ON BEING FAT: PART III—WHAT’S UP WITH WILL POWER?

When it comes to weight, there are various types of people. First, there are the people who are naturally slim and have been since they were children. They can eat like truck drivers and never put on a pound. My sister-in-law, Rose, falls into this category, and she is as pretty and as trim now as she was 20 years (or so!) ago when she married my brother. I sincerely hope that naturally slim people start each day giving thanks that they don’t have to worry and obsess about every single mouthful of food they eat. They hit the jackpot with body metabolism, and while I don’t exactly begrudge these people their good luck—all right, I’m a little bitter—I’m certainly envious.

Then there are the people who have small appetites. Somehow, they just don’t want to eat that much. They get full very fast, and their bodies seem to have an internal gauge that prevents them from overeating. These people are a complete mystery to me, and I have watched in astonishment as small-appetite friends have left half their desserts uneaten. (Guess who often eats the other half?) People who have small appetites don’t appear to struggle with portion control. It just comes naturally to them, and like their sisters and brothers blessed with fast metabolisms, I hope those with small appetites start each day giving thanks for this gift.

Next come the people with will power. They like to eat, but they are firm with themselves. One friend, in particular, comes to mind. She is well into her 60s, and what a terrific figure she has. She likes to cook, she likes to eat, and she has a good appetite, but she knows how to say no to herself. It’s not that she won’t eat dessert or chips; she just doesn’t eat them very often. I view this friend with something like the awe that I would reserve for a Zen master.

Finally—and I know the above list is not all inclusive—there is the majority, I think, people who love to eat and who have bodies that love to put on weight. Will power is touch and go; sometimes we have it, but often we don’t.

What’s up with will power, anyway? In the New York Times, just in time for the new year, John Tierney wrote a piece called “Be It Resolved.” The piece is about New Year’s resolutions in general and will power in specific, and there is good news and bad news. I always like to begin with good news: Those who make resolutions are much more likely to “make improvements than someone who hasn’t made a formal resolution.” It seems that a statement of intent really does make a difference. Here’s the bad news, which will come as no surprise: “By the end of January, a third will have broken their resolutions, and by July more than half will have lapsed.”

It all comes down to will power, to staying on course and not giving up. But according to Tierney, here’s the fascinating thing: Social scientists have come to believe that will power is not just a metaphor but rather “a real form of mental energy, powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as you exert self-control.” And “ego depletion” is what happens when you “exert self-control” over an extended period of time. In other words, you just plain get tired. (Doesn’t anyone who has ever dieted instinctively know this? You just plain get tired of keeping track of every single thing that you eat and of constantly saying no to yourself.)

But there are ways to deal with flagging will power—“ego depletion”—and Tierney suggests “that the way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to anticipate the limits of your willpower.” It seems that people who  have the best will power arrange their lives so they are not constantly tempted by their favorite things. “They play offense, not defense, using their willpower in advance so that they avoid crises, conserve their energy and outsource as much self-control as they can.”

As Tierney notes, this is especially relevant for dieters. The more people diet, the less glucose they have in their systems, which, in turn, affects their will power. It really is a nasty cycle.

Tierney goes on to list a series of strategies to deal with the problem of will power, and, among other things, they range from setting a clear, single goal to precommitting yourself to finding ways of rewarding yourself when you reach a goal.

Tierney’s article is thought provoking, and it illustrates why people often fail to achieve the goals they really and truly want. Even for those who have never struggled with such things, the article is insightful, and I highly recommend it as I have only touched on its key issues in this post.

As for me and losing weight—I have adopted a strategy that instinctively takes flagging will power into consideration. But before I describe “my” system—actually it was developed by a man named Fats Goldberg—in the next post On Being Fat I want to write about another pitfall of dieting that science has recently shed light on—that is, how the body doesn’t like losing weight.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “ON BEING FAT: PART III—WHAT’S UP WITH WILL POWER?”

  1. As a member of your not-very-exclusive club, I am finding this series of posts very interesting reading. I’ve read much of what you’ve referred to already, and you are doing a good job of highlighting the salient points!

    Or perhaps I should say you are not exhausting my ego with your writing 🙂

    1. Thanks, Ali! Two more posts to go on this subject. I hope that by the end, your ego still will not be exhausted 😉

  2. Hello luv,
    Great post…as usual. I’m always interested in what you’re thinking and doing and eating. 😉 I lost about 40 lbs. a couple of years ago and have managed to keep it off, quite easily actually, by simply being aware of quantities and reminding myself that I can eat anything, I just can’t eat the whole thing…at least not all at once. I don’t believe in “dieting” per se and I realized that there was no way I was going to give up ice cream, or donuts, or pie, my personal favorite, entirely, so I had to find a way to manage my eating habits. Now I simply have a sliver of pumpkin pie rather than half the pie or, as I used to eat, the whole pie in one sitting. I remind myself that it will be there and I’ll have it….later. It works for me. I kicked off my program by reading and following the guides in “The 35-Plus Diet for Women” by Jean Perry Spodnik and Barbara Gibbons (who used to be a neighbor). That got me off to a good start in re-programing myself. I also found “French Women Don’t Get Fat” very helpful in developing a new mentality toward food. It’s awfully nice to be able to eat everything on any menu and still be a size 10. I guess it all boils down to the decision that I’d rather be slendor than eat everything in sight right NOW! It gives me the “will-power” to delay gratification and I don’t feel deprived at all. Interesting thing I learned from “French Women…” – we only really taste the first three bites of anything; after that it’s just stuffing it in. I suppose that’s why portion sizes in gourmet restaurants are soooooo small. Anyway, I’ve found that after a relatively wee while a NEW habit is formed and it gets easier and easier to eat appropriate portions to maintain one’s ideal weight until it becomes second nature. XOXOXOXO

    1. Thanks for sharing your “regime,” Burni. I have heard of this system, and it’s wonderful that you’ve been able to not only lose 40 pounds but also keep them off. Quite an accomplishment. I also like “I’d rather be slender than eat everything in sight.” As would we all!

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