Why are diets so hard to stick to? Why do we fail more often than we succeed?
The answer comes down to the brilliant way we are designed and when we work with this design, instead of against it, that’s when our unwanted habits begin to fall away.
Transcript of episode
Welcome to this Q&A episode of Unbroken. I’m your host, Alexandra Amor.
Today I have a question for you. First I want to say to please let me know if you have questions about letting go of unwanted habits. You can do that at alexandraamor.com/question and I’ll answer your question on an upcoming Q&A episode. I’ll be happy to do that.
Today’s question is, again, from me, back when I was really struggling with an unwanted over eating habit.
I can only ever stay on a diet for three days. What’s wrong with me?
This was something that I really struggled with, and you might as well, which is why I’m posing it. This question of willpower, and how we’re supposed to be able to have the kind of willpower that enables us to circumvent, I guess, I would say, an overeating habit. Get over it, get under it, get around it.
We live in a culture that’s very willpower oriented, I’ve noticed, in the diet and weight loss and letting go of unwanted habits industry. The other thing I noticed was that a lot of places or people that want to support us to let go of an unwanted overeating habit, at least my experience was, that what they were doing was giving me alternative ways to have willpower.
What I mean by that is the things that we try, for example, counting food points, having a maximum number of points that you’re supposed to be eating every day, and then assigning each food a number of points and adding those up. Or restricting the kind of food that we eat. So only eating certain things, not eating other things. All those kinds of examples are, to me now looking back, it looks like ways of bolstering our ability to have willpower, and we’re trying to strengthen our willpower.
In fact, one of the healing-your-overeating-habit programs that I tried was one where it was all around the science of willpower. And getting ahead of how much willpower we have every day. The person who created this, felt that or saw in the psychology and science literature, that we have a limited amount of willpower every day. It’s like a gas tank. And when we run out, according to this theory, that’s when we fall back on over eating habits. And so the idea was that you did a bunch of stuff to make sure that your willpower tank didn’t get that empty.
I remember reading that book on an airplane going to Ontario to visit my family many years ago, probably in 2015 or 2016. And thinking, oh, yeah, this is it. This really makes a lot of sense, which it did. Innocently, I grasped onto it and gave it a try. And maybe like you I lasted three days, and then it all fell apart. Maybe a week at the most.
So here’s my answer to why that happens. And the first thing I want to say is that you’re not a failure, if that’s happened to you. And this isn’t about a lack of moral character on your part or even a lack of willpower. It’s really not about that.
It can look that way. And of course it does and the diet industry really tells us that there’s a lot going on in that willpower area. But what I’ve discovered through the exploration of this inside-out understanding is that the answer doesn’t lie there at all.
When we’re trying to apply willpower to overcoming an overeating habit, or any other habit, we’re trying to circumvent the way that we’re built, the innate and divine engineering that’s within all of us.
In a way, the reason we aren’t able to do that, the reason we fail very often at these things, is because you can’t do that. You can’t fight Mother Nature. The way that we’re designed is so much more powerful than our little brains can organize.
What is really going on, is that with a craving, with the feelings that we have about food and the drive to overeat, that’s a signal from our body. And it’s trying to tell us something. It’s like the check engine light in a car, or I also use the example of a flagger on a on a road. It’s not something you want to ignore. And what I teach is that when we look in that direction, when we see the wisdom of that signal, it’s really just a signal, that’s what cravings are, from our divine engineering. That’s when the need for the check engine light or the flagger on the road goes away.
But if when we try to circumvent that with willpower, with increasing our willpower, and as I said, get around or over or under our natural desires to overeat it’s like trying to hold back the tide with a beach towel. I think that’s how I said it in my book. It’s like trying to stop a storm, a big rainstorm, or a snowstorm just with wishful thinking. It’s, as we found out, as I definitely have found out, it’s just not possible. Mother Nature is so much more powerful.
And thank goodness for that, because our bodies never give up on us, our bodies never stop sending us those signals.
There’s a funny episode of, or a running joke on the TV show Big Bang Theory. And on it, the neighbor, Penny, if you’ve seen the show, it’s an American sitcom. Every once in a while, she has to take someone in her car, which is kind of an old beater because she doesn’t have a lot of money. And so the running gag is that the check engine light is always on and she doesn’t take that as a signal that she needs to check her engine. She ignores it and hopes it will go away.
And then over a couple of seasons of the show, there’s one episode where the check engine light has gone off. And she sees that as a very positive sign. And whoever it is with her in the car is horrified of course, because it’s kind of like the engine has given up or the car has given up trying to give her this signal that she needs to check the engine.
Thankfully, our design is not like that at all. And seeing how persistent cravings are and how they will not let us get around them with willpower and planning and all those things that we try to do to control our cravings is actually a really positive sign. It shows us that our our nature, the way that we’re built, is trying to work with us. It’s trying to alert us that we’re caught up in some thinking that’s maybe not healthy for us, that our minds are very busy, that we’ve forgotten who we are and what our true nature is.
Those little check engine light reminders are never going to give up on us. They’re always going to be there until we see them for what they are. And then once we see that they start to drop away. So that’s my answer to the question of why you may have been unable to stay on a diet for any recommended length of time. And I think this also applies.
Sometimes people do exhibit a tremendous amount of willpower, and they’re able to stay on a diet for quite a while and lose quite a bit of weight. And then, as you’ve probably noticed, I certainly have, the weight comes back on. We return to the old eating habits that we had. And why is that? That’s because the our true nature still wants us to see what’s really going on.
We may have been able to hold the tide at bay for a little while. But eventually, it’s going to come back in. And this is also why habit switching happens. So somebody may be able to stop drinking, let’s say, but they pick up a different habit of maybe smoking or are eating too much.
So that’s the answer to that question for today. I hope that’s been helpful for you. And as I said, if you’d like to submit a question about your challenges with an overeating habit or another habit, please let me know.
I will see you again next week with a new Q&A episode. Take care, talk to you soon. Bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai