Weight Control and Willpower -  photo courtesy of Artdaily.org - painting by artist Godfried SchalakenCredit: photo courtesy of Artdaily.org - painting by artist Godfried Schalaken

When people struggling with weight control hear the words “if you wanted to bad enough you could do it”; strong emotions can erupt.   Willpower and self-control are complex issues.   Obesity has become so rampant in western cultures, more and more research is being conducted to help figure out why people who are overweight have such difficulty losing the extra pounds. 

Obvious factors in the increase of obesity include the fact the advance of technology has allowed people to lead less activite lives in the course of daily routines.  In the modern day, people have to actually be motivated to exercise and lead active lives. Children have to choose to ride a bike rather than sit in front of a television or computer.   Technology has focused on exercising the mind more than the body; though this is now heading in a different direction, albeit slowly.  

What is Self-Discipline and Willpower? 

Willpower is the ability to overcome hardships or difficulties; to control impulses that lead to unnecessary or damaging actions.  Willpower is what allows people to arrive at a decision and follow through to the projected end in order to achieve a goal.  It is inner power; power of the mind. 

Self-Discipline iFood Addiction has Connection to Sugar Craving – photo courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture – photographer: Peggy Greb, USDA ARSCredit: photo courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture – photographer: Peggy Greb, USDA ARSs the perseverance people have in order to withstand hardships; the ability to reject immediate gratification in order to gain long-term gratification.  Broken down, discipline comes from the word disciple which means “to teach.”  Self-discipline therefore, is teaching the self which is necessary to achieve self-goals.  

Self-Control and Willpower are Influenced by Blood Glucose Levels 

According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, a leading researcher in the field of willpower and self-control, willpower is a mental muscle.  Self-control is a limited resource for people and Dr. Baumeister’s recent study results indicate self-control is influenced by the blood glucose level.  This makes sense as it is already known glucose impacts many functions of the brain.  Therefore, it stands to reason, when blood sugar is low, willpower and self-control will be low.  

Using this theory, it can be expanded to explain the success of nutritional programs advocating several small meals throughout the day rather than three large ones.  The dieters’ glucose levels are balanced and their willpower is at optimal strength for the majority of the time.   Many diet programs explain the process as simply a matter of the glucose level balance creating the balance of the body’s hunger.  A more in-depth explanation would include the impact of the glucose balance on the willpower and self-control that the dieter experiences. 

Dr. Baumeister cites several examples to support his theory; smokers generally eat when they can’t smoke; students studying for exams often eat to help concentration.  His theory could also help explain issues of emotional and compulsive eating.   Again, during either of these episodes, a dieter’s brain function is most likely operating from a stage of depleted willpower.  In keeping with the theory of the glucose factor; keeping the brain and thus the body’s glucose balanced would help reduce the likelihood of an emotional or compulsive eating episode.  

Increasing Willpower and Self-Control 

Willpower has helped and defeated many people with addictions.  Food addictionWillpower Takes Self-Control and Self-Discipline – photo by user: freakofnurtureCredit: photo by user: freakofnurture is a serious issue and strengthening willpower is only one solution in overcoming it.  Keeping the blood sugar level balanced in the body appears to be a key factor in overcoming the struggle of weight control.  This is not news; but learning the balance also keeps the willpower fueled is news and can bring hope to the struggling dieter.    

Monitor self-talk and keep thoughts positive. Laughter is another booster to willpower.  Don’t be fooled by advertisers who target people’s willpower by offering substitutes—quick and easy fixes to weight problems.  Start with small tasks to practice strengthening the willpower reserves.  This can lead to the ability to have the self-control to weather the large tasks and the self-discipline to achieve the end goal.   




New York Times.com “How to Boost Willpower” 



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