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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Willpower: your last line of defense

I, like a lot of people, began my weight loss journey by using a lot of willpower. I used willpower to eat right, I used willpower to get my lethargic booty to the gym.

It was incredibly tiring. And there were many times that it failed.

What I've since learned is that willpower is a valuable tool, but it's my last line of defense in the battle to get healthy.

I'm going to use a military metaphor for a bit. Forgive me if it's a bit mangled, I'm not a military kind of a girl.

Willpower is like a sentry at the inner gates, waiting with a big sword to fight off the bad guys. He's a big tough dude, but Willpower is just one guy, and if he has to fight off whole armies, he's gonna get really tired. You need front line forces to keep back the bad guys so that Willpower doesn't have to do all of the work.

So what are your front line forces? Here are a few:

1) Habit
You already have a lot of healthy habits. For instance, you probably brush your teeth a couple of times a day and shower once in awhile. Building even more good habits is just a matter of setting small goals and integrating them into your life.

I habitually go to the gym and/or run each day, whether I feel like it or not. If I am fatigued, I do a lighter workout. If I need a rest day or days, I plan for it, I don't just say "nay" to the gym.

I habitually eat a certain ways that support my health, and I habitually eat every 2-3 hours (except after dinner). If I feel hungry or have the munchies between my mini-meals, I can just fall back on the habit of waiting till my feeding time.

That's just a couple of healthy habits I've developed. There are bunches of others. Habits take awhile to take hold, so at first it's willpower keeping them in place. Once they lock in, they are a great support structure.

2) Planning
I will plan this evening what to eat tomorrow. I will have my breakfast and lunch packed up and ready to go. I have a grocery list by the fridge so that I always have a talley of what healthy, easy foods I need to buy.

Before I go to bed in the evening, my gym bag is packed and sitting by the door, waiting to go. I don't have to renew my commitment, consider my options, or make any effort at all in the morning, I just grab my food and my gym bag and go.

I also plan for the week. Monday, Friday, and Saturday I do gym cardio and work out with weights (push, pull, and legs respectively). Wednesday I do a yoga class. Tuesday and Thursday I run outside and do physical therapy exercises. Sunday I rest or, if I feel energetic, do something fun like hike or mountain bike.

My planning is rough planning. If something comes up such as, say, an impromptu meal out, or a day when my shins hurt so I shouldn't run, or the opportunity to mountain bike for six hours, after which I can't possibly do a leg day at the gym, I simply adjust my plan. Flexibility needs to go hand in hand with planning or it can fall apart.

3) Realism
I know that I have a weakness for crackers. I like them with cheese, I like them with peanut butter, I like them plain. I love the little salt crystals on my tongue and the crunch in my mouth. I love their crunchy salty carby goodness. I will not get full quickly and will not stop when I get full. Thus, I don't buy crackers. I just walk on by that section of the store.

Now, some foods can be a problem but, as you grow, cease to be a problem. I have two pints of ice cream and a package of dark chocolate chips in my freezer right now, and I know that I can eat small servings of them as planned. Didn't used to be the case. So, I will check back on crackers again one day and see how it goes.

More realism. If I'm starving, I'm not going to an event where there are munchy little foods. I will eat something first, or skip the event. If I am feeling more appetite than usual, the movies, which smell like that wicked buttery popcorn, are not the place for me. If I travel, I bring food with me on the road so that I don't need to eat every meal out.

4) Attitude
I am constantly giving myself little pep talks. Or I'll ask my husband for a pep talk. I keep little quotations around my office and home that give me a lift. I have a list of heroes in my journal, people that I admire for one reason or another. I have a list of things I can do rather than eat. Thus, when I am weak or frustrated, I have a toolkit of places to turn.

If I "screw up" in some way, I don't beat myself up for it, I give myself compassion and ask myself how I want to feel - better? yeah, probably. What's that going to take? Usually it's being nice to myself and getting back on plan.

5) Self awareness
Often I feel like eating, but what I actually need is one of the following:
-time alone
-to admit that I am not happy about something
-to feel an uncomfortable feeling
-some sort of treat such as a massage or a new outfit

So, if I feel like eating or overeating and I don't have clear physical signals of hunger, I stop and check to see if I need one of those things or something else. It really works, even if I am unable to have that particular thing immediately, because I know that food isn't going to help.

Once in awhile, my front lines allow some temptation to get by, and Willpower saves the day. But, I try to give Willpower enough rest so that he doesn't have to wear himself out a dozen times a day.

As I said, this is just a few of your front line soldiers, fighting the good fight. There are many, many others. What are your front lines of defense?

Dr. Phil's seven keys to weight loss freedom


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