Martha Beck shares if willpower is an effective weight loss tool.
Willpower, contrary to so much conventional wisdom, is absolutely not an effective weight loss tool, and let me just sort of demonstrate why.
Think right now about the meanest things you say to yourself when you feel like you have overeaten, if overeating is a problem for you.
So say you think that you are a fat disgusting pig and you must never eat anything that isn’t good for you again.
Hold that thought in your mind and then just notice, without judging, with that thought in your mind do you want to eat less or do you want to eat more?
You probably want to eat more and this is something in the brain called the ironic monitoring principle.
So if I told you, you need to go home and get everything out of your house that is red, I don’t want to see any red in your house ever again, the first thing you’d have to do is go home and identify everything red.
So my instruction would have an ironic effect. It would force you to do the very thing, to focus on the very thing I am telling you I don’t want you to focus on.
And when we do that with food the more intensely we try to diet the more intensely the brain looks for food and so that’s why Americans are not only the most overweight culture in history but we are the most obsessed with dieting.
If being obsessed with dieting and willpower actually made people thin then Americans would be like swizzle sticks, we’d be so skinny.
The fact is that willpower actually has the opposite effect. So what works?
What works is kindness, believe it or not, to stand back from the part of you that overeats and say to that part of you, I understand.
I understand that you eat because you are anxious. I understand that you don’t feel good about yourself. I understand I don’t judge you.
May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.
That last little bit was a meditation from Tibet which has been shown to change the brain so that it is more equipped for happiness. It also will relieve you from things like binging anxiety.
If you have triggers that are causing you to binge eat, stop, stand back from yourself and offer that part of yourself that is so addicted to food, compassion without judgment.
You will feel the intensity of the anxiety begin to ebb and as you do this over and over again there will come a day for you as they did for me, when you open the refrigerator to binge and you look inside and you think, I am not hungry, I am just worried.
And you’ll close the fridge and go deal with your life, and then you will be the right weight.
About Martha Beck:
Martha Beck, Ph.D., is a writer and life coach who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, all from Harvard University. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.
Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers “Expecting Adam” and “Leaving the Saints,” as well as “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” and her newest book, “Steering by Starlight.” Dr. Beck has also been a contributing editor for many popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and is currently a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine.