Your Emotional Eating Isn't a Willpower Problem

Have you put yourself through extreme measures to lose weight? Whether its through restricting calories, carbs, excessive exercise or chronic dieting, many emotional eaters go through a vicious cycle of dieting, bingeing, dieting, bingeing. The problem is, diets teach us that we need to control what and how much we eat in order to be thin and healthy. So what do we do? We rely on willpower to keep us on track for a short period of time.

Willpower is defined as the ability to control yourself, or strong determination that allows you to do something difficult. But the problem is, willpower is just saying no - which is why it doesn't work. Relying on willpower to make eating changes may work for a short period of time – but only until you break it! Then you feel guilty, you may binge because you feel bad about yourself for not having any willpower and then the cycle starts all over again.

For the longest time, I thought that if I just had better discipline, I’d be able to lose weight, be thinner and as a result, be happier. This was because I had a poor relationship with food and my body and I’ve since learned that emotional eating is not a willpower problem. 

Why Willpower Doesn't Work When It Comes to Eating and Weight

Your body regulates hunger, fullness, cravings and more through hormones (which act as messengers in your body). When you rely on willpower to follow a diet, you likely are ignoring your hunger cues, your cravings (which sometimes are good) and your natural eating patterns and appetite. What’s the problem with this, you may ask? Isn’t this how you lose weight?

When you control your eating through dieting, you're literally fighting against your body's natural functions! Ignoring your hunger cues and natural appetite means you end up eating less than you need. While this may result in some weight loss in the short term, your body is in panic mode and is trying to do what it can to get more energy. This means more intense cravings and a tendency to overeat and binge when you do eat.

In the past, whenever I’ve followed a diet for weight loss, it was always short term. I would want to lose X amount of weight in X amount of time. I would diet and restrict my eating only to get to my goal and start binge eating and overeating like crazy! Why? Because I was trying to control and change my eating in a way that goes against my body’s natural regulations and functions. That’s what diets do!

It’s time to break up with the idea that willpower is the way to weight loss and healthy eating – it’s not. Instead, you need to learn to trust your body.

Here are a 3 ways to trust your body and eat without dieting or relying on willpower:

1.      Focus on making Personal, Healthy Choices

Controlling your hunger, eating, and weight is often the result of underlying fear. You may fear that if you give up control, you're going to gain weight. Instead of trying to control your hunger, focus on making a choice instead. Making a choice empowers you to make decisions based on your own best interest. Instead of operating out of fear, now you're thinking rationally about what you want and need! Remember that your dietary needs may change depending on your activity levels, your health status, your age, the season and more. So, assess your personal wants and needs and make your food choices accordingly.

2.      Focus on Mindful Eating

Mindful eating will help you make food choices and decide what works best for you - while respecting your body's natural regulation of hunger and satiety. Read my blog on Mindful Eating for ways to adopt eating mindfully.

3.      Stop Black & White Thinking

Don’t fall into the trap that you always need to make the best decision (that’s CONTROL). A dieter's mindset is completely black and white - "I can only eat these things", “NO desserts” or "I’m quitting all carbs". This leaves no room for imperfection, which really only sets you up for failure. Instead, treat yourself with compassion. No human being is perfect. It’s okay to choose foods that you enjoy even if they aren’t the most nutrient-dense. Enjoy your food and savour each bite.


When you learn that willpower isn’t the problem, you can start to heal your emotional eating for good! Are you ready to break up with your diet??