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Relying on willpower to lose weight? Why it's better to create new behaviors

The pounding-your-chest "I will have willpower" attitude doesn't cut it, says TODAY Tastemaker Keri Glassman, R.D.
/ Source: TODAY

Weakling. Loser. Wimp.

chocolate cake
Have you ever said, I'm not going to eat the cake? That's a negative reaction which can work against you.Shutterstock

Is this what you’re calling yourself after you’ve gobbled a pizza and 16 oz. of soda?

You tried to justify the indulgence with, “I’ve been so good for weeks." But, now, you’re mentally destroying yourself, and you're filled with guilt.

You can't understand what happened. Why did you kick your willpower to the curb? You'd been watching motivational YouTube videos and posting inspirational quotes on FB. So, how did you get in this yuck position of being filled with feelings of failure?

Because willpower is not the end-all-be-all. In fact, it stinks! If you’re working hard to have willpower do its thing, it may be working against you.

Why willpower doesn't work

I hate to use the word hate, but I hate willpower. It’s a term that gets a lot of positive attention and praise. But, actually, it’s all negative. Have you ever said, “I’m not going to eat the cake” or “I’m not going to eat the pasta”?

It's all negative energy.

Why focus so much energy on pushing ourselves to not do things? It’s mentally draining. It makes nobody happy. And, ultimately, it’s not good for our waistlines.

I’ve found with my clients that this whole willpower thing just doesn’t work.

First, it can create stress, and we know what that does: Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases. This can cause weight around the midsection and make us crave the worst types of food.

If you’re “stressing out” about eating the cake, guess what?

You may gain weight from the stress — without actually eating the cake! You also may end up eating three pieces — because cortisol causes you to crave it even more, and well, eventually you give in.

RELATED: What's 'moderation' anyway? 6 tips for enjoying chocolate, cheese (and wine!)

1. Focus on the positive.

I have my clients focus on the CANs: you CAN have the blueberries and a cup of green tea that you love, or you CAN have a small bowl of pasta as a side dish with a big ol' portion of veggies and some lean protein as your main course.

Trust me. This works. And, you’ll be happier along the way.

It’s all about making that mental shift.

RELATED: One basic diet change may be all you need to be healthier at any age

2. Be prepared.

Preparation is key and sets you up for success. Next time you feel like you have to white knuckle it through temptation to prove you have willpower, just stop.

Instead, spend that same energy planning and preparing. If you know a certain situation triggers you to overindulge, plan a control for it. The birthday cupcake in the office? Perhaps that is when you eat your apple and peanut butter. Or, try this.

3. Know your HQ.

Learning to listen to your body is the best gift you can give yourself. Knowing that it's okay to feel hungry and to eat something (versus holding out), and being confident about when to stop eating are skills we all need to master.

I teach clients to pay attention to their bodies to learn about their hunger quotient or HQ. You need to eat when you are a 6, or slightly hungry and stop eating when you are a 4, slightly satisfied.

RELATED: 4 quick steps to stop you from eating when you're not really hungry

Eat slow, sip water, chew your food, and listen to your body.

Keri Glassman, R.D. is a TODAY Tastemaker. She is the founder of Nutritious Life.