Is lack of willpower boycotting your weight loss efforts?
You might blame lack of willpower for not losing weight, while underlying health issues, the wrong diet and old habits could actually be boycotting your weight loss effort.
If you have issues with your weight, these sentences might sound familiar?
- “I am so bad”
- “I just don’t have any willpower”
- “I can’t say no to the dessert”
- “I always want something sweet after dinner”
- “I have a fairly healthy diet, cook from scratch, but when it comes to sweets, I just have to eat them”
- “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I know it’s bad for me but I still eat sweets all the time”
- “I just have such a sweet tooth”
- “Life wouldn’t be worth living if I couldn’t have cakes”
First and most importantly “YOU ARE NOT BAD!”
You might have a bad diet, bad habits or bad bacteria (I will explain later), but YOU are not bad, and it is not your lack willpower that makes you crave those sweets.
In this article, I’d like to explain what could go “wrong” in your body that drives you to want to eat more sweets and sugary foods. I also want to explain, why blaming yourself or your lack of willpower is not going to be helpful if you want to cut down your cravings. I also want to show you that it is possible to have a “healthy” relationship with sugar. You do not have to cut out all the sweets for the rest of your life. Many people find the thought so scary that they don’t even attempt to give up sugar for even only a short period of time.
What you eat apart from your sweets, biscuits and cakes influences your sugar cravings. If your diet is not keeping your blood sugars stable, you are most likely experiencing blood sugar hikes and drops at some stage during the day. If your diet includes a lot of ready-made meals, some of the ingredients or hidden sugars might be driving your cravings.
The key is to avoid blood sugar and insulin spikes, and this is best achieved by following a low G.L. diet. It would be too much to go into the details of a low GL diet, but what it means in principle, is that you only eat foods that have a low glycaemic index. These would be plenty of vegetables and protein and good fats. When it comes to carbohydrates it is trickier. Low GL does not necessarily mean low carbohydrates. Products such as oats are high in carbohydrates but don’t affect your blood sugars as much as white toast for example. Generally, everything that you can eat a lot of, without really feeling full, is a high GL: white toast, white pasta, mashed potatoes, white rice, doughnuts, etc.
What you also need to watch out for is that a lot of so-called “healthy” foods can be laden with sugar. Low-fat yoghurts are often high in sugar. Healthy bars could be full of dates, or of various sugar syrups. You might think you’re homemade sourdough bread is healthy, but it still affects your blood sugar. Adding lots of honey to your porridge and maybe a banana might sound healthy, but it’s pure sugars.
Another way to reduce sugar spikes and to stay fuller for longer is to add protein and good fats to every meal. So adding even a few seeds and nuts to that porridge would be better.
A lot of people go on diets where they only look at calories and manage to stick to it – with pure willpower – for a couple of days. But if you only eat low-calorie salads and un-satisfying meals, you are going to break sooner or later. If you associate healthy eating with being a chore, you are not going to stick to a diet long term.
Something else, regarding diet, is that we have for a long time made to believe that sugar gives us energy. And it does, give us immediate energy. But it is not long lived. And once you eat more sugar than you need, your body will store it as fat. Eating slow release carbohydrates will give you energy for much longer.
In fact, our bodies don’t even need carbohydrates. They are designed to convert protein into glucose if deprived of sugar for long enough, and fat into ketone bodies which also help provide enough glucose to the brain. There are essential proteins and essential fats that we need to get from the diet, but no essential carbohydrates!
The key to getting rid of sugar cravings is a diet that keeps your blood sugar balanced, and a diet that consists of whole, real, unprocessed foods.
Once you eliminate sugar for a while, your taste buds will adapt, and you will find a lot of foods too sweet and not like any more. The less sugar you eat, the less you crave it. And once you don’t crave it, you won’t miss it!
We all have so many habits that we don’t even think about any more.
- Having a biscuit with your tea.
- Having an ice-cream on a warm day on the beach.
- Having dessert even though we are already full.
- Having a scone with your coffee when meeting a friend.
- Having cake for your birthday.
- Having tons of chocolate at Christmas and Easter.
But, then there are more subtle ones such as giving your children a “treat” because they’ve been so good. In your adult life, this translates into
- “I deserve a treat because I’ve been to the gym”
- “Go on, treat yourself, it’s your birthday!”
- “I deserve this because I’m on holidays”
- “I need to treat myself to something nice because I’ve through a difficult time”.
Promising your children a “treat” once they’ve finished their dinner, also creates a mindset, as if the dinner is something bad, a chore you need to get through to get to the nicer thing. Those habits become deeply ingrained into our brains and are very hard to shed once we are adults.
The belief that healthy eating is a “chore” can also influence your eating habits. It could be the reason why you think you are “allowed” to eat whatever you like when you are on holidays.
If you believe that healthy eating is – boring – expensive and – complicated, it probably stems from the following fad and depriving diets in the past which most likely led you to gain more weight again once you stopped.
Can you imagine simply having a healthy relationship and habits around eating sugar?
Think about your favourite dish that is not sweet. For example “grilled steak”. You fully enjoy your steak when you can have it, but you don’t think of it day and night. You don’t have to have it every day.
If you have a healthy relationship with sweets, that’s what it will be like. You can have a dessert or leave it. It doesn’t bother you. You can have your tea with or without a biscuit depending on how big your dinner was. You have your dessert only when you are not already full from your meal.
You are in control of when you eat something sweet.
The first step to get there is to be aware of your habits, your beliefs and possibly your sugar addiction.
The next step is to start changing your habits by replacing them with healthier ones.
To treat healthy eating like learning a new skill, one step at a time. And not to give out to yourself if you “fail”. If you learn how to play the piano, you don’t expect to be a Mozart straight away. You expect that it takes practise and patience.
Do not expect that you will eat a healthy diet from one day to the next. It is a work in progress! It requires consistency and patience, and there will be setbacks.
Once eating healthier foods and cooking from scratch have become a new habit, you won’t need willpower anymore to stay on track.
3. Your gut bacteria and your hormones
Understanding the role of gut bacteria and hormones is more complex when it comes to weight loss or weight gain.
Quite often when we think of hormones, we think of the female hormones, but forget that for example, insulin is also a hormone. I touched on insulin in the diet part. By eating a low GL diet, you avoid the insulin spikes, which is important to keep your blood sugar balanced and avoid sugar cravings.
Other hormones that play an important role are leptin and ghrelin. These are hormones that tell us whether we are full or whether we are hungry. Without going into all the mechanisms and biochemistry, I put it simply, once you are carrying excess weight around your middle, you are most likely messing up your hormones that tell you when you are full. I hear it all the time “I have a fairly good diet and don’t eat much rubbish, but I simply eat too much”. Possibly, there are hormones driving this process.
How do you change it? By losing weight and by keeping your blood sugar stable.
Then we have our “Happy Hormones” serotonin and dopamine. We all know that sugar is highly addictive. It is believed that sugar would not be approved as a medication because of its addictive nature. Eating something sweet lightens up certain parts of your brain that release “Happy Hormones”. Most likely this is because, in cavemen times, finding sugar was something rare and special, and it could have meant survival. But today, we are surrounded by sugar everywhere, in petrol stations, hardware stores, clothes shops, gyms, etc.
Our happy hormones are still being released when we eat sugar, but it’s generally short lived. Often followed by a feeling of “guilt” and giving out to yourself!
Many people, if you ask them to give up sugar for just two weeks, shy away. It is scary. Giving up sugar for good seems impossible, and could even be regarded as if life wouldn’t be worth living without sweets. “O, I’d be so miserable, if I couldn’t have my daily sweet”.
But how miserable would you feel, if you were sick? Sick – because you’ve been eating too much sugar all your life? Is that worthwhile?
Thyroid hormones also play a crucial role when it comes to weight gain. As thyroid hormones control your metabolism (i.e. an underactive thyroid slows down your metabolism) you could simply have a slower metabolism while still eating the same amount of foods. Most GP’s would measure the TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) only when there is something to suggest things aren’t going well. However, many people experience normal TSH levels, but when the actual free hormones are measured it shows that they, in fact, don’t have enough of the hormones. Quite often, it could also be down to an auto-immune condition which antibodies attack and destroy your thyroid. As a qualified Nutritional Therapist, I would always ask my clients to have a full thyroid panel tested and would then accordingly recommend a specific diet that supports the thyroid function.
In recent years, many studies have been conducted on our gut microbiome, and how it affects our health. We have trillions of bacteria living in our gut. Some are good, some are bad. And they are all competing to grow and multiply. The good news is, that the good guys usually are able to crowd out the bad guys.
What has all this to do with weight gain?
1. Brain and gut connection
First of all, it is important to know that there is a direct connection between your brain and your gut. You know the gut feeling you might have about something? You know how being nervous before an exam can either lead to diarrhoea or constipation? Your gut health affects your mood and how you feel.
2. Bacteria want to be fed and are “telling” you to buy that doughnut!
If you have a lot of “bad” bacteria it is called dysbiosis in the gut. A lot of people suffer from yeast overgrowth or candida. These yeast bacteria thrive on sugar. And through the link between the gut and the brain, it could be those that are driving your cravings. They have a much greater influence on your sugar cravings than you think. They possibly even might “remember” the place where they last got their “feed”. These guys inside you want to survive. And the only way to survive is to tell your brain to get that sugar fix.
3. Certain bacteria and a variety of bacteria can keep you slim!
Studies have shown that overweight and obese people have less gut flora than slim persons. In fact, most modern diseases are now linked to a lower amount of good bacteria in your gut.
Studies in mice have shown that transplanting the gut microbiome of slim mice into obese mice, has led to weight loss in those. And the reverse – transplanting the microbiome of fat mice into slim mice – has led to weight gain in the slim mice. The diets were kept identical in both groups. Scientists have even found out that certain types of bacteria are beneficial to weight loss or help people stay slim even if they increase their calorific intake. The pharma industry is desperately trying to isolate those and create a pill out of them.
What you can do in the meantime though, simply eat a diet that is offering those gut microbes the best possible food in the form of fibre. Eat a variety of vegetables every day, preferably with a wide range of colour every day. Each colour vegetable seems to feed different bacteria. Those good guys need to be fed and not the bad ones!
A diet high in processed foods and sugar destroys the good bacteria! A diet high in fresh, colourful vegetables feeds the good bacteria. And those good bacteria not only keep you slim and healthy, but they also give you good energy!
So, next time you blame your lack of willpower for not being able to stick to a healthy diet and stay away from sugar, think again!
Think about your current diet (Low GL!), your habits, your hormones and your gut bacteria!
If you are currently struggling to lose weight and find that all your efforts are being sabotaged by “lack of willpower”, please contact me and let me show you easier ways to lose weight and keep it off for good.