Sep - Oct 2017

Help... I Do Not Have Enough Willpower!

By Jancie Livengood, Phd HSP


From the moment we wake up in the mornings our lives are of filled with situations that require self-control and test our willpower. You talk yourself out of ordering those fries at the drive thru and force yourself to pass by the buffet on the way home from work. It’s no wonder that by the time you finally get a chance to relax a little before bedtime, you want to gorge on your favorite sugary snacks.


Ask almost anyone what makes us choose the right foods over the wrong foods and they’ll say it comes down to one thing: willpower. But how do you turn on the willpower when you need it? If you’re like most people, you have to find creative ways to trigger your willpower so you don’t gain weight. Right?


According to Roger Gould, in his book Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever, the secret to overeating is not necessarily a lack of willpower, but an experience of powerlessness. Using food for reasons other than nutrition is a normal part of life. It becomes a problem when food becomes so closely linked with FEELINGS that the two overlap and become oneOnce that happens, food becomes a way to control emotions.


We become emotional eaters to deal with feelings of powerlessness. Powerlessness over the urge to eat can actually be a cover-up for other ways people feel powerless in their lives. We can feel powerless because we feel self-doubt; frustration, vulnerable, unsafe, rebellious, angry, or empty.


Here’s an example: Someone breaks a date (appointment) with you. You may start a self-critical judgment that your mind finds too painful to deal with (“Why would he/she blow off our date (appointment)? Doesn’t he/she want to meet with me? Does he/she not like me?”).


Here’s another example: Someone doesn’t speak to you or respond when you speak to them (“What’s wrong with me? Why don’t people like me?”). At this point, you may turn to food for refuge, then criticize yourself for overeating and end up focusing on what you’ve just consumed, rather than the message in the hurt feelings. That’s why it’s common to hear people complain about how angry they are at themselves for having gone on a binge. It’s easier to live with a self you’ve decided is temporarily lacking in self-control than with a permanently “stupid” or “ugly” self that nobody wants to spend time with. Unless you confront your overly harsh thoughts about yourself, you can end up actually believing them. Who wouldn’t rather think they’re just a person with no willpower, than a person who is completely unworthy of love?


How can you increase your willpower?  First… pause long enough to determine what other options you have, besides eating, when something in life troubles you. The key is to find the space between when something has affected you and your sudden urge to eat (which is not physical hunger), and then explore what goes on in your mind when you have that uncontrollable urge. Once you bring the spotlight back to the real issues and take the focus away from food and weight, you’ll begin to see who you really are; what you really want; and how to get it. Once you do this, you’ll begin to recover your power. Learn to increase your power by controlling your thinking. Catch yourself misinterpreting a situation to mean there is something wrong with you. Then talk back to the critic in your head. The key is to learn to DEAL with FEELINGS, versus turning to food to numb them.


Deal with your feelings by first feeling the panic of powerlessness. Then pause and identify what you are feeling. Compare your inner reality (powerlessness feelings) to what is actually happening (external reality or outer reality), and respond to what is happening in your current reality. Focus on the problem and focus on solving the problem – in other words, FEEL the feeling and DEAL WITH IT!By dealing with feelings you are increasing your power.


YOU CAN DO THIS! When you feel powerless over painful emotions, you can either continue eating to numb hurtful feelings, or FEEL and DEAL with your feelings and, thereby, regain your power. The choice is yours!



Article based on the book: Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever, by Roger Gould (2008).

Readers are encouraged to reference the book for more complete coverage of topics mentioned in this article.



Gould, R. (2008). Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.