Is Eating Well A Matter Of Willpower?

The first person we blame when our diet regime doesn’t go to plan is often ourselves and as a result it can be easy to fall into a self-loathing spiral which leads us to binge before ‘committing’ to another diet plan and experiencing the same cycle. So the question is, if eating well comes down to will power then why is it so hard? Well the truth is, will power in some situations plays just a minor role in our ability to make healthier dietary choices. There are actually so many other factors which have a greater impact than willpower when we’re trying to eat a more nutrient dense diet.

It's common to think that if we’re educated around nutrition we’ll be able to make dietary changes very easily and whilst education is really important and can definitely help in the initial stages, it’s by no means the main factor influencing dietary change. This is evident by the fact that despite the population having more access to nutrition and health education than ever before, the obesity rates in the UK remain high. So if healthier eating isn’t predominantly fuelled by education or willpower then what is it?

Well, around 50-70% of our behaviour is actually non-conscious and is led by habits rather than us making conscious decisions. In addition to habits, our brain chemistry also plays an important role in our ability to make healthier dietary habits. Our brain has an innate preference for high energy food as these foods generate a dopamine hit which physiologically makes us feel good. It’s common not to consider psychology when trying to make changes but rely on oneself.

Understanding why we eat the way we do should be the first step in trying to make dietary change, if we don’t understand the causes of our eating habits then how are we to change them? Common challenges which prevent people from making healthy choices and changing their habits often include: emotions, convenience, price and taste preferences to name a few. Whilst these will be really unique to everyone, we’ve highlighted some ways in which you may be able to overcome these challenges:

 

  1. Emotions – this is one of the greatest contributors which can make healthy decisions really challenging. However, if we can undergo emotional regulation to help manage our emotions and release them in other ways than food, making healthier choices becomes far easier.
  2. Convenience – being prepared and knowing where to turn when you’re in a rush can make those unconscious decisions much easier. We recommend having a stock of Transformation Chef meals in the freezer to ensure you’ve always got a healthy meal to fall back on. Additionally, having healthy snacks in the cupboard and your bag can help to reduce the risks of opting for high sugar snacks.
  3. Price – there’s a common misconception that eating a healthy diet is expensive, the truth is if you’re prepared, organised and creative it really needn’t be.
  4. Taste preferences – trust us when we tell you these change. As you change your diet, your palate will change too. You’re likely to find the sweet snacks can taste far too sweet and your cravings can change too.

 

Making healthier dietary and lifestyle choices is more about changing habits than anything else. We’re not saying education and willpower aren’t important, of course they are but alone they’re not going to generate dietary change. Changing your habits is never easy but with the right support it’s totally possible. Try to identify your barriers and create answer to them. Hopefully us outlining a few examples above can help you to see how it can be done. Should you find your relationship with food is impacting your daily quality of life please seek personalised professional help.

 

Stevenson, R. J. (2017). Psychological correlates of habitual diet in healthy adults. Psychological bulletin143(1), 53.

Evers, C., Marijn Stok, F., & de Ridder, D. T. (2010). Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality and social psychology bulletin36(6), 792-804.