Dear Mark: Low on Willpower

Dear Mark,

I’ve been following the blog for a couple of months now and have been trying to get into a regular exercise routine like you describe. Unfortunately, I get some fitness momentum going and then lose my willpower once I hit stressful or busy times. I feel like it’s a game of two steps forward, one step back (at least). What do you say to someone who’s trying to hit a fitness stride but keeps backsliding? Do you have advice on how to boost willpower? Thanks!

Your question is a timely one. Much was made over a recent study (PDF) that demonstrated willpower as a limited resource. The crux was this: we have a finite amount of willpower in a day (so to speak), and when it’s used up, that’s it. In a given day we might defend against donut cravings at the office all morning, force ourselves to keep our head off the desk in an afternoon slump, resist the opportunity to chew out the neighbor for letting his dog poop on our lawn yet again, and make ourselves go out into the rain to set out recycling and put the kids’ bikes in the garage. Finally, we push ourselves to stay up late in order to finish a company project. Surely, we can be proud of our resolve, our diligence, our commitment to family, work and neighborhood accord. Nonetheless, we’ve left ourselves with neither the time nor remaining willpower to pick up the weight set. Too many tasks, too little energy and too much frustration have zapped our self-discipline, and the balance is zero when we go to direct some toward the day’s workout. The research says this: as much as we’d wish otherwise, we don’t have separate willpower accounts for different areas of life.

The researchers examined the concept of willpower distribution by subjecting some participants to tricky and tedious cognitive exercises and then asking all subjects to dip their hands in ice water for as long as they could. Those whose willpower had been tested before with the cognitive activities weren’t able to hold their hands in the water as long as those who hadn’t been previously taxed.

Moreover, other research suggests even the string of mundane daily decisions (e.g. what to have for dinner, what gift to buy for your cousin’s wedding, etc.) can challenge us enough to weaken our overall resolve by fatiguing our brain. As a result, our motivation and self-organization abilities suffer. (Hmmm…maybe this explains why I find shopping so exhausting….) Self-control not only appears to be a precious commodity; it can be sabotaged by extraneous mental clutter in our lives. Score another point for Grok and the simple existence, I guess.

Nonetheless, researchers say, willpower is like a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. The key is to direct it well and not expect instant results. Slow and steady will give you best results in this kind of training.

First off, I’d say don’t get discouraged and scrap the whole project. Transitions are usually rough to some degree. Stick with your overall fitness endeavor, but adjust the goal for a while. There’s nothing wrong with taking lifestyle changes in small steps. Some days you might not be able to do everything, but most days you should be able to do something. The key is to make time for yourself and simply keep the date. I’m not used to quoting Woody Allen, but he was on the money when he said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Don’t focus on the “work” of the workout ahead. Just summon the will to put your shoes on and walk outside. Skip the gym if you want and just head out the door for a walk. Then see what happens. It might be more productive and/or fun than you expect.

Second, do an inventory of the logistical and personal demands you field on a given day. As the research demonstrates, if you’re spread too thin or distracted too much, you’re setting yourself up for flimsy self-control. I call it the chronically overloaded condition. Far too many people’s lives fit the description, and far too few see it as a central problem for their overall health. Cut out the “noise” of life and overload of duties as much as possible. Avoid the break room altogether if you know temptations reside there. Learn to live with the neighbor’s “issues,” or place them on his sidewalk if you prefer. (I’m remaining neutral on this one.) Enlist the kids to put their own bikes away and put the recycling out while they’re at it. In short, reduce the need to use willpower in other areas of life wherever possible. Are there circumstances that zap more of your energy and will than others? Maybe some self-assessing and creative brainstorming are called for.

At the heart of life’s chaos and infinite demands, I suggest embracing the notion of “paying yourself first.” You’ve likely heard it as a financial concept, but I think it applies to self-care as well. Maybe figure out a way to pay yourself – i.e. workout – early in the day when your willpower stores haven’t been ravaged by the day’s stresses and responsibilities. Aside from devoting your willpower to exercise itself, work on building your self-regulatory power as a whole. Eating Primally will offer a consistent flow of energy and help you avoid the crash and burn of carb dependency. Sleep, not surprisingly, has been shown to directly impact self-control. Likewise, “positive emotions” can boost our self-regulatory resources. “Motivational factors” like “laughter” and “powerful memories” can enhance willpower, as can keeping your eye on the ball. In other words, keep your fitness goal in sight and mind with some kind of visual reminder or daily progress log.

Finally, I suppose one lesson might be to not always fight the willpower shortage. When you have the motivation, work hard and go the full distance. However, when willpower wanes and you can’t muster up the energy to exercise, maybe it’s a sign that you legitimately need a break. Rest days are an important part of just about any exercise program and there’s nothing wrong with skipping the odd workout. As long as these days don’t become frequent occurrences, they won’t be enough to derail your overall physical progress. In fact, they might help you stay on course and reinvigorate your commitment as well as your physical energy. If you feel your workout plan actually fits your life, you’re probably more likely to stick with it. Use the occasional rest day to take it easy and truly recharge.

Primal readers, what say you? Do you depend on willpower to exercise? Why or why not? If so, have you been able to boost your willpower or even overcome it to some degree? Do you depend on it less now than you did early on? If willpower comes and goes (as I suspect it does for most of us), what helps to fill the gaps for you?

As always, thanks for your questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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58 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Low on Willpower”

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  1. When I first started getting up at 5am to work out three years ago, yes…it was sheer willpower that got me through that first month. But, then something magical happened. I realized how much MORE energy I had during the day if I did this, and I started seeing my workouts as “me time”. For one hour each day on the weekdays, I get to focus on nothing but myself. Three years later, it’s just not even an option anymore. This is what I do and part of who I am. I’m one of the regulars at the gym at 5am, and I’m proud of it.

    1. i was touched reading ur short story..i know it has a lot in it..! shortly .. i will surely come up wit my own story to tell u… regards .. dr.yogesh

    2. I have the same plan. I go to the gym 5 days a week at the same time, and it is now routine to me.

  2. I learned long ago how to work out stressed with little willpower. I have been a competitive athlete for a long time, Div 1 in college, and coach most recently, so I never had the option to skip or take it easy during workouts. That being the case and having limited willpower like most people, i learned how to allow myself to me in the moment and let the workout melt my stress away. Workouts need to be fun and never tedious. If the workout itself is not draining you end up looking forward to it, and it becomes part of you, much like Jamie mentioned above. Good exercise, necessitates good nutrition and good sleep so for me primal living falls in line when I am able to work out for myself.

    1. that was supposed to read “allow myself to BE in the moment” Sorry about that

  3. Also, one needs to live in the moment. When you come to situation you just need to ask yourself, “What is more important to me right now? Eating a chocolate bar or losing fat?” Each time ask yourself what is the most important right now. I found it helps a lot.

    1. That’s very good.
      Sometimes when all hope is lost and I feel that I ‘need’ that chocolate, I just imagine myself eating one (quite easy because I’ve had many before) and surprisingly that satisfies the crave.

  4. Most people make exercise a chore instead of a stress relieving time. It can be done in ten minutes in a primal lifestyle. bodyweight exercises and stretching will suffice along with a brisk walk occasionally. The whole emphasis of Primal is doing the “natural”. No one naturally chooses a two hour workout or an early morning workout if they are sleep deprived. The tried and true regimen was 3 sets of eight reps and can be done in 10 minutes. I do one body part a day and do an activity thing the next day, then another body part the next day. Simple apparatur like a chin bar, perfect push up device, and a couple of dumbbells with interchangeable weights for heavy or light days. Ten minutes a day can be Primal…The diet takes care of the rest.

  5. Remember infrequency! You don’t need to work out a lot to get benefits from it. If you are time limted try working out just 2 days a week. I think that’s all one really needs anyway, especially if you are looking for just general health benefits; i.e.- not training for a specific event/sport.

  6. I agree with Jaime. I like to be out the door between 5:15 and 5:30 for my morning runs, which means I need to be up by 4:45 so that I have time for tea,waking up, and “necessities” before my run. At first you have to talk yourself into it every time, but then there is simply no negotiating…no internal conversation…you just do.
    Conversely though, I am loathe to move at other times because I am always so busy (as we all are), so I plan to work in some more primal, impromptu activities during the day.

  7. It’s so easy when you WANT TO and so hard when you HAVE TO. I really look forward to my bike rides–Saturday was National Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, so I took my Inner Kid out for some fresh air.

    I also look forward to my stength training sessions for the social aspect, as well as the fun of freaking folks out by being the only female using the squat rack for squats and deads.

  8. I’ve been going to the gym first thing in the morning for a little over a year now. I usually try to go as soon as they open, which is 7 AM. People often ask me how I manage to get up “that early” (yeah, it sounds strange to me too. 7 is early?) and that they could never will themselves to the gym that early.

    In my personal experience the first month was the “hardest”. After that it became part of my weekly routine, and I found that if I simply didn’t think about it, I’d just go and do my workout of the day since it was a habit already. If I started thinking about it though, I would come up with excuses not to go. I still do this, so I make a point of writing down my workout program before bedtime or as soon as I wake up and just get dressed and go before I have a chance to reconsider.

    Also, it’s important to switch up workouts every so often. If you do the same thing all the time, it’ll quickly get boring. Related to this is that you have to do something that you actually like, too. Workouts are supposed to be fun, it’s not a chore. As MightyMite wrote, it’s hard to do something you _have_ to. If you really hate running, don’t. Go biking or swimming instead. If you hate bench presses, do dips instead. Mix things up.

    Last but not least, if I really really REALLY feel like I don’t want to go to the gym, I’ll just skip it. Take a week off and not work out at all, or maybe just do some light stretching in the evenings. Usually by the end of the week I’m so excited about going back to the gym I can hardly sleep. 😛

  9. I don’t really have a problem with willpower when it comes to exercise. I generally do it first thing, so it’s out of the way. If I don’t feel like it, I’ll take a rest, or do something else. Last Tuesday I found I wasn’t ready to leave the comfort of my flat and go to the gym – I wanted to sit some more and have another cup of tea. So instead, I went to the nearby football fields at lunchtime and did some sprints.

    Where my willpower lacks is food. The part about willpower waning towards the day’s end makes perfect sense – most diet hiccups occur during the evenings and I’m no different in that respect.
    I am also more likely to overeat or make bad food choices when tired.

  10. For me, I’ve just made exercise a habit and a part of my life, so, truthfully, I’m at the point where it doesn’t take any willpower to go and do it. Part of that was my ability to understand and accept that I don’t need to work out for hours and hours. I work out five days a week, three days from 30-45 minutes, the other two for 20-25 minutes tops. Additionally, I try to walk for 30-45 minutes 4-5 times a week but I don’t even consider it exercise. I walk home from work, or take the kids hiking or something. You really can get an excellent workout in just 10-20 minutes at a clip.

  11. I don’t think Grok needed to “will” himself to hunt that day, otherwise natural selection takes over. Being Primal about diet and exercise is all good, but ultimately what is the end game in all this? Survival. Quality of life. Living shouldn’t be seen as a “chore.” All the money in the world can’t buy your life back if you choose to put your health on the backburner over other priorities. Grok’s day was mostly low activity with short bursts of intense activity (chasing prey). What’s to stop you from stairwalking up 10 floors at work, doing hindu squats in the office for 5 mins, or grabbing a mace or kettlebell at home for ten minutes. When you have more playtime, go for a run or bike ride. There’s no schedule, no regimen, no excuses, no rationalizing, no BS. Just doing.

  12. I agree with “show up and see what happens”. Also finding fun exercise like Zumba or Turbo Kick. Good workouts that are like dancing or fighting. Those are no brainers. When I show up – good things always happen and I feel much better than I had all day. I grumble the entire way to the gym too, mind you and when I’m there.

  13. I have found that unintentionally enlisting others in my diet has helped. For example, I usually refuse donuts and bagels and the other junk that floats around at work and have developed a reputation as a “healthy eater.” Well, one day I caved and ate a giant bagel. The non-stop comments of surprise and shock I got from my co-workers was enough to never let me make that mistake again.

  14. The first step is always the hardest. After a long day at work, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing, is exercising. However, if I take the first step, I know I can get it done. The first step leads to a warm up, sometimes longer than others, but eventually, I get there.

    1. Great observations. I devised the 7 minute solution. Tell yourself you will run, walk, lift weights, etc for only 7 minutes, no more. Like magic you will always work out at least 30 minutes with little effort. Try it!
      Stan McC

  15. I struggled with my weight IE; over 300 pounds for 10 years. 1 step forward 2 steps back ect. Exercise for a while then stop over and over and over. The next time it was really going to work ect…
    It was until I made it bigger than me that I was finally successful. I have a wife and 3 kids one of the boys has special needs. I could not allow my self to check out early or become debilitated by a stroke or something else and leave my wife in a untenable situation that was not of her making.
    So on 12/31 of last year I made a decision. NO going back and I haven’t. no sugar, flour ect since then. I feel great and have lost 60 pounds. I won by putting them first . I hope this helps.

  16. ‘pay yourself first’.

    I love that!

    After attending to the needs of my husband and three sons, I rarely have the energy or ‘willpower’ to attend to my own needs. I have been feeling pretty down lately because I haven’t felt quite able to do some of the things that I’ve wanted.

    Thanks for reassuring me that is isn’t a character defect but an actual limited resource when and why I get so pooped focusing on the mundane details. If *I* am not healthy and happy, I cannot give my happiness to others.

    I read a lot into what you were actually saying Mark, lol, but it was something that I needed to hear today. 🙂 Grok on!

    1. I know just what your talking about, as a father of 3 boys. I used to work out in the evenings go biking etc.. But now with the kids I have changed to 6am workouts so I can help more at home. Now I come home cook dinner, and then play with the kids. I also do bed time/bath time (thats when my wife works out.) I’ve also taken over the grocery shopping, after taking all 3 with me once conviced me its just not realistic to expect my wife to do it. My boys are 5,3,and 1 so yeah I go to work every day to relax, but as a stay at home mom my wife can’t do that.

      We love our kids to bits as I’m sure you do, but feeling overwelmed, and tired to the bones is very very normal.

      1. Parenthood: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

        Thanks Brad. 🙂

  17. Forcing oneself to exercise tells a lot about how bad your idea for workout is. Much much more willpower is needed to NOT eat something

    1. I have no problem with exersise. It is a regualer thing as part of my routine. Eating is where I struggle. If I avoid the areas where food is found I still get hungry and if I eat fruit/veggies istead it makes me crave naughty stuff so much that my mood changes very negatively until I get crisps or chocolate or similar…I am out of ideas and miserable about my weight.

      1. Whenever you see something tempting, think, ‘are those few seconds of subjective tastebud pleasure worth compromising my progress, health and staving off the time when I finally let go of addiction?’.

        I used to crave things like bread, so I made bread with nut flour. Then, gradually, I weaned myself off it. I have no cravings, and I eat only when truly hungry.

        A savior for me was Peggy Emch. She’s so awesome; I really suggest you read her posts about food discipline & addiction to SAD (and how to rid yourself of it) here:

        I’m sure her blog will help you. 🙂

  18. I’m not a natural exerciser like dh is, but since finding something I enjoy I really look forward to it and find it a great stress reliever! There are still days when I don’t feel like it and there’s not an ounce of willpower but I just do it anyway and within the first 10 mintues I’m loving it. I personally find it easier to not eat something.

  19. I totally agree. I have this challenge less with exercise (tho I’ve slipped too much lately) and more with eating right. The more tired I am, the longer the day’s been, and/or the more ‘obstacles’ I’ve had to talk myself into overcoming, the harder it is to remain singularly focused at night. That’s usually when all the demons come out and my bottom falls out. And it feels so defeating when I recount the day’s ‘wins’ only to finish and go to sleep feeling so much like a loser after succumbing at night. It doesn’t happen every day but it happens 1-2 times every month. Especially around ‘hormonal’ times.

    I’m not sure exactly what I could do to change it, though, when there are days when stress and hard work are inevitable. Do I just chuck those days as ‘oh well coulnd’t help it?’ I mean, it’s not exactly the same as just skipping a workout. And, diet is 80% or more of the culprit for good or bad weight loss results, not exercise. So what should I do?

  20. I have been trying to get under 280 for several years and I finally weighed 280.5 today. It was a struggle, especially this weekend I was in a lot of pain and did not feel like exercising but I haven’t given up yet. I only exercised for 45 minutes and did some wierd stuff like picking up 40 pound dumbbells on the “He Man” side of the gym. I didn’t really take it anywhere I just wanted to lift it, carry it around and make the muscle bound guys shake their heads. It counts. Anyway I don’t just go to the gym and do boring repititions on machine after machine anymore I have a more loose and “primal” attitude about the whole thing and I think it is a lot more fun.

  21. I think that the occasional loss of willpower is perfectly normal, as long as it follows the 80% rule. If it’s a consistent struggle, then a re-evaluation of lifestyle habits is in order. There is excessive stress coming from somewhere (i.e.-lack of quality sleep, job satisfaction levels, etc.), and this needs to be addressed before you can be successful. Once stress reaches a manageable level, it is MUCH easier to follow through with goals.

  22. My best friend is the most consistent exerciser I know. He goes to the gym 6-7 days a week for YEARS. When I asked him for advice he said – how much time do you think about brushing your teeth every day? I always remember that, and I think others have said the same, when we start “thinking” we come up with excuses to skip it…so no thinking allowed! Just doing. Also, I don’t refer to it as a work-out. I refer to it as a pleasure-out. It actually helps me feel happier about the whole thing. 🙂

  23. I try to find ways of integrating exercise into my every day activities instead of going to a gym or scheduling an exercise time.

    Last week I converted my computer desk to a stand up. I used a variety of bricks to lift it to the right height. and bought a bar stool to lean against, not sit on. Now I stand up when I use the computer and get a bit of exercise at the same time.

    There are companies that make stand up desks with tread mills.

  24. I agree that exercising early in the morning is one great way to ensure that you can pay yourself first. I also agree that it is harder to resist food that I should probably avoid than it is to get me to exercise.

    Two things that really help me stay on track with my exercise “routine”, such as it is, are being flexible (I have a busy family with 2 of us adult types working and 2 small children) and working exercise into the normal, daily routine. For instance, I walk the dogs and kids to school and then continue on for a 20-40 minute walk virtually every morning of the work week (only missing this for the occasionally early morning meeting that I can’t dodge or reschedule), often adding a walk for the after dinner “dog business” and then (since about July when I started reading MDA) I convert Saturday’s daytime dog walk into a dog sprinting workout at the park.

    It helps that I have only one day a week of scheduled exercise (yoga class in the middle of the week) and then I just fill in the rest of the days with a swim, walking, HIIT, LHT, whatever works the best. Today it was a 20 minute walk followed by 20 minutes of LHT, then a green tea and smoothie for breakfast. Perfect!

  25. Exercise should be fun, and if it is it won’t require any willpower. Perhaps finding the right physical outlet is the key… For some walking, and others golf or olympic weightlifting. One thing is for sure, once you find the one you enjoy it will be addictive. When you are addicted to it, no willpower is required. In fact you need to start having the willpower to do other things!

  26. It took me several years to really make exercise part of my lifestyle. I tended to work out for a while, then take some time off, then start up again, then take some time off again, but every time I started up again it got easier. I noticed that I enjoyed working out more as I got in better shape, and now I’m past thinking of it as work and thinking of it more as me-time. It’s the perfect way to start my day.

  27. I have nothing to add other than I really liked this article. I will surely re-read it and reference back from time to time. Thanks MDA

  28. My very first comment!

    So far my workouts are too good to be true. A couple of months ago I read “Body by Science” which explains the concept of once-a-week very intense weight-resistance workout. So far the results are astounding.

    I used to do Pilates 3 times a week for 40-50 minutes, advanced moves. I switched to once a week concept but not with weights, I do a Pilates workout, still Pilates but with a very slow rhythm to elimenate momentum. The same moves that I did for years before, once I did them with super slow movement, it killed me the first time, it was so intense I couldn’t move the next day. But the results were surprisingly quick, I’ve put on muscle and shaped up very quickly.

    Once a week is hard to find excuses for. Plus right now I live in a small city in Germany where you have to walk everywhere, more often than not carrying heavy grocerries up 4 flights of stairs (o_O).

    1. I will second the effectiveness of Body by Science. It is a very informative read delving into the science of fat loss, muscle adaption, recovery, and growth (there are 9 pages of references at the back for those who like that kind of stuff). One workout once a week sounds like too little but beleive me it’s no joke. I think it fits very well into a PB lifestyle. Efficient workout = More playtime!

  29. Hey Mark, thanks so much for this. I’ve had a big project at work that required more will than I had to deal with and I’ve been real lax on my eating as it geared up — never occurred to me until I read this that I’ve had to sacrifice my food willpower to the project. I’m going to cut myself some slack about it now and maybe even intentionally allow myself ‘play’ with food so that I can flex on the project for the next few days. This also explains my recent odd thought pattern — I’ve been thinking to myself, ‘it’ll be so nice once I’m on vacation in 2 weeks b/c it’ll be easier to eat clean’. I mean, who wants to eat clean on vacation? But now it makes perfect sense. And at least I’m looking forward to eating clean. Maybe someday I’ll think of that as play.

  30. Low on willpower?

    Hire a trainer that specializes in once-per-week workouts.

    It is simple, easy to maintain, and will cost less than many pay for their cable bill.

    Focus the rest of your “willpower allotment” on diet and for an extra kick, learn to meditate.

  31. I have started working out in the morning, again. 4:30 am. The goal this week and next…get out of bed…put on shoes…leave bedroom. So far, so good.

  32. Mark, thanks for this. This article came at just the right time. Lately I’ve felt like my “reserves” are depleted now I have a much better idea of what’s actually happening.

  33. Hey Mark, fascinating post and comments. I’ve begun to see the relationship between stress maangement and exercise. I am much more likely to keep my commitments to release stress than because I “should” go. Working out works off the stress. Also, have I aligned my beliefs, thoughts, and actions? Usually when I am stuck one of these things is out of alignment. One of the comments is about a sit-stand desk. I’m moving to one at work from Ergotron. I want to build more exercise into my day and this is one way to do it.

    Thanks for hitting will power on the head here.

  34. Mark – I would love either you or Carrie to provide some input regarding how to maintain my “willpower” when I have PMS! I usually do very well during the month with eating clean and being primal. But about a week and a half before my period my willpower goes out the window. No matter how hard I try to quash the cravings with either meditation, healthy treats (e.g. dark chocolate or frozen berry and coconut-milk shakes), supplements (glutamine, chromium, magnesium), etc. I eventually cave and fall of the wagon altogether. Falling of the wagon means eating horribly for about a week (fast food, ice cream, milk chocolate, you name it). It’s terrible, I know.

    I should also note that I’m a 31 year old non insulin dependent type II diabetic (and my diabetes is not associated with obesity, it runs in the family). So while I maintain excellent blood sugar control through diet and exercise for most of the month (fasting blood sugar averaging 85-90), the week before my period my fastings range between 110-120!

    Please tell me what to do to make this stop!

    1. Have you tried cinnamon, nopal cactus, and shark cartilage? All help control blood sugar. In addition a good antifungal may help(although cinnamon is one for sure. Oil of Oregano and caprylic acid work well as does olive leaf extract.

      1. Thanks for those suggestions! But my issue isn’t so much blood sugar control as it is CRAVINGS stemming from PMS. If I keep my cravings under control (which I can’t seem to do a week or so before my period) my blood sugar is fine.

        1. Thanks El! I, like you have noticed that not only do my cravings intensify with PMS but my appetite increases tenfold! Anyhow, yes, I’ve tried chromium in addition to glutamine and increased dosages of magnesium a week or so before since I’ve read it helps alleviate PMS.

          I also try planning ahead to combat the cravings – berries with full fat Greek yogurt, 75% dark chocolate covered almonds, cheese crisps (if I feel like chips), etc. But, it seems like no matter how much I plan I still cave with processed foods (refined sugar in particular) that I do manage to stay away from for the remainder of the month…These wild cravings do subside a day after my period starts, but the week and a half before is a nightmare. I even asked my endocrinologist for advice on how to deal with this. He provided the unsatisfactory response of “it’s OK to have a candy bar that time of the month so long as you’re not having one every day of the month”.

    2. Shema, I too get these massive cravings when I’m PMSing. As far as I can tell, it’s just that I’m HUNGRY and my body’s asking for cheap and quick calories.

      For what it’s worth: My best defense thus far has been anticipating the PMS and ramping up my portion sizes and fat percentages BEFORE the cravings hit, and then to stay well-fed all week. It takes some self-experimentation to figure out the timing and portions, and it helps if I keep my stress levels down, too.

      You might also try taking some chromium, which is supposed to reduce carb cravings.

  35. i think will power is a bit of faith; it takes me believing that every problem is solvable, it just usually takes longer than I think will to solve. I have to trust that baby steps are, in fact, progress made.

    Also I think willpower is mostly just talking myself out of my own bs.

  36. I just made it through ten days without starch/sugar. When is okay to start partaking in sensible indulgences without undoing everything?

  37. This is easy. Your excercise should be something you like. I don’t care for jogging but I can suck it up and do a few miles a couple times a week. My main things are mountain biking and skiing though. I don’t to imagine life without those activities. Find intense excercise you have fun with. Do it.

  38. Mark, I thought a lot of this post; I’m glad you wrote it.

    I’ve been mulling over the “willpower as a muscle that can be exhausted” theory since I wrote about a 2007 New York Times blog post that was written about similar research. I think there’s probably something to the conclusion people are reaching from the research, but at best it’s an oversimplification, and at worst it’s an erroneous conclusion. After all, the effects of the study could also be explained other ways, for instance: let’s posit that a person doing something they don’t like tends to inspire resentment (a negative emotion based on a thought along the lines of “I shouldn’t have to do that”). This doesn’t seem like a stretch. Then let’s posit that when people are feeling resentful, they are less compliant. This would seem to explain the results just as well as the “willpower as muscle” idea, with the important difference that if it’s about resentment and compliance, then a little idea repair (also known as “cognitive restructuring”) could remedy the situation and leave willpower unaffected.

    I don’t mean to suggest that we should assume that this alternate explanation, or some other explanation, is the real one necessarily–just that there are a lot of skills (like idea repair) we can apply to willpower that will boost it, and that rather than expecting it to run out, we may want to learn as many of those skills as possible and get all the juice we can out of it.

    Luc Reid
    The Willpower Engine

  39. Like many have said already, Mark, this couldn’t have been better timing for me to read. I’ve been mentally ‘throwing in the towel’ a bit because my will power has been close to zilch. And reading this post – especially that we have limited stores of will power – makes me feel so much better! I’ve been under tremendous stress: caring for my husband (who’s finishing college), two young sons, house, some extended family, now work, and just inching through the financial stresses of living off mostly financial aid (in California!), I just don’t have anything left to give to myself. We’re about to move to a new city, so I’m fixing to head into squaring away schooling for the kids, finding a new home, etc, etc, but I just know that really taking the Primal leap (no pun intended) will make it all easier. It’s just getting through those first few painful days…Here’s to hoping I can do it!