Friday, February 18, 2011

Quit Relying on Willpower

Quit Relying on Willpower 

no willpower
We make things far too hard on ourselves. Case in point, the other day I was picking up a few things at the grocery store and I bought some dark chocolate covered almonds to bring over to my boyfriend’s house. Unfortunately, they never made it…in fact they didn’t last past the parking lot! 
One of the toughest things we try to do is rely on our willpower to keep us from overeating or choosing less than healthy options (although arguably I can certainly make a case for the health benefits of the dark chocolate covered almonds)!  Honestly, if we had willpower we wouldn’t be here, we would have perished centuries ago. We were built to feast so that we could survive famines and to seek out sweet and fat to do so.
Fast forward to the 21st century where we not only will never face a famine unless we are a contestant on Survivor, but we also are faced with an abundance of addictive foods on a daily basis.  Research shows that visual cues are very powerful which is why Starbucks has those muffins (AKA cupcakes), cookies and scones staring you in the face during your java wait and you are surrounded by candy in the checkout line at the supermarket.  And there is more to it than just the visual triggers, it is clear that many of the processed and fast foods contain ingredients that are actually addictive.  For example, gluten, the protein found in wheat and several other grains, can exert a morphine like effect on the brain.  Casein, from milk protein can also do this. And if you eat the same foods on a consistent diet (the typical American eats dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, corn and peanuts on a daily basis) you can build up a sensitivity to them which crea tes a craving for them as well. 
But this, my friend, is just the tip of the iceberg.  My specialty is overcoming weight loss resistance and this past year I have been focusing on genetics’ impact on weight loss resistance. One of the areas I find most interesting is that of eating behavior traits. It turns out that many behaviors that we believe are within our control have strong genetic ties including snacking, decreased satiety, increased appetite, sweet tooth, eating disinhibition and increased food desire. Fortunately your genes don’t have to be your destiny and when you identify your genetic tendencies for certain eating behavior traits you can proactively put strategies in place so that you don’t fall victim to them.
chocolate heartFor example, one of my clients, Lisa, has eating disinhibition and a sweet tooth.  Eating disinhibition is where you overeat in response to a specific stimulus including stress, fatigue or social situations. Lisa ate in response to stress, especially late at night. Her downfall was picking at her kids’ treats after everyone had gone to bed.  We built in a small amount of dark chocolate (1-2 ounces) to healthily appease her sweet tooth and found  alternative stress busting solutions to that late night stress eating. 
I have another client, Jill, who has decreased satiety so we have made sure that at each meal she gets protein and fiber to help slow down stomach emptying and suppress ghrelin which helps her feel fuller longer,  a moderate amount of healthy fat to trigger CCK which tells the brain she is full and lots of water and green tea between meals (a glass of water before bed shut down 100% of evening hunger pangs in a study done on dieting and hunger). If that isn’t enough for someone with decreased satiety or increased appetite, I have them use 1-2 ThinSticks a day.
Here are some of my favorite all round defensive strategies that can swing your gene expression in a favorable direction:
  1. Don’t bring the enemy into the house
  2. Find healthier options of the foods you crave – try lateral shifts like trading soda for sparkling water with Emergen-C
  3. Follow the three polite bites rule – eat three polite bites ONLY of the food you crave
  4. Be accountable for what you eat and drink – write it down and report that to a coach
  5. Replace bad habits with incompatible ones – if you always raid the frig late at night go take a hot bath instead
  6. Add before you take away – add in more veggies, up your fiber, start the day with a healthy substantial breakfast….
  7. Don’t confuse hunger with thirst, be sure to get in pure spring water and green tea between meals.
If you have been battling a sweet tooth all of your life, you feel like you are hungrier than you should be, you want to snack all of the time, you think about food all of the time or you reach for food in response to specific stimuli, you may have genetic tendencies at work.   But remember your genes don’t have to be your destiny, after all, genes may load the gun but your lifestyle pulls the trigger. Arm yourself with the best proactive ammunition so that you can win the battle of wellness and long term weight loss.

©2010 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Nutrition and Fitness Expert JJ Virgin is a the author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy and the co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters reality series. Visit her at to grab her free audio: Top Ten Hottest Tips to Get Slim and Sexy Fast


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