Do You Need Willpower to Lose Weight?

Pearl S. Buck Quote

Willpower has been one of the buzz words in the weight loss and dieting industry for years now. You might have used this term yourself from time to time. I know I often did. I’d often say, “I just don’t have the willpower to stick with a diet for very long” or sometimes I’d say, “My willpower isn’t strong enough to resist chocolate cake.”

I would blame my lack of willpower on my 513 diet failures, on my lack of commitment to exercise, on my lack of resistance to fast food, or any other unhealthy lifestyle behavior I chose to attribute my lack of willpower to.

Friends of mine who lost weight seemed to have almost magical willpower. They did seem to possess willpower, that elusive skill, that I did not seem to have at all. I would sigh in frustration when I ate too much because I didn’t have the willpower my friend Suzy had or listen with envy when my friend Jessica talked about going to the gym.

They had it. I did not.

Well, the truth is that successful dieting has little to do with willpower and a lot to do with choices.

“Wait just a minute Diane,” you may think when you read that sentence. You may think that dieting has everything to do with willpower, but research and real life experience shows otherwise.

Back in the 1950s willpower was the buzzword when it came to dieting success, but over the years, researchers realized that what made dieters successful was not willpower but the ability to change their behavior. In other words, to make different choices when it came to food and healthy lifestyles.

For me, willpower was a convenient thing to blame my lack of progress on. It was easier to say to myself that I lacked willpower rather than admitting to myself that I was making poor choices. The first put the responsibility for my weight on that elusive “willpower” while the second admission would have put the responsibility on me.

I love the above quote from the famous author, Pearl S. Buck. Here is it again for your contemplation.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” – Pearl S. Buck

Understanding and accepting this relationship between my mind making the choice and weight loss success was vital to me when I lost 150 pounds. Once I realized that it didn’t matter if I felt like I had no willpower to stop eating McDonald’s triple cheeseburgers but rather what mattered was whether or not I chose to eat those hamburgers – I gained a victory.

That victory was hard-won because that was a hard transition for me. For years, I had blamed my weight on a lack of willpower (and a love of chocolate) instead of owning up to the fact that it wasn’t willpower’s fault I was 300+ pounds. It was my fault, my responsibility, my decisions.

Hard stuff mentally, but vital for success.

If you find yourself faltering in your journey, having a hard time getting started, or blaming a lack of willpower on your current situation – I want to encourage you to move your thinking away from a lack of willpower and think about weight loss in terms of a series of positive choices that you make.

Of course no one is perfect and no one makes perfect choices all day long – I sure don’t. But consciously deciding to make positive choices and then actually following through on those choices is far more effective than trying to find that elusive willpower.

What are your thoughts on willpower? Do you have to have it or is successful weight loss more about choice and behavioral change? Diane

3 thoughts on “Do You Need Willpower to Lose Weight?

  1. Martha G says:

    So true! I really believe that why I was successful this last time (and final time) with the weight loss and maintenance is that I didn’t go on a diet. Rather I CHOOSE to eat healthy most of the time, track my food and move more. Nothing was off limits although I knew that making healthy choices most of the time meant that I wouldn’t be choosing chocolate and French Fries that often.
    In the past I struggled with what I saw as a lack of willpower because I couldn’t stick to a diet. Thankfully I realized that it’s not about willpower. It’s about finding a way to live a healthy life and eating good health food, moving every day, getting enough sleep and being at a healthy weight makes everything better.

  2. Debbie Engles says:

    When I was younger, my mom used to buy a lot of junk food and pack it in my lunch. She’d throw a piece of fruit in there as well, but when you’re a kid who would it. That went right in the school garbage can. The rest (junk food), went directly in my mouth. I was a chubby kid and was picked on. In the 4th grade, I as so disappointed with myself. My mom had buy my clothes in the chubby or they used to be called “Huskies” at the department stores. I had very little friends. That summer I decided I was going to do something about it. Yes, it was called will power back then, but it was truly a mind set and a choice. That summer when I was out of school, I decided enough was enough. I quit eating junk food and exercised about 3 times a day but for only 15 minutes each time. I lost about 20 pounds. When I returned to school, no one recognized me. They thought I was a “new” kid from another school. Overall, I didn’t need for my mom to put me on a diet. I made the choice to make a positive change in my life and stick to it.

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