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If You Want To Lose Weight You Must Know How To Maximize Your Willpower

How many times have you tried to lose weight, but fell off the track after few weeks or months, and gained it all back?

When it comes to losing weight, we often have the best intentions and effective nutrition plans, yet it’s our willpower that turns out to be the stumbling block.

What can you do to make sure that you have the willpower to follow through with your weight-loss plans and get the body that you always wanted?

Weight loss is much more about the mindset than about particular diets.

When we want to lose weight, we tend to obsess with diets. I mean, some people say eat fruits, some say don’t eat fruits, some say eat meat, some say go vegan, some say eat grains, some say go gluten-free.. It might seem that the more you read on nutrition and weight loss the more lost and confused you become.

It’s important to understand that a particular diet that you adopt is largely irrelevant, though. Sure, maybe you shouldn’t follow the “Supersize Me” example, but as long as you eliminate crap,eat healthy, and exercise regularly, you will lose weight. Weight-loss industry is hyped up, but come on, it’s not like methods for losing weight are some big secret. We all know the basics of weight loss by now. Yet, we still struggle, sometimes for years. Why?

In my opinion, that’s because we often miss the importance of  mindset when it comes to losing weight. It’s rarely lack of knowledge that is the problem, it’s usually the lack of discipline. How often have you went on a diet for a week or two, then fell off the track, and regained the weight? It’s hard to get the results you want without the right mindset and understanding how willpower works.

Here are 12 tips that will help you have the willpower to lose weight AND to keep it off:

1.     Make sure that losing weight is important to you.

Have you ever wondered why so many people claim they want to lose weight, but so few  manage to do that? I think the reason for that is often more complicated than mere lack of willpower. You see, we are bombarded with messages about weight loss so often that we tend to assume that it’s  a worthwhile goal without ever thinking it through. Why do you really want to lose weight? Is it because you sincerely want to become healthier and to look better, or is it because you happen to live in a culture that considers gaining an extra 500 gram to be a mortal sin? You are not likely to have the motivation to lose weight  and keep it off if your only reason for doing it is that “Cosmopolitan” and “Men’s Health” says that you should. Make sure that you have other reasons for losing weight than this current  weight loss hysteria promoted by the media.

2.    Understand  that losing weight and keeping it off requires long term perspective.

The only way to a healthy and sustainable weight loss is adopting the long term perspective. It’s crucial to understand that it’s often easier to lose weight than to keep it off. Think about it: if you eat nothing but watermelons for one week you will probably lose some weight, but you will gain it right back once you start eating normally again, so that’s not a solution. However,  many people follow diets that are pretty much the watermelon diet equivalents, and hence yo-yo for years. It’s important to accept the fact that you need to change your lifestyle in order to lose weight and keep it off. This will take you at least one year. Make sure that you are okay with this time frame.

3.    Focus on establishing habits that will help you to lose weight and keep it off.

It’s very hard to permanently change your behaviour through sheer willpower alone. Sure, you might exercise and eat healthy for a week, but  a sudden extreme change like this is unlikely to last. It’s much wiser to think in terms of developing habits: can you focus on adopting one habit every month that supports your weight loss goals? It can be anything from eliminating gluten or sugar from your diet to running every evening. This might not sound as appealing as “lose 25kg in a month” diets, but in reality, this works much better. Slow and steady not only wins the race but also stays fit for years to come.

We’re just getting started here so don’t lose your willpower.  Keep reading for more tips to help you stay focused and lose the weight you want.


4.     Get enough quality sleep.

Most adults in our society are chronically sleep deprived. You might not even notice it because for many of us it has become a normal state. However, sleep deprivation, even the mildest one, impairs the function of prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is responsible for self-control.

Usually, the biggest problem lies in the quantity of sleep, not the quality of sleep. In general, the basal sleep need for adults is 7-9 hours every night, although details depend on many factors such as age, gender, and ethnicity. How many of us get that much sleep, though?

We live in a society that regards sleep as useless activity. In many circles, it’s trendy to sleep as little as possible, since that’s considered to be a trait of  a hard-working individual.  However, in reality, sleep deprivation has devastating effects. You want to have the willpower to lose weight? Get all the sleep that you need.

5.     Get stress under control.

Most adults in our society are also under constant stress.We all know it’s bad for our health, but  very few people are aware of the detrimental effect that stress has on willpower. Your brain is hard-wired to try to make you feel better when you are feeling down, so when you are under stress, it nudges you toward every temptation that comes your way, be it a pizza, alcohol, or a handsome friend you know you shouldn’t get involved with. That’s why it’s important to keep stress under control if your want to have the willpower to lose weight.

Here’s an article I wrote recently that will help you to reduce stress and increase willpower:

Reduce stress levels and increase your willpower with these 3 stress reduction techniques”.

6.      Don’t go without food for too long.

People who are trying to lose weight often attempt to drastically decrease their calorie consumption by skipping meals or eating too little. However, when your brain notices that your blood sugar levels are dropping, it starts worrying about the threat of starvation, and starts cutting expenses in order to preserve energy. You know what’s the first thing to go? Your willpower. That explains why we often forget our best intentions and go on a binge when we are hungry.

Make an effort to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. You can do that by making sure that you don’t go without food for too long: eat regular meals and carry healthy snacks with you. Otherwise, it’s very likely that you will end up eating way more food (probably junk) than you would like to  once hunger clouds your mind.

7.      Reduce the number of decisions you make.

Willpower is a limited resource. Every decision that we make, no matter how small, depletes our cognitive resources, and leads to decision fatigue. This means that if you have to decide what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you are putting an unnecessary strain on your willpower, which increases the likelihood of you giving into temptations later on. When you are trying to lose weight, you need all the willpower that you have, therefore it’s best to plan your meals a week in advance in order to ease decision fatigue. You don’t want to deal with “Salad or BigMac?” dilemma everyday.

8.     Make adjustments in your environment.

We often waste a lot of willpower (again, remember, it’s a limited resource!) because our  environments aren’t supportive of our goals. Think about it: if you are on a low carb diet, is it really smart to have cupboards full of bread, pasta, and cookies? Sure, you can do that, but that would just make your life harder, since you would then have to resist the temptation every time you go into the kitchen. Make an effort to make your environment as supportive of your goal to lose weight as possible. You might be surprised how much easier it is to stay on track once you do that.

Now we’re making some real progress.  Don’t give up now because there are more tips ahead.


9.      Make sure to either track data or have strict rules.

We humans aren’t very good at tracking things in our minds and therefore are vulnerable to moral licensing. Say, people who exercise often reward themselves with a nice meal, which leads to gaining weight instead of losing it. We do mental math in our heads – “Okay, I ran 3km, now I can eat a BigMac” – but our calculations are often way off which derails our progress.

That’s why it’s better to either track data or have strict rules. Either track calories that you burn and consume or limit your consumption of certain foods (say, “No drinks except water”, or “No grains Sunday to Friday”, etc.). This way, it will be easier to  avoid the moral licensing trap,and stay on track.

You can read more about moral licensing and how to prevent it in this article that I wrote recently:

Moral licensing: how being good makes you bad

10.     Have a cheat meal or a cheat day every week.

One of the reasons why people tend to fall off the track when it comes to diets is the “forever” factor. Most of us happen to like junk food and can only go so long without it before having a mental breakdown. That’s why it’s best to have a cheat day or at least a cheat meal every week during which you can consume insane amount of unhealthy food guilt-free. It might sound weird, but this actually helps to lose weight, because it allows you to stay on track most of the time, and that is all that matters. It’s hard to go without Oreos forever, it’s much easier to go without them until Saturday.

11.     Analyze your failures and learn from them.

Let’s keep it real: it’s very likely that you will succumb to temptation at one point or another. Most people simply beat themselves up for eating an entire pizza by themselves and promise to “try harder” next time. However, it’s much wiser to analyse the failure instead and develop ways to prevent it in the future. For example, if you noticed that when you are get back from work tired you are likely eat something quick and unhealthy (like frozen pizza), figure out an alternative go-to meal that is as quick and easy, but healthier. We tend to see our willpower  failures as unique events, but in fact, they often follow a very clear pattern, and therefore can be easily prevented.

12.    Don’t wait until you lose weight to feel good about yourself.

Last, but not least, you might think that you need to lose weight in order to feel good about yourself, but it’s much better to start feeling good about yourself now, not wait until later. You see, people often think that this self-hatred is a good motivation, but in fact, it’s usually a distraction that prevents  you from focusing on the big picture. It’s very hard to stay patient and focused (as opposed to wasting time on watermelon diets that promise quick results) when you hate what you see in the mirror. Yes, you will probably feel better once you lose that extra weight, and that’s fine. However,  it doesn’t mean that you should feel bad about yourself now, life is way too short for that.

Stay focused on the big picture!

Believe me, you can lose that extra weight for good, no matter how many times you have tried an failed in the past. Give yourself one year. Take time to develop a strategy. Make tactical adjustments.  Analyse your failures. Track your progress. Stay on track. One year might seem like a long time, but the time will pass anyway, so why not put it to a good use? Don’t get distracted with watermelon diets, stay focused on the big picture, and you will get the results that you always wanted. One year.

Written on 9/23/2013 by Agota Bialobzeskyte. Agota Bialobzeskyte is the author of “How to have more willpower”. What could you achieve if you had the willpower to do what you have to do? Well, good news: you can have all the willpower you need! Here’s how to have more willpower..

Photo Credit: Linda James

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