Dave Shaw 's Opinion

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Will power for weight loss is overrated

18 comments
Why is it that one person can walk past a box of chocolates and not even notice their allure, while others can't stop just at one sweet treat? Is this willpower or is willpower overrated?
Some people find it harder than others not to cave to temptation of sweet treats.
Photo / Thinksock
Some people find it harder than others not to cave to temptation of sweet treats. Photo / Thinksock

When we rely solely on willpower as a driving force, we often drain our reserves, making us susceptible to failure. In the words of social psychologist Roy Baumeister: "willpower is like a muscle, becoming fatigued from overuse". However, he goes on: "(it) can also be strengthened over the long-term from exercise".

There is no doubt that willpower is an important first step for change. It's about having the ability to care about what you are doing - you know the old chestnut, "where there's a will, there's a way".

The reality is, where there's a will, there really is only a will. It's an important first step, but it's not enough. To blame a failed diet on willpower is ignoring the complex interaction of brain chemicals, behavioural conditioning, hormones, heredity and the powerful influence of habits. We can't simply tell an overweight person to have more will, just like we can't tell a depressed person to 'snap out of it'.

Preventative medicine expert David Katz says: "You have to be empowered before you can take responsibility. Otherwise, you may have the will but lack the way. That's a formula for serious frustration and a set up for failure".

Experts in behavioural modification generally agree that diet is difficult to change. After all, how many of us can stick to New Years resolutions to eat better for longer than a month or two? Behavioural change is one of the hardest things to achieve if you don't know how.

We need the skills to get us to the end, especially if we are to take on the challenges of today. We live in a world of obesity and overeating, with easily accessible calories and a food industry that pushes food that makes us want more. Willpower alone is not enough.

So, here are some tips that could quite possibly save your life.

Carefully pick the people around you

The people around us have a huge influence on what we achieve. Surround yourself with friends and family who are willing to support you and who will pick you up if you take a fall.

Tell everyone what you are doing and seek support

The more people that know what you're doing, the more likely you'll complete what you set out to achieve. Try finding someone who has similar goals to you and work together to reach them.

Manipulate your environment

Our fast food nation doesn't exactly accommodate healthy diets and we can's just sit here waiting for the world to change. We must make our own changes. Get rid of any junk food sitting in your fridge or pantry and replace it with fresh, wholesome foods. Remember, your kitchen should be your sanctuary.

Learn to cook

It's starting to become well known that families who cook together are generally healthier than those who don't. If we don't know how to cook wholesome food, it makes it hard to maintain a healthy diet. This is why the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is promoting the benefits of cooking to Kiwi families, check out their competition here.

Learn how to shop

If we don't know what food to buy, how are we to cook it? Try getting most of your groceries from farmer's markets, produce stores and the local butcher. Another top tip - try shopping only around the perimeter of the supermarket.

Do it until it becomes a habit

The more we do something, the less we have to think about it and the more it becomes habit. Don't get disheartened if you drop the ball, some habits are hard to change, it might take you a few attempts.

Set smart goals

Don't use your weight as a short-term goal. The scales don't reveal much about health. Instead, try making behavioural goals. An ideal goal could be filling up half your dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables or eating two servings a week of omega-3 filled fatty fish. Keep it simple, you don't have to move mountains to live a healthier life.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Dave Shaw

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

Read more by Dave Shaw

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 23 Dec 2014 06:32:07 Processing Time: 550ms