The problem with using Will Power as a Health Strategy

When we choose to make changes in our diet and lifestyle it can be challenging breaking those long used habits and coping strategies. Many of us have been on diets or chosen to quit or reduce certain foods to improve our health. My big one is sugar with chocolate and soft drinks being my two biggest addictions throughout my life. Whilst it is certainly fine to choose to eat some sugar containing foods along with a largely healthy diet. Some of us have trouble controlling our intake of certain foods and this can have a big impact on our health! For me, they became food addictions.

Focusing on the problem

Whatever you do, don’t eat chocolate! The problem with using willpower to change our behaviour is the way our brain is wired. In order for your brain to know what it needs to avoid, it needs to picture what you are trying to avoid. For example, when you tell your brain that you need to avoid chocolate, it brings chocolate front and centre so it knows what it needs to avoid. Can you see how this is a problem? All you can do now is think about chocolate and how much you want it, deserve it and how deprived you feel!

Focusing on the solution

I have found a better way to approach this problem is to create new rituals and habits and focus on those. Often these new rituals and habits slowly begin to replace the old. For example, if you normally have chocolate after lunch, what can you do instead? Firstly ensuring that you eat a balanced lunch with protein, good fats and loads of vegetables/salad so that you are not reaching for chocolate due to real hunger or blood sugar drops. Once you ensure that you have a healthy lunch there are many things you can do depending on where you are, how much time you have and what you actually like to do. It also depends on why you reach for the chocolate, do you use it for comfort, stress relief, a quick energy boost, a moment of joy or is it just a habit?

Here are some examples of what you can do instead:

  • Make a naturally caffeine free herbal tea such as peppermint, this gives you a natural boost, and replaces the hand to mouth habit with something new.
  • Go for a walk around the block.
  • Go and play with your dog or cat.
  • Play your favourite song, sitting and listening or dancing to it.
  • Read or listen to a book for five minutes.
  • Watch funny cat/dog videos on YouTube.
  • Phone a friend/loved one and chat for a few minutes.
  • Colour in, draw, knit, crochet or other art craft that is portable.
  • Meditate or sit in a garden or somewhere beautiful.

I keep my books and music on my phone and carry headphones with me so I always have strategies available. It only takes two minutes to get your mind off one thing and on to something new so why don’t you practice some of these. I am sure you can think of many more examples and it will depend on if you are home or at work etc.

Fiona Kane, Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Holistic Counsellor and Transformational Life Coach

Fiona Kane is a Nutritionist, Holistic Counsellor, Transformational Life Coach, Professional Speaker, Podcaster and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health Pty Ltd, holding an Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine, Diploma in Holistic Counselling and Life Care and Certificate in Transformational Life Coaching. Fiona is registered and accredited with Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS), Australia’s largest professional association of complementary medicine practitioners. Fiona has been in practice for 10 years.