Don’t Sweat the Sweet Stuff

Ahh…., the holidays. It is officially that time of year.

Okay...Maybe not that much egg nog.

Okay…Maybe not that much egg nog.

I used to dread the holiday season. A large portion of my Scroogeness stemmed from my inability to resist anything that even remotely resembled a dessert. Cookies…yep. Pumpkin pie…you know it. Eggnog? Don’t set your glass down anywhere near me and walk away. By the end of the holiday season, I would be 10 to 15 pounds heavier and regretting my eight-week long love affair with sugar, spice, and anything else made by grandma. For many years I would just write it off as something everybody does during the holidays.

Deep down though, I know it was because I lacked a ton of willpower.

These days, holiday desserts don’t have a stranglehold on me like they once did. I can attend a party that’s loaded with the sweet stuff and leave relatively unharmed (nothing wrong with enjoying a cookie or two at a party). What separates the old me from the new me is my new found understanding of willpower and how to leverage it.

The American Psychological Association defines willpower as “the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals… The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse.”

Willpower is commonly likened to a muscle. If you use it repeatedly, it can fatigue and lose its effectiveness. Give it some rest though, and it can regain its strength. It also can become stronger with deliberate practice. Almost every decision we have to make throughout the day has an effect on our willpower

Research studies have shown that whenever we make a decision that goes against the action we want to engage in, it drains a little bit of the willpower supply. By the end of the day, all of those decisions have effectively trained our willpower tank almost dry. So when we go to the party full of scrumptious delectables, it is extremely tough to resist the dessert tray, no matter what our long-term goals.

Fortunately, there are some great strategies that we can employ to either, refill our willpower tank, or activate a willpower work around.

  • Research has shown that our willpower may weaken due to low glucose levels in the brain. So having a small healthy dessert with a little bit of natural sugar in it before you attend a party could work to replenish the glucose levels in the brain. When you arrive at the party, your willpower levels will be higher, which allows you to resist the all-you-can-eat cookie buffet.
  • Keeping dessert’s “out of sight, out of mind” can be extremely effective in working around the willpower levels. If you wake up at 3 AM craving a glass of eggnog, but the fridge contains no such thing, you would have to have a serious addiction to drive to a store in the middle of the night just to quench your thirst. This also works well at parties. Standing next to the dessert table all night staring at the pumpkin pie and not touching it would send me to the madhouse. If you can, move to a different room away from the food or, if you can’t escape, turn your back to the food and stand on the opposite side of the room.
  • Another great strategy is called “IF-THEN” technique. Having a plan in place before you attend the event will help you not have to rely on willpower alone to keep your fingers clean. An example of the strategy would be, IF there are cookies, THEN I will take only one with me to the other side of the room and not go back to the table. Having a plan ahead of time is always good practice.

One strategy I advise against, unless you have significant willpower levels, is to completely restrict yourself from having any of the food you enjoy. Studies have shown that being highly restrictive can lead to many problems, including binging the moment your willpower breaks. 

Plus, it’s the holidays. Enjoy the cookie and move on with it.

Make sure to sign up for our Holiday Strong Workshop on Nov 22nd to learn more strategies, tips, and tricks to help you successfully navigate the holiday season. It’s open to everyone, so sign up today!

author: Iron Seth