Science has proved that dieting doesn't work - with only a small proportion of dieters managing to maintain 10% weight loss at a year. Most dieters say that they ditched the diet when their willpower 'ran out' and they just couldn't keep it up anymore. Research now shows that in fact they weren't being 'weak-willed' but that their bodies had made chemical changes to prevent them continuing on the diet for fear that starvation was imminent... and you can't fight thousands of years of evolution!
But, if you have made the decision that something needs to change to make you healthier, slimmer and happier, how do you ensure that you do keep it up and that your willpower doesn't halt your progress?
Well, if something is going to work, it has to be easy to sustain. In other words, you don't need much willpower to make it happen and to keep it up for good. We all know that our self-discipline can flag when we are tired and stressed, so we shouldn't overly rely on it. Any changes that you decide to make must therefore be easy to keep up, even in difficult situations. That usually means that they need to be small changes, that don't mean too much disruption to your normal life. But lots of small and easy to sustain changes add up, which is what we are looking for when it comes to successful, sustainable, long-term weight loss.
I have reviewed a number of different studies recently that offer help, so I thought I'd distill them here into: '5 ways to keep your willpower in tip-top condition':
1. Get enough sleep - people who are well-rested are more likely to make healthy choices.
2. Don't expect to be able to make too many difficult choices. A recent study showed that people faced with a stressful task to work on, and then asked to choose between different foods tended to make less healthy food choices; it's as though their willpower and concentration can only focus on one thing at a time! Accept it, and don't ask too much of yourself at any one time.
3. Think long-term. A recent study showed that people who keep their sights on more long-term goals tend to achieve more than those who focus on short-term rewards.
4. Think about the common reasons why you may fail in your efforts and take steps to prevent the sabotage. It may be friends or family who tempt you away from your path - how can you stop them? It may be that you are always too exhausted to go the the gym after work - think of a different way or different time to exercise instead that you will find easier to keep up.
5. Be kind to yourself. If your willpower slips, it isn't the end. Just think about why - were you tired, were you overly stressed, were you asking too much of yourself? Use it as a learning experience and address the reason why you deviated from the path you have chosen for yourself rather than beating yourself up about it - then it is much less likely to happen again.
So, don't ask too much of your willpower, it is scientifically shown to be pretty unreliable! Instead, adopt new habits that require minimal willpower to maintain and you will succeed in spite of your willpower, rather than because of it!