Is It Your Willpower or Your Brain?

Posted On Feb 21, 2014 By Vito La Fata

willpower and brain

Do you ever feel like because you made one bad choice in your eating today, it has cost you the whole day? Do you feel like it all went down the tubes? Like you're a failure? You have no willpower?

Well, it's not just you.

It's your brain.

Choosing between movies, restaurants, food, entertainment, clothes and the thousands of other choices we make almost unconsciously every day can be downright confusing, exhausting and actually costs your brain energy in the form of glucose (energy from food). As the day wears on, each choice you make is sucking more energy (glucose) from your brain and making each successive choice more difficult to manage. That's why morning decisions are easier than those you make later in the day. And why you need to eat to fuel your brain.

Think of it this way – when your brain is starved of what it needs to make good choices and you lose control of managing those choices, you make poor ones like eating the whole bag of chips, grabbing that triple scoop of ice cream and watching two hours of sitcoms. And those choices end up in all the wrong places.

It can be draining when you think about all those decisions you have to make every day, and as much as we would like to believe that our focus and willpower are infinite, they are not. There is a limit to each, and when we hit that limit, our brain tends to take the path of least resistance and make poor choices.

How does this look in the small, seemingly insignificant decisions we make every day?

6:30 a.m.: Your day starts with you trying to figure out what to do to get the kids off to school on time. Short on time, you decide to skip breakfast.

10 a.m.: Your body is crashing at work; that no breakfast thing is coming to bite you in the butt now. You feel distracted and have a hard time being productive.

12 p.m.: You somehow power through the morning and get to lunch, and because you're really feeling the effects of deciding not to fuel yourself, your body is hitting some low blood sugar levels right about now. You decide a quick salad for lunch is a good idea, and it seems healthy enough.

2 – 2:30 p.m.: Your body is in a downward spiral as your blood sugar is plummeting with the low protein levels in your body. You popped another coffee or energy drink, but it didn't sustain you long, and your body is truly starving itself, feeding only on caffeine and the nutrient poor foods available on the run.

5 p.m. – 6 p.m.: Shoot out of work, but you're always running just a few minutes behind, so you feel rushed and overwhelmed. You forgot to have something handy so you choose to just wait until dinner, and your body is starting to store calories again since it's going to be coming up on 4-5 hours since you last ate.

6:30 – 7 p.m.: Dinner with family is partially made up of processed foods you bought at the grocery store and without a healthy balance of veggies, protein and healthy portions, the overeating starts. Then you plop on the couch, feeling exhausted. But you have to get the kids to bed and wrap up this day and hope you don't reach for another sugar comfort snack before going to bed yourself.

Not an ideal day or lifestyle to find yourself trapped in.

So, what can you do about this?

  1. Eat nutritious food regularly so that your brain has plenty of glucose to bump up your willpower.
  2. Streamline your choices. Fewer options are easier to choose from. Less bad choices to slip into.
  3. Use healthy quality meal replacements in order to keep the poor choices – like vending machines, fast food, energy drinks and coffee—to a minimum and your brain fueled.

Don't take the confusion over the thousands of choices in front of you lightly. Prepare yourself to make the right choices, and you could be seeing the results on your waistline and in your health with less effort and your willpower intact.