5 reasons why Willpower is NOT okay

Today started out like any other day.  I dropped the kids off to school, and inhaled the nice, cool air (okay, that’s not typical for Phoenix but it just rained last night) and proceeded to drive home, where a nice cup of black coffee was waiting for me.

As I drove home, Starbucks was calling my name (okay, not literally).  I have to admit- I’m a Starbucks snob.  Even though we are not rich by any means, I will gladly spend the money on coffee beans from Starbucks (I’ll try coffee from other stores too- I’m not THAT bad).  I used to put out a boatload of money on lattes every week (before black coffee started to grow on me). Now,  I don’t spend nearly as much on the popular coffee chain, as I used to, but every once in awhile it’s a nice treat.

So I waited in the drive through and lo and behold–there was a sign that said Pumpkin Spice Latte- here early!  I felt like I had gone to heaven.  This happens to be my favorite drink, so I just had to buy it and I am enjoying it now , as I type.

Photo on 8-29-13 at 10.34 AM

What is the point of this story? Well, because I happen to be a Health Coach… I went to nutrition school…. in fact, I just had a big talk on the dangers of too much sugar and even used a Frappuccino as an example.

I could use these points to shame myself; to feel guilty and like a failure.  I could ask myself, “who do you think you are, telling people to be healthy when you are enjoying this delicious latte?”

In fact, today on my personal Facebook page, I used the word “weakness” out of habit.   I stated that my “weakness” is pumpkin spice lattes.  So now you can guess what led me to write this blog post.  I started thinking about the word “weakness”.  What does it imply?  That I have no self-control, right? I realize now how shaming that word is.

 Actually, I DID have control.  I made a CHOICE to pull up, and wait in a 10 minute line for a drink that contains sugar.

Many clients in this situation will tell me that they didn’t have enough “will power”, which is essentially implying that they were “weak” in that moment.

I want to totally debunk that notion.  No, we are not “weak” for craving sugary foods and we do not have a will power problem.  What we  have is a guilt and shame epidemic.

I recently came across THIS article and love what it says about will power.

“The problem with willpower is that it doesn’t give you a guide for change,” says Albert Bandura, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Stanford University. “You need to develop your own self-management skills.”

What happens when we try our hardest to say “no” to a certain food?  We restrict and our life becomes a theme of constant lack.  Sure, it may be fulfilling in other ways, and we don’t “need” sweet foods to enjoy our life.  However, I think that restriction has a ripple effect.  If we feel restricted in one area, we will either make up for it by becoming obsessed with something else, or we will go the opposite direction and try to control everything else in our life as well.

After awhile, we can no longer use will power and we may end up binging or over eating on the very food that we had craved.  Even when I had anorexia, I could no longer sustain that and quickly turned to bulimia after I took a bite of a brownie.

If we occasionally give ourselves permission to enjoy that pumpkin spice latte…. or that cookie… whatever it may be…. we will actually be telling our brain that we are not in starvation mode which ultimately leads to greater digestion and assimilation of nutrients.

Here are 5 reasons why it’s NOT okay to have will power.

1.  If we continually say no, eventually we will say yes and that may lead to a binge. Relying on will power alone doesn’t last.

2.  It teaches us that we should always be restricting food, which leads to a punishment mentality.

3.  You may inadvertently be depriving yourself of certain nutrients that you need.

4. It takes the enjoyment out of the eating experience!

5. If you  become too obsessed with will power, it may actually lead to a condition called “orthoexia” which is an extreme obsession with nutrients and healthy eating.

Now, this does NOT mean that I am giving you permission to continually eat junk food all day, every day.  Moderation is key, and of course we need to strive to eat natural, whole foods.  But when we take the focus off of will power, and onto the power of CHOICE, we end up enjoying our food a whole heck of a lot more, which is nothing to be ashamed of AT ALL.

Now, back to my delicious latte. 🙂

To enjoying our food,

Kellie McGarry

Certified Holistic Health Coach



10 thoughts on “5 reasons why Willpower is NOT okay

  1. I love this post, Kellie! You are so right – it’s not self-control that most of us have a problem with, it’s the self-shaming. We all do it too – even health coaches. Thanks for reminder that there’s absolutely no shame in pleasure! I needed to read this today 🙂

  2. Awesome Kellie. Thanks so much for posting this. I have two teenage daughters and it wasn’t until they started worrying about their weight that I realized the guilt we put on ourselves over even eating normal food. I’m putting this on my facebook page for them and all their friends. (ha, and for me and all my friends too.)

  3. Yay, Kellie! I love this post. I’m working on one right now that’s all about the dangers of willpower — how it puts us in an either/or position instead of choosing by degrees. I’m glad you enjoyed your latte.

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