I am no fan of willpower. It isn’t because I don’t have any. It’s because willpower is unreliable. One minute it’s there. Then blammo, it’s gone. Maybe it gets you through a chocolate craving several nights in a row. But then what happens? If you’re like many, you’ve been wooed you into a false sense of confidence. You let your guard down and before you know it, you’ve eaten a couple handfuls of cookies or several chocolate candies.
Better than willpower are strategies. Willpower fades – especially when you’re in a hurry, feel tired or have a million other things on your mind – but strategies and skills are yours forever. I’ve been saying this for at least two decades. Why I didn’t come up with the term “skill power,” I don’t know. I love that term, but it belongs to Dr. David Katz. He uses it well in his blog posts and in his excellent book Disease Proof.
To lose weight, manage blood sugar, trim down cholesterol levels or whatever your health goals, you need skills. Just like you cannot will yourself into being a calculus whiz, an expert driver or a rodeo star, you cannot will yourself into being healthy or into routinely choosing a balanced diet. Instead you need skills and strategies for the kitchen, the supermarket, parties and more.
Set yourself up for success by planning ahead, using strategies and eventually developing skills. Never say, “I’m going to do this because I set my mind to it.” Here are several strategies for your home.
Keep it out of sight. I am a lover of all things dark chocolate. Instead of keeping chocolate chips and chocolate candy in my pantry where I would see them multiple times a day, I store them in that hard-to-reach cabinet above my refrigerator. The chocolate is out of sight and even out of reach, unless I pull up a chair. I also plan to eat chocolate every night. This is truly one of my favorite strategies, and it helps me eat well all day. I look forward to my chocolate, so I pass on other food. Then I savor the heck out of it. After my small treat, I brush my teeth (another strategy), and I’m done eating for the night.
A few other strategies:
- Store tempting foods in opaque containers.
- Keep your trigger foods out of the home. Enjoy them when you go out.
- Delegate the frosting of cakes or the cutting of brownies, if they bring out your demons. And for me, they do. Fortunately, others in my family happily take on these tasks.
- Keep healthful foods, like a bowl of fresh fruit, in sight and in reach.
- Pre-portion tempting foods. When you first open a box of crackers or bag of chips or put away freshly baked desserts, pack them in single servings. Put two cookies or a dozen chips into separate baggies. Store all of the baggies in the original package or a larger storage container. My clients have so much success with this one simple strategy!
- Be selective with your dishes. Pick out a small bowl that’s just the right size for cereal and another for ice cream and so on. If you always eat these foods from the same dishes, you will always eat the same portion. Search online for portion control dishes. There are lots of pretty options.
- Pull out your measuring cups and spoons. If you don’t know how large your portion is, measure first, eat second.
Give up the notion that you need more willpower. Instead of working harder, work smarter. Please share your strategies to make the better choice, the easier one.