Sustain Your Willpower

Podcast Episode #029: How to Sustain Your Willpower All Day Long

Willpower is a fickle thing. It can feel strong in one moment but then disappear completely in another.

We know that stress, fatigue, and the presence of temptations (often food) wear it down, even for those with the strongest resolve. Fortunately, willpower can be developed and trained to become stronger and longer lasting.

That's right - You can learn to sustain your willpower all day long! Here's how...

Episode Resources:

How to Sustain Your Willpower All Day Long [Full Text]

Every week I get awesome questions from you the listeners, and I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to send those over. They make for great shows, so I really appreciate you sharing your questions and your struggles and sharing a little bit about your lives. I have an awesome question today, and this is one that personally I have gone through before. You're going to hear about how it was part of my life for a number of years, actually. It's from Sam and it's all about snacking in the evenings.

Let's just dive right in. I'll tell you what Sam's question was. Sam says,

"I have zero willpower and dedication by dinnertime. I start out strong in the morning and go downhill from there. Some days I feel like I need to join Overeaters Anonymous. Is there something I need to change in my diet? Is it something else? I just need to stop going crazy in the evenings."

Sam, like I said, I personally can relate to this. I've been through those periods where the evening comes and it just feels like so much energy was exhausted throughout the day, and it's so easy to just grab that snack that you're used to eating and eating it. I know from talking to hundreds or thousands of people throughout my career that you are definitely not the only one. There's so many people out there that deal with this.

I actually have an amazing guest today who ... She's an expert when it comes to building habits and restructuring your day with some very simple tweaks to your daily routine that will improve the power of your willpower so that when you get to that evening time, you can make different decisions and you're able to carry that out over the long-term. I'm really excited to introduce to you a nutrition coach. She's an author of a really great book that I'll link to. It's how to Become a Nutrition Ninja.

Let's meet Betsy Pake. Hey, Betsy. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Meet Besty Pake

Betsy: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Dave: I'm excited to have you on the show. We have a question today from Sam. As I learned a bit more about what you do and what your specialties are, I thought you're the perfect person to answer Sam's question. Just before we dive into that, let's start talking a little bit about your book. You have a book called Become a Nutrition Ninja. What's that all about?

You can sustain your willpower! It is possible!

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Betsy: I wrote that book. I've been a nutrition coach for quite a long time. I'm a competitive athlete. I'm a masters level Olympic-style lifter. I found a lot of folks that were crossfitters or Olympic lifters with me, had a lot of trouble making weight, or they would try to lean out. They wanted to look like all the hard work that they put in, but they were having so much trouble doing that.

What I did was I took something called flexible dieting, which is really counting how much fat, protein and carbohydrates you get to have every single day. I map it all out in this book so that people have a really easy way to calculate their own macros, we call them, so that they can get lean and show off all that hard work. I use that with a little bit of mindset techniques in my coaching program, but that's the basis of it. I've used it really successfully to drop several weight classes with my Olympic lifting program.

Dave: Very cool. Quick question for you about when you're talking about your macronutrients, the protein, fat and carbohydrates. Do you find that the ratios, do they change depending on the athlete you're working with, or are they pretty generally the same across the board?

Betsy: It really depends. I have trained some folks that have competed in an Ironman, and so their carbohydrate needs are so much different than someone that's doing just Olympic lifting everyday. It does depend on the athlete, but there are some generalities in terms of how much protein you should have and that type of thing.

Dave: Very cool. In the show notes, for any listeners, I'll put a link to Become a Nutrition Ninja, and you can take a look at that book and it might be something that you're interested in checking out. Today's question from Sam, I'll just recap.

Basically, she talks about willpower and dedication to stay on what she calls a healthy eating plan, and she basically says, "By the end of the day, I'm so worn out, I'll just eat anything." I love it. She kind of jokes. She says she needs to join Overeaters Anonymous. When you read that, I'm sure you've dealt with clients that have had similar problems before.

Willpower and Dedication

Betsy: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a really common problem that people have. I know it's something that I've struggled with as I've gone through my journey. About fourteen years ago, and I'm not sure if you know this, but I gained about eighty pounds when I had my daughter, so I know what it feels like to feel so out of control and not like yourself. I think this is a really common problem and, like I said, something I experience.

I think there's two basic things, when I read this question. One is the successful people that I have met and that I have trained are people that if they have an issue, they try to figure out how to fix it, but the next day they get right back up and right back at it. That's number one. They don't stop searching for an answer and continuing on.

The other thing is actually something that could go across all different realms in your life. There's something called executive function. Throughout the day, every single time you have to make a decision, whether it's a decision about what you're going to eat or it's a decision about where to park in the mall, it depletes this executive function. Basically, it lowers your threshold to be able to make and maintain those great decisions by the end of the day.

The cool thing is that you can maintain this executive function and keep up that willpower by doing a couple basic things. One of the things I talk to my coaching clients about a lot is building a foundational schedule. All of those little decisions that you might make every single day that are the same decision, build the foundational schedule so that you're not having to make those decisions. You make them once and then you lay that foundational schedule across every single day.

Dave: Maybe you can give an example of that. What would that look like in practice?

Building a Fundamental Schedule

Betsy: A really easy way to do this is to build a foundational schedule that's not only your food and your choices throughout the day, but even the things you do throughout the day. Talking about the food, maybe there are certain snacks that you know you have every single day at a particular time. You're not having to think about it. You just prep those in advance and you have them ready, and that's what you eat.

The other thing is even little things ... If you go into an office every day, pick an area of the parking lot where there's not a lot of cars. You know you always park there. You always find a spot. Then it gives you a little bit of a chance to walk if it's farther away. Creating times and systems for things will help you preserve that executive function, and really give you more willpower by the end of the day.

Dave: I like that parking example because even something as simple as that that seems so unrelated to weight loss or fitness, it is one less decision that you're making, just something that's programmed and it just happens.

Betsy: Yeah, and it can be something that's stressful. If you're always looking for a parking spot and you're getting really frustrated, you're getting stressed. So much of eating and dieting is not about what you're eating, it's about what's in your head. If you're stressed and you're creating over and over again these stressful, little environments throughout the day, it's going to effect what you're craving, what you're emotionally craving, for food.

Your thoughts (emotions) affect your digestion process

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Dave: Yeah, that's interesting. I remember, and I'm going to butcher this because this was a long time ago that I read this, but reading a research study that went something along the lines of two groups of people and one group was asked to do a very mentally demanding task, and the other group had a task that was not mentally demanding at all. As the groups left their respective rooms, they were offered either vegetables or chocolate cake, and the group that had done this mentally demanding task overwhelmingly chose the chocolate cake.

Betsy: Yes, yes.

Dave: Have you heard that before?

Betsy: Yeah, yeah, that's the same thing. Same kind of systems.

Dave: Maybe you could give some more examples. I really like that parking one and as someone goes through the day, so that they've got their parking spot, they have their snacks programmed in. What other sort of things would you work with with your clients to create that programming?

Betsy: I have some clients that are in sales, for example. They know every day there's certain tasks that they have to do, but they're really in charge of their own schedule. What I tell them, if you know every day you have to make phone calls to clients, then set that time.

Every day between ten and twelve, that's what you're doing. You're not making a decision or creating a tiny stress bubble by trying to figure out or running out of time, and going, "Oh my gosh, I have to call these people. It's 4:30. What am I going to do?" Create that.

The other thing is to create a morning schedule. I tell all my clients to create a morning routine. Sometimes this is hard for them at first. I'll ask them to get up even thirty minutes early. What that does is it gives them time when usually nobody else in the house is awake, where they can focus on planning themselves. Maybe that's a meditation. I recommend that a lot. Maybe it's a time where they're reading something that's important to them that's just filling them up.

Remember there's so much about our mindset that goes into our eating. How can you fortify yourself so that by the time 10:00 comes and you have to call these customers, you are fortified and strong and ready to go? Now you're creating an environment that trickles down into your evening. Like Sam was saying, when they'd have those issues in the nighttime, now you've created this schedule where you feel fortified. You feel good. You're mentally feeding yourself.

Now when it's time to make those decisions at night, you're much stronger. The other thing I would ask you to consider is that, sometimes, our nighttime habits just become a routine. It's just a habit. If you always find yourself overeating at night, consider that it's just a habit and break it in the way you would break any other habit.

Eating Habits can be Changed or Replaced

Dave: I love that. I had a guest a couple weeks ago, Renee Cefalu, in podcast twenty-five. For listeners, makeyourbodywork.com/25, and she was very adamant on the statement that we are not our habits and we don't own those habits. Exactly like you just said, a habit is something that can be done away with. It's not us.

Betsy: Yeah. Yeah, and I always tell people don't try to just ignore the thing you don't want to do anymore. Actively find something to replace it. Like when you see a smoker and they quit smoking, so they start sucking on lollipops. Same kind of thing. Find something to replace it. If you find you always need a bowl ... I had a client that always needed a bowl of cereal right before they went to bed. We just tried to replace that with something else.

You start with little things. She would always have a cup, so then we started with just a half a cup for a week, and then we went to just a glass of milk, and then we just went to tea, and then it was gone. I feel like we beat ourselves up a lot, so be kind to yourself and think through how you can actively make little changes to get to the big change you want.

Eating is a habit. Create a new eating habit to replace the old one!

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Dave: You just said a bunch of very powerful things. First of all, I liked the process there. It's almost like, well it is breaking an addiction. You took the steps of weaning off that cereal addiction. It's funny that you picked that. I've talked about this on the podcast before, but for years I had that addiction to Raisin Bran. A bowl of Raisin Bran every night before bed. It was that same thing.

Betsy: Oh really? Yeah.

Dave: I wasn't hungry. I didn't need to eat that. It was just a very instilled habit.

Betsy: You'll have that, yeah.

Dave: I love the fact that you gave those step-by-step process and then what you said at the end there, I just want to reinforce that to all the listeners. Don't beat yourself up, and to know that it's something that we all deal with. Like I just said about my Raisin Bran habit. Betsy, you said you gained eighty pounds during your pregnancy. Can you maybe tell us about some of the habits that you saw form in your life?

How You Acquire Bad Eating Habits

Betsy: Yeah. I had two things that I did every day. If you want to gain eighty pounds, do two things. There was a restaurant in the building where I worked and I would go downstairs every day, and I'd get french fries. I never got french fries before. That just wasn't really my thing. It became a habit, and it was like a comfort thing. After I had the baby and realized that this wasn't actually a baby on my thighs, it was french fries, I had to actively think through now what was I doing?

Having this warm thing at lunchtime was some sort of comfort to me, so I had to replace that warm thing. The other thing was I chose ... I joke that I had an obsession with chicken pot pies. I don't even know that I've had a chicken pot pie since I had that baby. That was a big habit for me, where it was just something I knew I could pick it up.

It was on my way home, so those easy things. I had to look. What else is on my way home? What else would make this easy? How else could I create what I was trying to avoid, which was having to cook dinner myself? How else can I not have to cook dinner?

Creating and preplanning and planning meals out in advance. Asking for help. There's all those little things just to try to break the habits that you find. I really think that no matter what it is, whether it's eating or anything else, look back on what are the steps that lead to that, and then how can you disrupt the step? When you do that then you shake it up and you start to see some changes.

Dave: Yeah, you mentioned some neat things there. I liked when you said about the chicken pot pie and why did you have that. Maybe it was that you just didn't want to prepare dinner. I think that's very applicable for a lot of people who will just feel worn out by the end of the day, and picking up a pizza is easier than preparing dinner.

Have an Emergency Plan

You said exactly a solution to that is to have a plan, or you can prep ingredients on the weekend, or find out some really simple, I always call, go-to meals that don't require a lot of prep. There's a lot of things you can do.

Betsy: Yeah, and I think have an emergency plan. I didn't prep. I didn't get ready. I don't have anything in the house. I want to go get a chicken pot pie. I've already identified a Zoe's Kitchen next door where I know I can get something healthy, so I'm going to do that instead.

Progress, Not Perfection

Sometimes it's not about being perfect. It's about a continuum. If perfect is on one end of the continuum and eighty pounds of a pregnancy is on the other, where can you make those little choices to move you closer? You're never going to be perfect, so just move closer to that end of the continuum.

Dave: I love that. A thing that I always use with my clients is we're looking for progress, not perfection. Perfection doesn't even exist.

Betsy: I think we're so cruel to ourselves. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to somebody else. Look in the mirror and we say terrible things, thinking that will inspire us to do better.

Dave: Yes, that's interesting. At the same time, just like you said, we'd never say it to someone else. We know it's a hurtful statement, but to say it to ourselves seems okay.

Striving for progress, one step away from perfection!

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Betsy: Yeah, Yeah, seems okay. When you make that transition ... I notice with my clients, when they email me and they say, "Oh my gosh. This weekend I had a breakthrough. I looked at my thighs and I didn't immediately think I hate my thighs. I thought my thighs are starting to look like I want, or I'm getting stronger." When you make that shift, that's when the magic happens. That's when you're really making lifelong changes.

Dave: I like that you made that specific point because, yeah, we're talking about getting leaner and this specific question's about eating healthier, but in reality all those changes are for improved happiness and satisfaction with who we are as people. You're example there of looking at your thighs and thinking, oh they look stronger, or even just looking at them and thinking I'm okay. I'm fine and I'm a good person. I like myself.

Betsy: Yeah, yeah. I think it's a big transition, a big shift.

What About that Evening Glass of Wine?

Dave: This is a bit of a backtrack, but what we were talking about habits and routines around dinnertime, one of the questions I get a lot from clients is what do I do about my evening glass of wine? I'm sure you've heard that from clients before too. What do you have as a suggestion that's worked for clients that they can use as a replacement, or do they need a replacement? Do you tell your clients that?

Betsy: Yeah. Yeah. I think it all depends on how it fits into your greater plan. With a lot of my clients, we work on macronutrients. If they have the macros for the wine, they can make a choice to have the wine. I always tell them I'd rather you have nourishing food instead of alcohol. There are those times where you're going out or you're meeting friends and you've got to be able to live your life. If it's a regular thing at night and you want to change it ...

I've talked to someone before that had a Pinot Grigio habit every night. What we did was, we watered it down. We turned it into a spritzer, and then we turned it into more of a spritzer. Using that same method of the continuum to just try to turn it into what you want.

Dave: Then eventually did that client wean off it completely, or they were content with just keeping a watered down version?

Betsy: The real story is that she got pregnant, and so she stopped cold turkey. That took care of that. I think the idea, eventually, would have been to just go to one or two a week, yeah.

Dave: I love that and, again, it's something that's so practical. Anyone listening here, I'm sure there's a ton of listeners who do have that evening glass of wine, and if it's something that you want to change then try that. Try a little bit watered down, even if it's ten percent watered down. That makes a difference.

Betsy: I will have clients, sometimes, that will ... I'll get an email from them and they'll say it's someone who hasn't exercised in years and they've basically been eating anything that they want for the past five years and they say, "I'm ready to change, and I want a diet plan. I want to work out five times a week. I want to track everything."

Always, I'm like whoa, whoa. I appreciate the excitement because I think that's important, but I want it to carry on for the year. I want this to be a long-term thing. I always say pick a few things. Maybe alcohol isn't your thing right off. Maybe you keep that while you work on other things. I've had clients that were addicted to Mountain Dew.

Dave: Oh no.

Betsy: I've had someone that was addicted to Mountain Dew and cigarettes. Let's start with one or the other, but we're not going to do both. We've got to be kind to ourselves and pick something. I think that picking something and working on that, making that a habit ... Maybe that takes a week or maybe that takes a month, but once that thing is a habit then add on and pick something else.

No Willpower By The End Of The Day! What Do You Do?

Dave: That's so relevant regarding Sam's question because I know she doesn't really talk about her exercise, but she says by the end of the day, I don't have any willpower left. If someone was trying to take on multiple of these big shifts in life, of course, that willpower won't be there. If you had to bust your butt to get to the gym and that was such a battle, and then you come home and are expecting to cook you a healthy meal, good luck.

Betsy: Yeah, too much.

Dave: I love that. Start small. We like to keep this podcast really short and to the point, and I always like to leave people with a Make Your Body Work takeaway, which is just one thing that would be an impactful thing that they can do in their life today.

Back to Sam, or anyone out there who's struggling with this willpower, by the end of the day and how they snowball into unhealthy eating in the evening, what could they do today?

Betsy: I would say pick the one thing that you do that you could put it on a continuum. Maybe it's the cereal at night or maybe it's always eating out at lunch. See how you can make tiny changes and start to build in those tiny changes in the weeks to come.

To make real changes in your life, start with the little things and work you way up

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Dave: For Sam specifically, she says I basically start snacking and then it gets out of control. What would that look like for her?

Betsy: I think changing the snacks. Maybe it's that right now she's having trail mix with M&Ms and instead she goes to peanuts, and then she goes to carrot sticks, and then she goes to half the amount of carrot sticks, and maybe that's a place to stop. If she wants to go further, then she eliminates that altogether.

Dave: I love that and, again, Sam if you're listening, I'm not saying that this is what you're doing but trail mix with M&Ms is probably a pretty tame snack compared to what most people would get into to eating. Maybe it's going from double chocolate cookies to one double chocolate cookie to the trail mix.

Betsy: Yes.

Dave: Yeah, I love that. That's such a good illustration of what that continuum could look like. Betsy, I know we're just scratching the surface of what you can share in terms of insights and all the wisdom that you have. Where could people find out more about you and about what you do?

Betsy: They can actually go to my website, which is my name. It's Betsy Pake, like cake but with a P, so betsypake.com, and I'm on social media everywhere at Betsy Pake. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram and all that good stuff.

Dave: I'll have links to Betsy on my social media, and her book to boot. Becoming a Nutrition Ninja.

Betsy: Thank you so much.

Dave: Thanks for joining us, and I'd love to have you back sometime. Like I said, I know we're just scratching the surface of what you can share with us.

Betsy: Yeah, that sounds great. I'd love it.

Dave: Thanks again, Betsy, for joining us today and thanks to you, the listeners. I just love having you here and hearing from you, so if you ever get inspired or have any questions about an episode, feel free to contact me anytime. [email protected]

For today's episode we were talking about building those habits, and one of the habits a lot of people struggle with is unhealthy snacking. Back in the Make Your Body Work podcast, episode twenty-seven, we had a really neat duo of guys. They're from a company called Naked Snacks, and they're all about providing healthy snacks that still taste great, and make that healthy snacking that much easier.

Be sure to check at makeyourbodywork.com/27 to learn about Naked Snacks, and they were generous enough ... Neil and Tom, they gave us a really great deal for any Make Your Body Work podcast listeners to save thirty-three percent on your order when you order Naked Snacks online.

You can go to nakedsnacks.ca and make a purchase, and when you checkout there's an opportunity to put in a coupon code. If you put in the coupon code makeyourbodywork, all one word, you will instantly get that discount on your order. Again, that coupon code is makeyourbodywork.

You can do that at nakedsnacks.ca or visit the podcast episode and hear some really great advice from Neil and Tom about how to restructure your habits when it comes to snacking so that you're living a healthier life. Thanks again for joining me this week. I've got an amazing episode planned for you next week and hopefully I'll see you here.

Thanks for joining me today!

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  • Thanks so much for having me on the podcast Dave! It was great to meet you and I had lot of fun chatting!

    • Thank YOU Betsy! The response has been amazing already – Your message has certainly struck a chord with listeners. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂