Ask a Health Coach: Why Willpower Doesn’t Work, Primal-Inspired Workouts, and What to Eat for Breakfast

why willpower doesn't workHi folks, in this edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin discusses why fasting might feel harder right now, why you need more than just a good workout plan, and what to eat when you’re sick of having eggs for breakfast every day. Keep your questions coming in the MDA Facebook Group or in the comments below.

Being home all day has been a real test to my willpower. Fasting is harder and I’m hungry all the time. Any tips for navigating this “new normal?” – Stephanie

I’m with you Stephanie. A lot of things feel out of our control right now and with so much uncertainty, just rolling with it might be your best bet for the next few weeks. Does that mean saying “screw it!” and scarfing down a few donuts every morning? Or grazing on chips and cookies throughout the day? No. But it does mean acknowledging your new routine, your new struggles, the fact that you’re under more stress than usual, and of course, the reality that you’re surrounded by food 24/7.

Usually when my clients talk about willpower, I find that they’re white-knuckling it through their day. Flat out resisting the temptation to eat with no strategies other than trying not to think about food. By definition, willpower is simply ignoring hunger. You’re choosing not to eat when your body is begging you to feed it!

Stress Triggers Sugar Cravings

Hunger is a biological survival mechanism triggered by our cells and driven by our brains. When you’re eating food, you’re feeding your cells. And when you’re resisting or restricting it, you’re starving your cells. Also keep in mind that extra stress puts you into fight-or-flight mode, making those donuts, muffins, leftover Easter candies look extra good. Your cells are craving sugar! And when you give in, you start the vicious cycle of sugar high, followed by sugar crash, followed by feeling hungry, hangry, and craving everything in sight.

Sure, you might just be bored or procrastinating on a looming deadline, but if you’re genuinely hungry, put a sheet of bacon in the oven, fry up a few eggs with butter, and sit down to a meal. Actually sit down — don’t check emails, do chores, or stand in front of the fridge with the door wide open. And when it comes to intermittent fasting, no one’s going to come knocking on your door and tell you you’re doing it wrong. There’s no fasting police. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you usually fast for 20 hours and now you’re fasting for 12. As a matter of fact, there’s research that proves that fasting for as few as 10 hours has solid benefits.

Finally, if you are working from home, make sure your setup isn’t at the kitchen table. I know a lot of people have limited space, but having a designated place to work that doesn’t involve you smelling your family members’ lunches or putting you at arm’s reach from the fridge will serve you well.

I’ve been following Mark’s Daily Apple for 6 months, but I still have 30 pounds to lose. What’s the best workout for someone on a Primal diet? -Gerald

I love that you have a specific goal, Gerald. Determining your end point is so important for long-term success. It could be losing 30 pounds like you mentioned, or improving the way your joints feel, or being able to chase your kids around the yard without stopping to catch your breath.

Honestly, there are tons of workouts out there. Free ones too. In fact, I just Googled “workout plans for Primal diet” and came up with this, this, and this  in about 1.5 seconds. But it’s not just about picking a plan and following it. If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

Identify your Obstacles and Make a Plan to Get Past Them

Wellness is a journey. One that requires navigating obstacles and determining the path of least resistance. So, before you dive into your first set of squats, take some time to think about what barriers might stand in your way. Do you have the right exercise equipment at home to complete your workouts? Do you have the support of your family? Have you carved out time and space to exercise? You need to get real about what your obstacles are, so you can devise a plan to get past them and reach your goal. If you need a hand with this step, online health coaches and personal trainers can be a great resource.

A plan is just a plan. It’s two-dimensional. And things always come up. That’s why it’s crucial to have a strategy for all the ups, downs, and unexpected in-betweens that come with your individual journey.

I’m tired of eating eggs for breakfast every day. Got recommendations for changing things up? – Jeanine

You were probably in a nutrition rut before you started the eggs-for-breakfast routine. Let me guess: a light yogurt and banana before work, sandwich for lunch, instant oatmeal packets, cans of soup, take out… Somehow you got yourself out of that rut and into another one.

Listen, everyone likes the things they’re familiar with, and most people don’t like change. It’s a human truth. You were familiar with eggs. You liked them. You started making them every day. And now you’re completely sick of them. Totally understandable.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’m in the business of getting people out of their comfort zones, but I don’t do meal plans or recipes, simply because they’re too fussy. If I say, “how about venison patties and chopped up veggies” and you don’t happen to like those, what good does it do?” As a health coach, I supply my clients with a comprehensive list of supportive foods they should be eating. I provide the education, but I expect them to go out into the world and figure out what that looks like for them, so they don’t need me to tell them specifically what to eat at every meal.

Like I’m sure you are, I’m a big fan of protein-rich breakfasts since they’re known to keep you feeling satiated throughout the day. Remember that breakfast doesn’t have to look like a typical breakfast though. There are lots of great protein sources out there — everything from bone broth, beef, and bison to salmon, sardines, and sausage, just to name a few.

TAGS:  exercise, stress, sugar

About the Author

Erin Power

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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11 thoughts on “Ask a Health Coach: Why Willpower Doesn’t Work, Primal-Inspired Workouts, and What to Eat for Breakfast”

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  1. It helps to stop thinking of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Instead think meal 1, meal 2, and meal 3. That frees you up to eat anything for any meal. Meal 3 leftovers for meal 1 works just fine.

    1. Legit. Supper’s leftovers are my go-to breakfast on days when thought and time is scarce.
      Also, like, trying new things with the eggs can also help. If you’re just doing breakfast sandwiches or a couple fried eggs for breakfast, try something new. There’s a lot of great supper intended egg recipes that nobody ever makes for breakfast for some reason (probably because it seems too big for first thing, but you don’t *have* to eat it all at once, and you can make it the night before).
      What are you looking for in a fast breaking meal? That’ll tell you what your options are. Most people are looking for 1) requires few brain cells to prepare, 2) requires little time to prepare, and possibly 3) easy to eat on the go. But that can be a lot of things, look at lunches for similar restrictions if you’re having trouble picking from something as broad as “everything” (which, like, valid, I get overwhelmed by too undefined a decision as well).

  2. Stepping outside your comfort zone and learning and figuring out what works for you is the best part of getting fitter. You learn to listen to your body and once you make that connection, you will start loving your body and your life like never before. Never treat getting fit like a chore or you will never truly appreciate just how wonderful your body truly is.

  3. Great advice Erin and I am with you 100% on not giving clients meal plans. They typically feel restrictive and as you said they need to learn to navigate this stuff on their own. Instead sometimes we’ll brainstorm ideas for meals…discussing things they can make when they have time to cook as well as options for when they need to grab something on the go. Sometimes just keeping that list handy is helpful to stay on track. And even though I never get tired of eggs (just had them for dinner) I love to think outside of the box for breakfast. When you don’t limit yourself to “breakfast” foods the options are limitless.

  4. The definition of willpower is resolutely controlling one’s own behavior. It does NOT mean ignoring hunger.

    Willpower is driven by the desire to accomplish something (such as weight loss, in this case). It’s the driving factor behind the decision to eat a plate of bacon and eggs and an apple instead of scarfing a half dozen cheese Danishes and a chocolate shake. It can also be defined as making the best possible choice, even though an easier, less healthful option might be infinitely more appealing.

    To say willpower doesn’t work is also inaccurate. The combination of desire, willpower, and knowledge are crucial if one is to eliminate bad eating habits in order to lose weight and/or improve health.

    1. Willpower doesn’t work in that you an only muscle through cravings for so long before you will finally give in. Willpower may be driven by desire for you, but it may be an entirely different experience for someone else.

      People can take it a step further by sitting in the cravings, leaning into them as hard as they can and understand that the feeling is just a sensation in the body. This sensation won’t kill you or drive you mad, that tickle in your stomach or tightening in your throat will not cause you any harm. Once that is understood willpower almost becomes moot because there is no resistance, no danger.

      Also consider what is going on in your mind that is creating this feeling of urgency, are you avoiding an unpleasant situation by either eating the craving food or even avoiding by feeling the craving instead of other sadness/anger/frustration? Allowing yourself to feel all of the feelings can also create an open space where willpower is no longer necessary.

      1. When I was working on quitting smoking a few years ago, a doctor I knew told me: “cravings typically last for two minutes.” That knowledge was the key to riding smoothly through the quitting process.
        Elcy, you say “leaning into the cravings as hard as they can;” I say observe your body and brain dealing with the chemical state it is in. Same thing I think, more or less.
        Just watch how your brain and body behave. See how chemical you are. It’s critical knowledge.

  5. Hey, I went through the p90x regimen about 10 years ago and cut dinner and alcohol except for once a week and had some pretty good results. I was 42 I now am looking to try to achieve similar or better results and I believe Mark Sisson’s primal life style is the way to go. Can I still use the p90x workouts to achieve a goal of losing 9 stone along with eating primal to get there?

  6. With majority of US overweight, I think national Covid Fasting Goal should be promoted. Save money, time, no trips to stores and more food for people who need it. It is VERY easy. Ease into it. If on SAD, cut out crap first. Then eat healthy like Mark says. Then shift macros to Keto and eat 2 meals/day for few days. Then one meal. Next days NONE. Water, tea, coffee. No fat. Add Himalayan Pink Salt if necessary. Try 3 days as goal. Or 5 or 7. Then ease back into eating. Collagen. Bone broth. Cooked easy green veggies. MCT. coconut oil. I do it all the time. Then stay with healthy eating. 20 days one time to fight life threatening problem is my record. I now just do frequent short ones Everyone can do it. It is in our DNA!! Good Luck. Hopefully we could lose millions of pounds across the nation and be healthier.

  7. Erin, as a self-managing T2D I went to a ketogenic eating style about 2 years ago. I’m doing fine, and basically don’t think much about having diabetes anymore. What became very obvious during my recovery was that willpower was quite irrelevant in the equation.

    Once I cut carbs to under 20–50 grams per day, while eating the customary 2/3 plateful of vegetables, accompanied with fats and protein, cravings and hunger pretty much stopped being a problem. They largely went away.

    I enjoy my cravings now. They come after a Skinny Bitch or three. Usually, I crave extra chocolate, and I’ll have some. The next day I will be sober, and the craving will be gone.

    I wrote a book about self-managing diabetes, and in it I made the point that you simply cannot control how fat you are through willpower. The human race would be extinct if it was possible.

    Your fat content is determined by hormones. Spike your insulin, and gain fat. Calm your insulin, and stay lean, or at least leaner, to present the most basic explanation.