Why It’s Never About Willpower to Stop Chronic Overeating

Why Using "Force of Will"  Backfires

There is a false belief people have that changing the way you eat, and being able to lose weight and keep it off, is about discipline and willpower.

But the truth is it’s never about willpower.  And I want to help people understand that attaining more force of will is NOT the answer to ending chronic overeating, or changing your relationship with food. 

In fact, if you’ve dieted much of your life, you already have amazing willpower. That amazing willpower has allowed you to go on diets over and over and maybe even lose weight over and over, but that willpower to diet does not serve you in keeping the weight off long term. 

That strong willpower to diet will actually keep you stuck in chronic overeating.

Because trying to change eating habits by relying on willpower is essentially like fighting against yourself. You force yourself to stay away from food, or to not eat food, to get weight off, but then you feel exhausted from the food restriction & food rules, and trying to avoid temptations. 

As a result, your anxiety about food goes up because you’re always “on guard” around food and worrying about your eating. You are always trying to eat the “right” thing and the “right” amount. 

Food becomes almost like this enemy that you are hypervigilgant about, instead of it just being food.  

For a while, that hypervigilance toward food & the dieting may help you to feel like you have some control over your eating habits, and you will probably lose weight too. But it doesn’t last because when you are pushing back against yourself like that, by using willpower to try to stay in control and follow all the outside food rules, you can’t withstand all the pressure long term. The dam eventually breaks because you are tired of it, and you just want a break from the dieting and rules.

Typically what happens then is you go off the plan and you start breaking the food rules. Maybe you let yourself have a “cheat day” and it turns into weeks of overeating. Somehow you fall off the wagon and all the hard work you put into restricting food and dieting is lost, and the weight comes back on. 

You then beat yourself up mentally and maybe even hate yourself for it, and you feel like a failure. But it’s not your fault because this is the nature of dieting. Research even shows it has a 95%-98% failure rate. 

When food is the thing you are always withholding from yourself (or trying to withhold from yourself), it then becomes the most appealing form of relief and emotional comfort. 

That desire for the food is so amped up, that eating all the food you’ve been restricting seems like a solution to help you feel better. 

The really unfortunate thing is, when we do this time and time again, when we go to food to feel better and get relief from the stress of dieting or the stress of life over and over, the brain learns this pattern and it becomes a strong habit. Dieting is known to create emotional eating habits in people and to make emotional eating worse. We just automatically have this drive to overeat food when we don’t need food and we feel out of control. 

So then, the only way out of the habit of emotional overeating is NOT to find more willpower or more dieting. The only way out is to reteach the brain how to be with food in a normal, not-so-emotional way, by unlearning the habit. 

Once an overeating habit is transformed, we no longer have that automatic desire to go eat all the food, or keep eating all the food. Food is just food. 

If we are physically hungry we get to eat it and enjoy it, but it’s not on our mind 24-7.

So when it comes to restricting food, or removing certain foods from your diet, you never want to restrict food from a place of fear or force. Meaning, you don’t  want to restrict food out of the fear of weight gain, or as a means to try to “force” yourself into being in control around food, to lose weight. 

You don’t want to control, micromanage, or obsess about food in order to feel like you are in control of your eating. That is imprisonment. It’s very tiring and that type of food restriction always backfires and actually drives overeating behavior.

If you are going to choose to restrict certain types of food for health or even weight loss reasons, to not have it backfire, it has to come from a place of already having inner control. You are simply making a choice not to eat something because you don’t want it, or don’t feel like you need it. It doesn’t feel hard to do or like you are using lots of willpower to stay away from the food.  

You get to this place of freedom by first reteaching the brain out of its compulsive eating habits, so that the brain no longer has this automatic over-desire to go eat all the food, or to keep eating all the food. When that compulsive brain pattern is “rewired”, then  saying “no thanks” to the food is easy. 

And from that place, there is no fear or force driving restriction. It just feels natural not to eat the food if you don’t want the food. 

So instead of relying on dieting or lots of willpower to “manage” your eating or to feel in control of your eating, you can have freedom with food instead, and just say “no thanks” by unlearning the habit of overeating.

When the habit to eat emotionally or compulsively is no longer there, your brain is naturally much less interested in food. It no longer over-desires food and is no longer hyper-focused on food. It has a natural, normal desire for food - the way we were all born into this world to be around food. The way we were before we (or our upbringing) conditioned our brain to have so many emotional urges for food, and then tried to solve the overeating by dieting which only added fuel to the fire and made the struggle worse.

The good news is everyone can re-teach their brain how to have a natural, normal desire for food again. It is a process different than dieting to change eating habits in a lasting way, but for those who are committed to having that peaceful, easy relationship with food, it is absolutely possible.



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