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Willpower, Visualization, Rebound Eating
Category: Happy Eating


Is weight all about willpower? Maintaining your weight, creating fat loss, controlling how much you eat, is that a willpower thing?

That was the great question in my e-mail last night. The asker was a recovering disordered eater working to let go of the obsession and restriction, but also struggling to control the rebound weight gain. Here's what I said:

Weight is all about willpower only if you're a yo-yo dieter on the brink of failure. Willpower is not a longterm solution. It's like holding your breath. You can only do it for so long and then you inhale absolutely everything. Once the novelty of eating yourself into oblivion wears off, you gather up some more willpower and suffer along until you inevitably fail again.

Willpower can get you through brief, tricky situations, like if you have a horrendous day and then end up alone in the house with trigger foods. You can tough it out for a few hours through pure willpower, but if you're relying on it every day in every situation, you're in trouble. If your appetite and emotions are being honestly addressed and dealt with, there shouldn't be any white-knuckling it. If you're out of touch with those things, then you're in the same boat as every fad dieter, forcing yourself to tough it out for as long as you can, seeing some success but rightly worried about how long you can last.

Eating more intuitively, being mindful of portions, listening to your body, paying attention to results, making adjustments, that's what works. I don't even worry that I might eat too much and gain weight. It's not a possibility. It wouldn't feel good, make me happy, or help me achieve my goals so I wouldn't do it. I might have a big meal or a big day, but then I have a light meal or a light day. I like to feel balanced and relaxed instead of always stressing and overly restricting, which tends to create the backlash of overeating.

The goal is to get to a place where you deal with emotions instead of trying to eat them or diet them away, to a place where you trust yourself, have confidence, experience lasting success, and enjoy the whole process. It's not the scary situation you're in now coming off of the eating disorder. This is temporary. Right now your body is urging you to eat, your hormones are wacky, your emotions are raw, and your mind is trying to keep a lid on the whole thing using primarily willpower. It won't always be that way. Things will settle down. The more you can picture how you want your eating to look, how you want your body to look, how you want to feel each day when everything is working, the faster you can make it a reality. As long as you're kicking yourself and spinning worst case scenarios, you tend to stay stuck in that situation with your fears creating your results. 

At first you may have to "fake it 'til you make it," acting like a confident, naturally thin, happy eater until the feelings become second nature and authentic. Suppose all of your goals are already achieved. You're in your happy weight range, eating your preferred way, looking great, exercising regularly but not excessively. What does your day look like? What do you wear? What's for breakfast? Do you workout? How does the "ideal" you handle various food situations? Restaurant meal? Gourmet gift basket? Family outing? Birthday party? Movie food? Home alone? Bad day? Bored?

You need to be able to picture the new behaviors before you can do them consistently. Anything that has ever terrified you or ended badly, you need to rethink. If you don't give it any thought, you just repeat the same painful patterns that haven't worked. Imagine that you have happy eating super powers if that's what it takes. Changing the way you think is the key to changing the way you eat.


So, questions for everybody:

What are your thoughts on "willpower dieting" and the yo-yoing it creates? Have you experienced it? Conquered it? Are you still struggling?

Have you made it from disordered/restrictive eating to normal eating? Was there a rebound weight gain?

Anybody using visualization, affirmations, vision boards, quote collections, or anything like that to reinforce positive change?


Diets freak me straight out. Even thinking about them can affect my eating. So, I don't entertain the idea of doing them anymore. That way I can read or discuss them without feeling that I have to change everything, give up favorite foods, or follow new rules. 

I gained 35-40 pounds from the depths of the eating disorder to the height of my rebound bingeing. Now, 20lbs of that, I probably needed to gain in order to be a healthy weight, but I just kept going. At the time it felt like a runaway train. The more I tried to muster my willpower and gain control of the situation, the more I cried and ate junk food. I thought my options were either binge eating out of control or going back to starvation. Health and fitness, middle ground if you will, were totally foreign territory but I eventually got there, and then turned my obsession to THAT. Suddenly, I wasn't trying to starve anymore, I was all about obsessive compulsive eating (OCE) as Brad Pilon calls it, trying to count my calories, balance my macros, time my refeeds, cycle my carbs. Gah! That went on for years.

Not to get all law of attraction woo-wooy, but when I heard the phrase, "thoughts become things" I became very aware of my thoughts for the first time. I realized that I wasn't going to punish, deny, and obsess myself happy. I quit looking to other people and programs to tell me how I should eat. I started thinking about how I wanted to feel and who I wanted to be. In an ideal world, how do I look? How do I eat? What is my day like? I didn't want to live in the gym anymore, suffer exhaustion, carry a cooler, eat every two hours, enter everything into software, fear restaurants, avoid social situations. So, I quit it.

Anyway, I'm all good now, but it's been quite an adventure! :-)

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