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How Food Affects Willpower

I often hear my weight loss clients tell me about their struggles with willpower in avoiding snacks and impulse eating. Truth be told, it’s not so much an issue with willpower (psychological) as it is with hormonal signals (physiological).

Once you understand how certain foods react in your body you’ll have a much better chance of overcoming willpower issues.

A lot of so called experts will make the argument that a calorie is a calorie and all that matters for weight loss is you burn more calories than you take in. But there’s something the so called experts are not taking into consideration.

Ask most any experienced dieter and he/she will tell you that certain foods, like protein, seem to suppress their appetite while other foods like bread, crackers, potato chips and others seem to do the exact opposite.

Have you ever dug into a bag of potato chips and just weren’t able to put it down? Of course, we’ve all done it.

Isn’t it odd that you could polish off a whole bag of potato chips (1200 plus calories) and still be hungry when you’re done?

Try eating 1200 calories from almonds and see how far you get before you’re full. Do you really need willpower to keep from eating too many almonds? No, and the reason is because of hormonal responses in your body (primarily the release of leptin) that help signal fullness and satiety.

You see when you eat processed and refined foods, most which contain high fructose corn syrup and other negative partitioning agents; the natural hormonal responses that signal fullness are turned off.

You can easily over-consume calories but you never feel full and you’re left constantly hungry. You try and cut back enforcing your willpower but end up failing because you’re trying to fight the biology of your body.

Processed and refined carbohydrates along with sodas turn off the hormones that signal fullness and leave you fighting a losing battle with willpower!

Don’t be fooled either with “diet sodas” or low calorie foods with artificial sweeteners. Anything “unnatural” in your body will react the same way. The bottom line is you absolutely MUST eat natural foods if you want your body to produce the correct hormonal responses.

Another interesting phenomenon tied into all of this is “rebound hunger.” This occurs when you eat processed carbohydrates that sharply increase blood sugar levels. The sugar surge in your blood sets up an insulin spike from your pancreas to drive blood sugar down again.

Insulin interferes with the leptin hormone I was talking about earlier, that signals your brain that you’re full. This is why you can be starving only an hour or so after eating a stack of pancakes.

Eating proteins along with high fiber fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds have the opposite effect on your body.

I recommend evaluating what you eat one meal at a time and making small step-by-step changes to overcome willpower issues.

Breakfast: make sure you include plenty of protein, either from whey protein powder or by consuming eggs, cottage cheese, and other high protein foods. Leave out the muffins, bread, sweetened cereal, and juice that will only leave you feeling hungry a short time after.

I recommend eating fruits or whole grains like oatmeal in combination with your protein so you have slow released energy during the morning without feeling hungry.

Some people will argue that they’re not hungry in the morning. Once again this is due to your metabolism and unnatural shifts in your hormonal balances.

Don’t force yourself to eat more than you’re comfortable with, but start by eating something light (or do a protein shake) and over the course of a few days you’ll start feeling hungry again in the morning.

Important hormones like ghrelin adjust to habitual meal patterns so it just takes a little while to reset your balances.

Lunch: don’t make the mistake of trying to cut calories by skipping lunch. Going more than five hours without food causes hunger hormones (like ghrelin) to rise and fullness hormones (like leptin) to drop.

This is a sure fire recipe for sending excess calories consumed at dinner straight to your fat cells. It’s hard to beat a salad with vegetables and some lean protein for lunch.

Skip the croutons, bacon, and creamy dressings and try an olive oil and vinegar dressing. A lot of people don’t know this but using vinegar alone will cut your appetite and slow the rise in blood sugar.

Dinner: lean proteins and vegetables are always your best bet for dinner. Avoid eating bread before dinner as it makes you loose your sense of fullness and you’ll end up eating more at the main course. Same thing holds true for alcohol.

You can eat whole grains and healthy starches at dinner but just do so in moderation and in relation to your energy requirements (ex. an athlete needs more energy from starches than someone trying to lose weight).

Snacks: the real benefit of a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack is they serve as mini appetite suppressants, preventing blood sugar from dropping to low.

Remember, high sugar, high starch, or high fat snacks (including those 100 calorie snack packs) start a vicious cycle of more cravings while protein shakes, fruit, nuts, and vegetables do the exact opposite.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a free trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference with no-obligations.

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Category: Nutrition.