Sweeten Your Willpower

Have you had those days when you really stuck to your guns and maintained your willpower? You did your morning exercises, had a good breakfast and felt a great start to the day. You chose wisely in the cafeteria at lunch and passed up the pies. Even those mid-afternoon cravings didn’t get you. You could have picked the snickers bar at the vending machine, but you had an apple instead.

You got through the day feeling very proud of yourself until . . . a moment of weakness in the evening. Maybe you were at the ballpark or the movies or just over at a friends house when all of a sudden you found yourself gorging down a donut or a piece of pie.

What happened? How did that super-strength that you had during the day just all of a sudden vanish?

It’s in the Blood

Some cool new research that I read about in the latest Scientific American Mind sheds a little light on this and offers some advice to help you. In the experiment, volunteers experienced different environments where they had to ignore distractions and exhibit self-control. Before and after the tasks, experimenters monitored blood sugar levels to see how much energy the restraining behavior cost them.

The research suggested that willpower is energetically expensive. That means that every time you successfully keep those cravings at bay, it costs you some energy in the form of using up blood sugar. Researchers actually monitored a drop in blood sugar after volunteers suppressed their urges.

Beyond that, the study also found that if subjects were given a sugar drink to get their blood sugar back up they were able to suppress more urges for much longer. On the other hand, if volunteers were given a similar tasting drink sweetened artificially, they were less able to keep their willpower up. The real sugar raises the blood sugar back up but the artificially sweetened drink does not.

Use the Slow Burners

This is not an endorsement to reach for a sugar-laden soda every time you feel an urge that you are trying to control. In fact, if losing weight is your goal this would be counter productive. However, this is another argument for a low glycemic, fiber-based carbohydrate diet.

I have discussed the glycemic index of carbohydrates in the past. Essentially, it is a measure of how fast your body turns the food into sugar and dumps it into your bloodstream. Simple carbs from donuts, cakes, white bread, etc. spike you blood sugar fast. While complex carbs, from whole grains, fruits and vegetables gradually increase your blood sugar.

Another way to look at it is that complex carbs will provide a steady and sustained release of sugars into your blood. Based on the new research, this will help you fight urges and maintain your willpower because it will be difficult to crash your blood sugar.

Kicking the Habit

So whatever habits you are trying to replace, a low glycemic diet might give you that extra edge that you need to stay the course. Typically, I promote this style of eating for physical health, but now it appears that it is a weapon against any urge – whether that devil on your shoulder is calling for junk food, a cigarette or impulsive shopping.

More and more we are realizing how food controls our behavior. The brain is very responsive to what you choose to put in your mouth. Feed your brain what it needs to win.

Copyright (c) 2007 The Brain Code LLC