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Beyond Trim

Eating Away at Your Willpower

I have heard willpower described as "a muscle that can be strengthened with practice", but everything I read from experts on how the brain works leads me to believe that it’s more like a gas tank. In the morning, we start out with a full tank. Every time we make a decision, make a choice, or resist an impulse during the day, we use a little bit of our fuel. We don’t have a separate supply of will power for each activity in our life, so at the end of a busy day, we may not have the energy left to make good decisions about what to eat.

A good night’s sleep helps refill our willpower tank, but what if you could do something to increase your “miles per gallon”? People who are successful at following a healthy diet don’t necessarily have more will power than others...they have probably found ways to eliminate unnecessary decision making or make healthy choices easier.

We make dozens of decisions each day that involve food. What’s for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Should I order this, that, or the other thing? How much? We can eliminate many of these decisions by planning and preparing meals in advance. Sit down with your calendar once a week on a quieter day and decide what you will be eating. Write the meals on your calendar. Shop if you need to and prepare as much of the food in advance as possible. Planning even one meal per day means one less decision to make, and a little less stress. Cooking and cleaning up for the week instead of every day also makes your life easier.

Since any decision or choice you make affects your supply of will power, it makes sense to automate other things. For example, how much time do you spend deciding what to wear in the morning? “Geniuses” like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are among those who are known for wearing pretty much the same thing every day because it meant they did not have to make so many decisions. I’m not suggesting that you wear a black turtleneck every day, but simplifying your wardrobe is one other way to preserve your brain power.

Another fairly successful person once said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.” That guy was former President Barack Obama.