For years I had a daily battle with myself around food … “If I JUST had more willpower, I really could make this (insert whatever diet I was on) stick!”

I wrestled with “wanting more willpower” for years. When I was 23, I worked as a volunteer program manager at a nonprofit agency. Each day in the office, I would have this daily battle with myself: fighting in my head over whether or not I would steal a few of my coworker’s Hershey’s Kisses out of her candy jar. 

They’d call my name every time I walked by her office…

My mind would say, “C’mon, Jenn, you know how good this would taste. It’s way better than working on that boring mail merge you’re doing.”

I would argue, “But, I KNOW I’ll regret it after I have one. And I know I can’t eat just one! It’ll start off an endless spiral of wanting more….” Back and forth I’d go, half concentrating on my work, the other half on resisting Hershey’s Kisses. By about 2 p.m., my willpower would be shot, I’d give in and sneak a few candies. 

I’d immediately regret it, but the moment I finished, I wanted seven more. I’d create excuses to get up and go into my coworker’s office. (I don’t know if she ever knew who was eating all of her candy.)

After weeks of this, I decided one day to switch it up. The woman I was working with kept telling me that the MORE I allowed myself to have what I really wanted in my meals and snacks, the less I’d want the Hershey’s Kisses. I didn’t believe her. But something broke inside me one day—I was so sick of the my internal battle!—that I decided to give her method a try. 

Instead of dictating exactly what I’d have for my meals (oatmeal for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and an apple with almonds for a snack), I’d really try to let myself have what I wanted. 

I was sick of relying on willpower all day, as it never lasted past 2 p.m.!

It was a Tuesday morning in October. The old familiar tapes of “you should have a salad, you shouldn’t eat candy during the day, you’re supposed to not eat sugar, it’s not healthy” played continuously in my mind during the day, but I decided to ignore them. 

That morning I let myself have three whole grain waffles with peanut butter, bananas, and syrup (I’d NEVER let myself have anything other than oatmeal or yogurt). I felt rebellious (like the little kid who sneaks candy when Mom isn’t looking). Except it was just waffles with some toppings (including protein). And it was delicious. I felt a little bit guilty, but amazingly satisfied. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t thinking about food all morning at work. 

The satisfaction from my breakfast lasted the few hours it was supposed to. I had an early lunch at 11:30. I had packed homemade meatballs with some pasta and sauce. This was a far cry from the salad I had every day. 

(Yes, I had those panicked thoughts of “Pasta for lunch? You shouldn’t have that!” But I kept reassuring myself that this was an experiment and I could always go back to my salad the next day.)

I heated up my lunch in the microwave at work and ate in silence at my desk. It felt WAY more satisfying and enjoyable than the salad I usually brought. 

Again I felt a little rebellious … and a little bit afraid. Who was I to eat something that I actually enjoyed? Who was I to let myself have foods that I didn’t consider super “healthy” when I had weight to lose?!

But the lunch, just like the breakfast, kept me full and satisfied for the next few hours. 

I dove headfirst into the project I had been working on and immersed myself in the intricacies of planning for our big volunteer event. 

When I looked up at the clock, I realized it was 2:45 p.m. “Holy moly,” I thought. “It’s almost 3 p.m. and I haven’t once thought about raiding my coworker’s candy dish!”

It seemed like a miracle. I hadn’t relied on willpower. I didn’t force myself to walk by and not take a Hershey’s Kiss. I wasn’t even remotely thinking about having one! I couldn’t believe it. This was the first time in weeks that it felt easy to bypass candy … simply because I didn’t WANT it!

It was a feeling foreign to me. For so long, I had relied on willpower and discipline (which never lasted long). 

I’d love to say that from that day on, I never wanted another Hershey’s Kiss again. But we all know this journey isn’t linear, so I can’t say that happened. 

But it was my first experience of understanding that I could simply not want something just because I didn’t want it! My body was more balanced and I felt more satisfied.

There is this myth floating around that people who binge don’t have any willpower. That is actually quite far from the truth. When I was in the throes of bingeing and dieting, I had some of the most incredible willpower of anyone I’ve ever met. Some of the feats I managed to accomplish:

ï I cut out white sugar, white flour, and any refined products for six months. Six whole months! That means I didn’t have any bread, cookies, candy, cakes, chips, noodles, cereal—nothing for six entire months!

I survived on green bell peppers and ranch dressing as my lunch for three months. I was trying to diet and refused to eat anything else for lunch. This was almost impossible for a high school student who was surrounded by friends eating nachos, chips, soft pretzels, and pizza!

ï I ate nothing but lean protein and vegetables for half a year when I was healing from an intestinal parasite. If you think you get sick of salads after a few days, try eating nothing but chicken and vegetables for six months. 

You get the point. The women I know who’ve been on diets are some of the most strong-willed people I know! 

It is not about having more willpower. It is truly about rebalancing your body and letting go of all the behaviors that no longer serve you. It is about going deeper into the healing process—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—so that it’s natural and effortless to let go of the patterns, thoughts, and habits that hinder your progress. 

Bingeing is something that you will gradually let go of as you begin satisfying the needs that food filled in you on a deeper level. As you replace your old habits with new ways that better serve you, it becomes effortless and easy for those outdated patterns to fall away (which we’ll talk more about in a later chapter).

You don’t need more willpower, a stricter diet to follow, or more self-punishment. You need more satisfaction, more balance, and more physical nourishment so that your need to rely on willpower diminishes. 

Your Turn: Look at what you’re eating throughout the day. Where are you still following a rule or restricting? Where can you add something in your day that you find immensely satisfying? Notice how it impacts your need to rely on willpower!

Courtesy of Paul Rodriguez

Excerpted from How to Be a Normal Eater: Finally Make Peace with Food and Live a Life Free From Dieting by Jenn Hand with permission from the author and publisher.

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