Many binge eaters have certain “trigger” foods, in other words, when these foods are in the house they can’t resist eating “the whole thing”. Not consuming enough food also can trigger binge eating. It is pretty smart to know yourself, and creating a food “environment” that works best for you.

Besides triggering binge eating, eating healthy and feeling good is next to impossible if you don’t have access to healthy food. I know of some people who just would rather not bother. Maybe they are single or live alone, or maybe the kids moved out and so they don’t cook. Eating macaroni and cheese every night with Pop Tarts for breakfast and take out for lunch eventually will affect your health. Having a bowl of jelly beans on your desk may not be the best idea if you are a mindless nibbler, especially if the dentist is not your favorite person. Yes, paying attention to your food environment definitely affects what you eat and your health. What foods do YOU have available….at home and at work?

Step 2. The act of taking a bite, a forkful, a spoonful or otherwise putting that food into your mouth, chewing and swallowing. The first question is, where are you when you eat and what are you doing? Standing in the kitchen like I was while watching the weather is pretty much the exact opposite of how to eat in a mindful way. Digestion actually does begin in your mouth, so chewing fast and swallowing foods whole will interfere with this. Did you know that savoring your food (really seeing it, tasting it, enjoying it, feeling it in your mouth and chewing it thoroughly) actually has been shown to lead to “sensual satisfaction” and helps you to know you are full? In other words, taking the time to look at your food (not the TV or a book), pay attention to the flavor and texture (is it good? need to add something?) and really enjoying it helps you to be more in tune with your body. Savoring your meal or snack instead of rushing through it makes it more likely that you will eat the amount that you need. Even more important, truly taking the time (more than 2 minutes) to enjoy your food can be a part of the joy of life.

Step 3. Stopping eating. You might find it interesting to know that scientists are fascinated in studying what makes us stop eating. How and why do we “feel full”? What factors contribute to satiety? Everybody knows that eating fast usually contributes to overeating (and by this I mean getting too full, not feeling good physically because you ate too much, I don’t mean the guilt and judgement some people put on themselves because they did not follow their “diet”). We now know there are several chemical messengers that our body sends to our brain to tell us we are full and can stop. We are all different, and some people may feel full faster, but most people need time (about 20 minutes or so) for that messenger to get to the brain to signal fullness. Many factors affect this of course, such as the food we eat, how much fat, protein, fiber, etc. But one of the most fascinating things to me is the “sensory satisfaction”, or how much we actually enjoy the particular food that may affect how satisfied and full we are. Yes, some researchers have found connections. This is just one abstract about how  the sensory aspect of food and how it contributes to feelings of satisfaction and makes us stop eating. Yes, other studies have connected good tasting food with overeating, and we all know that when excessive yummy food is available most of us may eat more than we usually do. The key is finding the balance. Do you expect yourself to live on dry toast, cottage cheese and salad? Are you absolutely bored by the food you make? I have seen people become kind of obsessed with foods they normally deny themselves especially when they try to be “good” all the time…I hate that word, but people use it when they define their eating, so I want to be sure you know what I mean. Eating only and I mean only healthy food. Boring, especially if you aren’t into cooking. Instead, jazzing up your meals, even a little bit can greatly add to your satisfaction. Can you throw some avocado onto that grilled chicken wrap? add some crunchy granola to that morning yogurt? How about a little olive oil dressing in that salad? Make it taste good, and you are bound to feel more satisfied, less obsessed with food, and maybe you even may develop a new hobby…..collecting cookbooks?

Besides being sensually satisfied, tuning in to the ole tummy is also a part of learning to be an intuitive eater. I sometimes use a “hunger scale” (many dietitians do) to help people judge how full they are. It typically goes from 1 (starving) to 10 (stuffed to the gills, extremely uncomfortable). Check out a typical hunger scale HERE.  If you are a mindless eater who gobbles down meals too fast, you may find yourself with indigestion or an upset tummy after the fact. That is one sign that you could benefit from taking the time to slow down and tune in. Practice sitting quietly somewhere, or at least trying to pay attention to what your stomach has to say about a half hour after eating. Are you barely satisfied or are you feeling sick? Both extremes teach you something.

So there you have it. The thoughts I had while floating down the Connecticut river on a duck. I hope you take the time to “digest” some of this, and realize this is not a skill we learn overnight. If you have trouble, just give yourself time. The important thing is doing the reflecting. The rest comes with trial and error. There is no right or wrong, and if you want to live on mac and cheese and Pop Tarts, who knows, you may live a long and healthy life without the fiber….but if you truly do want to feel your best then do your best to work on creating a healthy but enjoyable food environment. Slow down. Tune in.

By the way, we named the duck…Ermine.

Why you need to stop trying to have “willpower”

hungry man and burger I have always disliked the word “willpower”. Maybe because so many people cast judgement when they think someone does not have any. Why do you keep smoking? You need to have more willpower! Why do you keep overeating? You need to have more willpower! Why are you binge eating? You need to have more willpower! Why do you drink so much? You need to have more willpower! If only you had more willpower. I hate that word.

Also, people judge themselves. When they want to change and can’t, most people beat themselves up mentally and verbally. Why can’t I have more willpower?! This makes me sad because changing, especially when it comes to eating behaviors, has nothing to do with willpower.

I like looking at things in a somewhat holistic way. It is never one simple answer and most people behave in a certain way because of a variety of influencing factors. When it comes to eating, I always have felt there are three things that affect us (probably more but to me, these are the three general areas I have encountered with the people I have worked with).

  1. Physiology
  2. Environment and habits
  3. Emotions

First, let’s talk about physiology. By this I mean all the physiological things that are going on in your body that most of us never think about. What most people do not know is that our bodies regulate themselves as far as what and how much to eat. For example, people who try to avoid carbohydrates eventually end up craving them. Why? Because a chemical messenger named serotonin in our brains will drop if we do not eat enough carbs and will send the message that we need to eat them! Have you ever craved something sweet? We all have. Even dietitians usually can’t keep track of what they eat, let’s face it, we all have busy lives and sometimes just eat what is there. But our bodies will definitely tell us, they are keeping track! A good example is a dinner I prepared for my husband the other day. We kind of ran out of food and I had gone out with a friend so had already had an early dinner. I threw together a “Chef’s Salad” because I had leftover grilled chicken, leftover pepperoni slices from a party, some prosciutto I had left from a recipe I made over the weekend, cheese and lots of salad (it was buy one, get one!). He loved it with his Chipolte Ranch Dressing, but I knew he was going to be craving something sweet later at night because there were no carbs in it. He is not a fan of beans and I had no croutons : ( So later at night it was kind of funny when he said “do we have anything sweet? I need something sweet!” So predictable. Nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with physiology.

What kind of imbalances are YOU creating with your eating? In addition to not getting enough carbs, if we don’t get enough calories our bodies regulate that also. Leptin is one messenger that will make sure you know you have not eaten enough. Are you skipping lunch to lose weight? Are you then getting mad at yourself for not having “willpower” at night when you end up binge eating? Not your fault, and not your lack of willpower. Physiology, plain and simple. You can’t fight it, so don’t blame yourself. There are so many more examples, but the bottom line is that your body is much smarter than you are, and having more willpower is not the answer. Trusting your body is. Check out more on this topic (especially for you biology buffs) with these articles:

Appetite Hormones (July 2015 Issue, Today’s Dietitian,Appetite Hormones  By Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD, LD, Vol. 17 No. 7 P. 26)

Gastrointestinal-Brain Connection

The second reason people need to forget about willpower is the power of environment and habits. We all have behaviors that are affected by our environment, and eventually we fall into habits that we don’t even have to think about. Let me ask you a simple question: what do you do when you walk in the door after a long day of work (or school)? Do you kick your shoes off and run to the couch, click on the TV and relax? Do you go straight to your room, remove your work clothes, put on your jogging shorts and sneakers and run to the track? Or do you go straight to the fridge and open the door? Or maybe grab a beer and sit in front of the news?

All of these behaviors are habits. None has anything to do with willpower. The person who has been coming home and going to the track has no more willpower than the person who runs to the fridge to grab a snack or a beer. The issue is that each person has developed a habit over time, triggered by their environment. Just walking in that door sets all behaviors in place. The question we need to ask ourselves is NOT why we don’t have more willpower, but what behaviors are we not happy with and want to change? Changing habits is another long story and not easy. We can start however by changing that initial trigger, not by blaming ourselves for not having enough willpower! What if you avoided that couch and put on sneakers instead? then went and sat outside on the porch just to watch the birds. Anything to break that chain. Wishing you had more willpower or berating yourself because you do not is not the answer.

Finally, the third reason to forget about willpower is to remember that emotionally we are all different. No one has the same life growing up, the same role models, the same experiences or the same biological make up. How can we expect to have the same amount of willpower? Consider the woman I once worked with many years ago. She was a binge eater and was a stay at home wife to a man that wanted her to be thinner.  She had gained weight throughout her 20 year marriage and he just wanted to help her. So what he thought was helpful (“you don’t need that! That is enough for you!”) was actually hurtful. She told me that she would eat her Special K with skim milk in the morning while he had his bacon and eggs, then watch through the window as he drove away. The minute he disappeared from sight, she would go straight to the fridge and start eating. And eating. She had a binge eating disorder that was partly due to emotional reasons. NOT lack of willpower.

The bottom line and take-home message I hope you get is that expecting yourself to have more “willpower” may be a losing battle. Instead, can you consider looking at your lifestyle and asking yourself what behaviors you feel are not contributing to health? Are you restricting too much and then binge eating and getting mad at yourself? Are you wishing you could be more active because you really do want to have more energy but feel you have no willpower to go to the gym?  Are you drinking too much and blaming yourself?  I suggest just start by thinking about which of these three areas are affecting you most. Then work on figuring it out without judgement. Stop expecting yourself to have willpower to fix things that are way more complicated.

Working on your health both physically and mentally is a wonderful thing! Just taking the time to read this post shows you care about yourself and that is a great thing too! Stop berating yourself for not having enough “willpower”. No one does.