This site uses cookies to:
  • Allow members to log in to the site;
  • Collect anonymous data for Google Analytics, so that we know which parts of the site are the most interesting;
  • To prevent this message from annoying you if you've already dismissed it;
By using the site, you are agreeing to the use of these cookies. If you have cookies disabled, some parts of the site may not work as expected.

Dismiss this message

Why I Don’t Believe in Willpower (And What I do Believe in Instead)

I don’t believe in willpower. Here’s why.

As a personal trainer, “I’ve got no willpower” is an excuse I’ve heard a thousand times. It’s the get-out clause for people who have struggled to keep their weight under control. It’s the fall back for those people who have repeatedly tried and failed to eat well.

It’s convenient. It passes the blame on to something else.

The thing is, I don’t think we’re supposed to have willpower. It’s not a quantifiable ‘thing’. It can’t be measured like a hormone level. It’s an invention. It exists when we want it to.  

So let us look at this idea of having no willpower. If it were true then surely every single meal would consist only of chocolate or cake?

Cake, comfort eating and how to stop it, why I don't believe in willpower

If you really had no willpower at all, then you’d not be able to resist temptation in any circumstance, surely?

You wouldn’t just revert to eating vegetables when there was no other option – in the developed world chocolate and cake are always an option. They are readily available. Unless you live in the back of beyond, a chocolate bar is only a short trip to the shops away.

So, this thing we call ‘willpower’. What it is?

Nobody really knows, but the best description I can come up with is that willpower is our ability to make healthier decisions around our food and drink choices.

By the way – notice I said food and drink choices. In my humble (and utterly correct) opinion, willpower isn’t about exercise. I think that is a different beast altogether. That’s about motivation and getting it done. More on that here.

Studies have been done for decades on willpower.

One study from the University of Kentucky concluded that willpower is merely decision-making and that your ability to make good decisions is governed by your blood sugar levels. This makes sense – brain function is affected by sugar level; we’ve known that for decades. I’m certainly a victim of bad food choices when I’m tired.

So, when the brain has less fuel (sugar) the theory suggests you’ll make bad decisions and opt for the foods higher in sugar, fat, salt etc to restock its energy levels quickly. This partly explains the whole ‘don’t shop when you’re hungry’ advice.

So far, so good.

Now, here is my problem with that explanation.

Many a time, I’ve been to a restaurant and reverted to my default setting of ‘greedy’, consuming thousands of calories in one go….

avoid holiday weight gain, carb re-feed, why I don't believe in willpower

Seriously, I’ve put so much food away I’ve nearly slipped into a coma. I’m certainly no stranger to the meat sweats.

I’ve been so stuffed I’ve been out of breath, then a waiter will come around and ask would we like to see a dessert menu, and you know what I’ll say?

“Yes please!”

Is my opting for more bad food because of low blood sugar? Hardly – I would have just eaten enough food to feed an army.

It’s because it’s there. It’s circumstantial. I’m a prisoner of my options.

Realise this….

Food is designed in labs to be as appealing, tasty and addictive as possible. Your brain is hard-wired to crave the high sugar, high fat foods we all love the taste of. Trying to lose weight by relying on willpower is like trying to win a gun fight with a water pistol. You just can’t rely on your willpower to win every time because it won’t. It probably won’t even win half the time.

Let me spell it out for you…



So as you have gathered, I don’t believe in willpower. I believe in circumstances and choices. You have far more control over these and if you control your environment, you’ll control your weight more easily.

How do you lose weight when you have no willpower?

You need to find your triggers for eating and make allowances for them. I have a few I’ve identified…

A big one for me is long journeys in the car. I know that if I’m in the car for an hour or more I’ll be searching for food. I’ve tried to beat it on my own, but I fold faster than Super man on laundry day. Rather than have a mental argument with myself, I make allowances.

Problem: I’ll always eat in the car. Solution: Take healthy snacks with me in car instead of junk.

Another trigger for me is boredom eating. If I’m bored, I’ll always eat. The key to avoiding this is remarkably simple….DON’T LET BOREDOM SET IN!

Find something to do or occupy your mind in some way. Often if I have nothing to do I’ll find some inane task – delete old files on the computer, read an article etc. I just try to occupy my mind and take it off food. It works – your attention is on the task at hand and not on your stomach.

Oh, as a little bonus, it gives your productivity a steroid injection!

Problem: If I’m bored, I’ll eat. Solution: Occupy my mind by doing something.

If you’re a parent it’s easy to use the excuse of “I buy biscuits/chocolate for the kids.” Maybe that’s true, but I’d bet my mortgage that at some point you have eaten some yourself. I know I have (in fact I probably munched my way through 1/3 of our eldest sons Easter egg haul this year!)

To get around this problem, when I buy a treat for the kids I buy a small chocolate bar and only one at a time – that way there is nothing left for me to eat!

Problem: I buy chocolate for the kids. Solution: Buy small, individual chocolate bars.

Remember – If it’s in the house, it’ll be eaten. If you buy chocolate bars in multipacks, there will always be temptation to eat more. Buy what you need at the time – don’t leave temptation around!

As I said earlier, food labs exist to make food ‘hyper palatable’ (as tasty and as addictive as possible). You need pretty amazing mental strength to be able to resist temptation when faced with it constantly.

You can reduce the amount of junk you eat with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. If you have crap food in the house, you’ll soon have crap food in your stomach.

Problem: Can’t resist eating junk. Solution: Don’t buy it!

Ultimately you have to remember you can lose weight, regardless of your belief in willpower. You just have to take control. You don’t have to be a slave to your cravings. Be an adult, recognise your triggers and when you eat bad food then do something about it.

Have a plan, do the work and see it through. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

There are other ways to raise your game nutritionally. You can change how you socialise (do something active instead of pub), you can join weight loss challenges, you can seek inspiration online, you can spend time with healthier people. I think social animals that we are, we share habits with our peers.

If you spend time with people who eat better than you, it’s surprising how quickly you improve your own habits.

I’ve written over a hundred thousand words on weight loss on this blog, so there’s plenty of articles to help you get started. What I’d like to do here is show you where you can find a few of the articles that will help you nutritionally…

Finally, I wish I should tell you that weight loss is all easy and it’ll go without a hitch, but I can’t – because it won’t. If you are relying on willpower, it certainly won’t.

You’ll have bad days, but you can recover from them. The most successful way to lose weight is to plan for it.

Have an idea of what you’re going to eat and when. Make allowances for days when you’ll be having more calories (birthdays, meals out etc). Understand weight loss isn’t linear – some weeks you’ll lose weight, other weeks you won’t, despite your best efforts. Accept it. It’s physiology.

Look for trends – chart each month. Do you weigh less than you did last month? If so, good. If you don’t, what are you doing wrong. Measure, assess and re-plan.


Exercise. Do it often and with effort. If you half-arse your weight loss attempt, you’ll half-arse your results.

That is exactly how to lose weight. Forget about your willpower – it doesn’t exist. Creating an environment where weight loss is made possible is far, far more successful.

Take it from someone who knows. Someone who has helped hundreds of people lose weight over the last 10+ years.

If you need my help, get in touch. My details are at the top of this page….

If you subscribe to the Hoyles Fitness mailing list you’ll receive a free eBook containing 101 Health and Fitness Tips, plus offers and news exclusive to Hoyles Fitness subscribers. Click the image below to download…

free health and fitness ebook

Published by


Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

4 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Believe in Willpower (And What I do Believe in Instead)”

  1. Well said! It’s one thing to say “don’t have x” in the house, it’s another to make that lifestyle shift and change in your shopping habits: not only is the food designed to taste good and be addictive, but the packaging as well. And, “special offers” etc as well as the fact that food labelling is so confusing, and, to be honest, geared toward the producer rather than the consumer. There’s also still the whole anti-fat idea being pushed that no fat = healthy when there’s g*d knows what put in by the manufacturers to replace the fat. I think the best thing a personal trainer could do for any client would be to go shopping with them! Go round their local shop, see what they buy unprompted and then offer suggestions to improve their choices in terms of health benefits and financially too. Point out the monetary savings of *not* buying sweets and snacks – not only would your client be healthier but better off in a lot of cases! It’s all about education; being enabled and empowered to make the healthier choice. Having the tools at your disposal to be able to do so and, perhaps more importantly, having the support of a professional or a trusted person, to help with that process. Cheers dude! Ant

  2. I totally agree, Ant!

    If you look at packaging, it’s often full of bright colours and jargon – how many times do you see ‘glucose’ rather than ‘sugar’ on so-called health foods? It’s a system designed to entice and it seems to be working!

    I like the idea of a personal trainer taking the clients shopping – it’s something I think I’m going to add into my service!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More Like This