Let’s set the scene: It’s 8:00pm on a Wednesday and you’ve only just arrived home after a long day at work. You, like 53% of people, made a New Year’s resolution to focus on your health, starting with making better nutritional choices.
Yet, somehow, despite all your determination, by 8:05pm you go into “f%$& it” mode and order Uber Eats instead of cooking that chicken and veg you promised your PT you’d eat.
But Why? WHY?!
Many would call this a lack of will power. But in reality, the seeds of dietary self-sabotage were sewn long before you decided to get that burrito delivered to your door.
So, how can you go about changing this behaviour?
Firstly, let’s define what’s actually happening here. It’s not really your willpower that’s to blame, as it’s not your ‘will’ that’s responsible for all of your day-to-day decision-making. This is actually the role of ‘executive function’ – your brain’s ability to override your primal instincts and focus on more high-level processing.
Concentrating on the task at hand and suppressing your cravings or other impulses requires executive functioning to be working hard throughout the day.
However, much like a muscle after a long bout of heavy weight training, it’s an intensive process that seems to ‘fatigue’ with use. This is often referred to as ‘decision fatigue’ – when you start to feel as though even the smallest choices are difficult to make i.e. what to have for dinner.
By the end of a long and stressful work day, you’ve no doubt accumulated a lot of ‘decision fatigue’ by primarily attending to important problem-solving tasks that didn’t bring you a lot of immediate pleasure. So, when you get home, your brain is yearning for instant gratification and you end up in an evening food binge as a way of self-comforting.
Although this momentary lapse in decision-making seems like willpower failure, it’s more accurately just a shifting of your emotional attention to more pleasurable things.
So, what can you do about it?
Firstly, understand that telling yourself you have weak willpower is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re always in control of the choices you make when it comes to nutrition. It’s never too late to throw something healthy together for dinner – Uber Eats is not your only choice at 8:00pm!
In saying that, also understand that after a long day you’re most likely going to experience decision fatigue. Therefore, it’s important to plan things ahead of time to ensure you’re able to keep yourself on track.
This is when easy-to-prepare or pre-cooked microwave meals are a good option, as they require little or no effort and leave you with no excuse!
We all have limits to how much executive functioning we can handle in one day. Instead of falling into the same repeated habits, come to terms with what you’re most likely to do and implement a strategy to mitigate it.
Ultimately, there’s no need to rely on your willpower.
Struggling with willpower?Get help with Nutrition
Hassan, B. (2019) ‘Top 2020 New Year’s resolutions revealed’ finder.com.auHenselmans, M. (2018) ‘WK10: Ad Libitum Dieting’ pp.36-37 and ‘WK11: Adherence’ pp.20-21 in The Henselmans PT Course Certification