Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumping Up Your Willpower Muscle!


         

                               
      
Temptation. It's powerful and it's everywhere.!!!  There is no way to avoid it. So you must learn to fight it. But how?
                                                           
                                                                       
You've heard it before...
All you have to have is willpower!
Well, yeah, everyone knows that.
But how do we get willpower?
And when we do get it, how do we get it to stick around for the times we need it?
                      
     Well,  our willpower "muscle" is located at the front of our brains in the Prefrontal Cortex. That sounds like a great spot for it, easy access and all... until you find out that our Prefrontal Cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.
       Phew!  Our PFC  is very busy even without adding the burden of helping us say no to a delicious cupcake!
       So it's no wonder that when you are stressed at work or thinking about the million different things you need to accomplish at the same time, you feel as though you literally have no strength left to make good food choices.

                 You feel that you definitely do not have any willpower at all!!
  However.....                                       
  Willpower is actually a muscle that is very similar to all the other muscles in your body... If you train it, it will get stronger. 

Of course, it's ability to get stronger will be leveled off at some point. Just as you can't increase your biceps strength indefinitely. But if you understand how much load it can handle, and continue to work on keeping it strong, you can have a great deal of willpower at your disposal.

   Each time you exercise your willpower, (i.e. say no to a temptation) you actually re-wire your brain; the neurons responsible for willpower develop stronger, “cleaner” more efficient connections and your willpower improves.
    This information is very empowering because we often say to ourselves, "Well, just this one time I'll eat the Oreos with the kids...it's not going to hurt." However, when you understand that each time you say no, your willpower becomes stronger, and consequently makes it easier to say no the next time, you might feel more motivated to resist.
                                       
  Here are some tips on how to strengthen your willpower muscle.
 1. Choose one big change to tackle at a time.
      When you are making New Years Resolutions (or Fall time resolutions!) it's a good idea to choose one major lifestyle change at a time to maximize your success. When people try to change too many things at once their willpower is often over taxed and they don't see success in any area. So if you want to start a weight loss program, try to make it the main focus of your willpower.


 2. Believe that this is a choice you are making not something forced upon you.
     When we are faced with something delicious to eat, it is natural to feel that we are somehow being "punished" by not being allowed to eat it. But, if when you are offered your favorite dessert, you take 10 seconds, breathe and remind yourself that YOU in fact are CHOOSING not to eat it because you are eating clean, NOT EATING it feels less like a punishment and more like a reward!

3. Keep your glucose level steady all day by eating clean meals, with complex carbs and at least 5 grams of protein, every 3 hours.
    Studies have shown that when our bodies are low in blood glucose, our willpower dips and we are susceptible to eating food that we shouldn't.  So keep your willpower strong all  day by eating clean (click here to read how) every 3 hours.
  
4. Keep your Leptin levels from going too low:
    Keep your leptin levels from dipping too low so that you never feel ravenously  hungry and over eat. One way to do this is to never starve yourself by eating every 3 hours. The second way is to make sure you get enough sleep. click here to read my blog about the relationship between leptin and sleep

5. Exercise everyday or almost everyday:
   Exercise boosts blood flow to your brain which will strengthen you prefrontal cortex. Exercise also is a great motivator. If you have worked out hard in the morning, you will be less likely to undo all of that hard work by eating cookies in the evening.

6. Get 8 hours of sleep
    Sleeping 8 hours helps balance all of your hormones that effect your metabolism and cravings. Read my blog linked on number 3 to learn more.

7. Meditation and Visualization
    You don't need to be a full blown yogi to reap the benefits of meditation. Simply taking a few minutes in the morning or when you are feeling overwhelmed, to sit quietly , breathe deeply and feel peace flow within yourself, will help you feel less anxious and stressed and consequently less likely to reach for a comfort food.
    Visualizing yourself reaching your goals can be very powerful. Picture what you will look like when you lose the weight and get stronger. Try to "feel" how proud you will be of yourself. Take those positive feelings and make them part of how you think about yourself now.
    Also, when you are offered a treat, take a moment and visualize yourself eating it. Think about how it will taste, and how you will feel when you are done. Many times after picturing yourself eating it, you can say to yourself, I know how that will taste and I don't need to eat that now.

8. Distract yourself
   When you are tempted to "cheat", give your willpower a helping hand by distracting yourself. Leave the kitchen or office where the treat is. Go for a walk, polish your nails, take a shower or call a friend. Studies have shown that going for just a 20 minute brisk walk can stop a craving in its tracks! 

9. Focus on your goals
    We tend to lose our sense of self control when we get caught up in the moment. When presented with a tempting situation, step back and take a minute to focus on the bigger reasons you are eating clean and exercising. Are you trying to set a good example for your kids? Are you trying to improve your health so you will live a long life to be with the ones you love? Are you trying to look better so that you can feel proud of yourself? Whatever the reason is that made you make the decision to finally change your life, should be called upon when you feel tempted to eat something that will be destructive to achieving that goal.
  **One way to stay focused on that goal is to write it down. Keep a note with your goal written on it in your purse and take it out and read it to yourself when you feel your willpower fading. Also, for when you are at home, make a vision board (see how here) and keep it in your kitchen to keep yourself focused.
   

10. Practice on small tasks first
 A recent study showed that if you feel that your willpower is always really low no matter what you do, trying to do small mental "challenges" like reminding yourself to sit up straighter or trying to brush your teeth with your opposite hand for two weeks often helps build up that willpower muscle.  Once your self control gets stronger from conquering smaller tasks, you can then use it to work on a bigger challenge such as eating clean and exercising.


11. Avoid alcohol.
    When we drink alcohol,  our willpower is lessened.  We feel freer to overeat because our judgement becomes impaired. Also, many times the places and social situations where we have the chance to drink alcohol also have an abundance of food that we shouldn't be eating.  So when you are trying to lose weight, give yourself a break and stay away from alcohol.
                            
                             Remember....
  Willpower is a limited resource, but it can be strengthened. Don't forget, that each time you say no, the easier it gets!

So, the next time you are faced with a cupcake with awesome frosting,  use your pumped up willpower to say.... 
                            THANKS BUT NO THANKS!
Do you have any willpower strengthening tips? Let me know!!

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