Finally! We’ve located your willpower. It’s hiding in the frontal lobe and needs to be exercised like a muscle. Here’s how to tame that beast:
FEED IT 24/7
The brain needs glucose to function, says Roy Baumeister, co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength. In fact, studies show people with steady glucose levels were more persistent at attempting an unsolvable task than those whose levels had declined. “Benefits last longer with glucose that’s from protein,” says Baumeister. Eat seaweed – it has as much protein as eggs, but no cholesterol. No need to forage at the beach either, try Itsu Crispy Seaweed Thins (£1.50, waitrose.com).
Scientists have a name for that post-gym binge: compensation. “The harder your workout, the bigger you think your compensation should be,” says Timothy Church, director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Click here for low-calorie snacks, or choose a non-food treat. Buy an iTunes download each time you work out or enjoy a cinema outing after 10 gym visits. It’s a win-win situation.
A study in the Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology found people with the best self-control were those who relied on willpower less during the day. In other words, they set up their lives to minimise temptation as much as possible. Limit your snack options around the office. Studies show the less choice you have and the more ‘familiar’ the food (read: boring), the less you’re likely to eat, according to research from the University of Buffalo. Rice cakes it is then.
WILL YOURSELF SLEEPY
“Willpower is lower when you’re sleepy,” says Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical health psychologist. In fact, the average night owl consumes an extra 248 calories daily than someone who goes to bed earlier – with most racked up after 8pm according to a study published in Obesity Journal. Try a glass of Biona Tart Cherry Juice (£4.63, goodnessdirect.co.uk) before bed. Research from the University of Pennsylvania found tart cherries boost our melatonin levels, which helps to promote sleep. A fruity solution.
IMAGINE THE WORST
It’s easy to assume one more takeaway won’t hurt. To fuel resolve, try overestimating. A University of Texas study found exaggerating the number of calories can help you resist temptation. Make a Pinterest board of pictures of healthy women and look at it for five minutes before you are due to have a treat. Female participants in the above study were more likely to exaggerate calories and eat less of the tempting food when they’d been exposed to such posters. Perve so you swerve (the Big Mac).
DELAY, DON’T DENY
Instead of saying no, tell yourself you’ll eat later. A recent study found people who postponed eating crisps resisted temptation better than those who tried to refrain. “Postponement weakens desire at the precise time when it overwhelms willpower,” says study author Dr Nicole Mead. Cravings usually last less than 10 minutes, so keep your hands busy – paint your nails, tidy your desk. Think how much you’ll get done.
BUILD YOUR RESOLVE
Exercise your willpower with three simple rules:
Meditate: It activates your prefrontal cortex (helps you make smart choices) and anterior cingulate cortex (helps you choose when to make them). Ohm.
Sit up: … Or stand tall – good posture requires mindfulness. It also builds self-confidence, further fuelling willpower.
Speak correctly: Use full sentences, and avoid contractions and profanity. The mental effort sharpens your ability to say no.