, It's All MentalThe Myth of Will Power

The Myth of Will Power

How easy would it be for YOU to say no?

I’m always intrigued by people who presume that my weight loss is attributed solely to will power… or that the

[at least] two thirds of Americans simply… lack will power, and that’s why they’re overweight. There’s this all-or-nothingness that hangs over the concept.

No, really – you just need to tell yourself “No,” and then you’ll be better able to handle your diet.

Think about that: the only reason why two thirds of Americans are overweight is the fact that they don’t have this uncanny ability to say “No” that the other third of Americans appear to have. How silly does that sound? If anything, with looking at those numbers, you’d think actually having will power is the anomaly… right? Or does it just make more sense to keep minimizing how difficult it is to lose weight and mock people for not being able to do it?

I think of my own personal experiences with food, and I’ve got to tell you…the first, at least, 100lbs that I lost had nothing to do with having will power. It wasn’t about some ability to “just say no.” It wasn’t even about portion control at first. It certainly wasn’t about some silly diet. It was 100% about what I was purchasing at the grocery. It was about what I allowed myself to have around me. Period.

And some might say, “Well, that’s about self-discipline, isn’t it?” I’d have to say yes, but then again it’s easy to realize what you need to purchase, and go to the grocery to act on that list and make the appropriate purchases. You go in with a plan and you come out a winner. It is another thing entirely when hunger attacks, and you have to fight the urge to get up and leave the house for fast food.

And again, you might say, “well surely that part is about self-discipline, yes?” Again, I’d have to say yes.  If you’re experiencing hunger pangs, you absolutely do have to fight against yourself to make the better, safer, healthier decision. You do have to fight and tell yourself “no, don’t get in that car!” You do have to tell yourself, once you’re already in the car, “Nooooooooo, don’t hit that drive thru!” and let’s face it: If you’re already in the drive-thru, you might’ve already lost the war.

But if so much about weight loss is will power… where is the myth?

The myth is that will power is the key. It’s not. If you’re not used to telling yourself no… where are you going to develop that herculean strength? If you’re not used to turning down treats and ignoring cravings, where and how do you start? How can we ensure success? You learn self-discipline… you don’t just all-of-a-sudden find this giant mass of it within you. It’s a growth process. That stupid “all or nothing” mentality doesn’t apply.

If I’m in a household full of processed foods – foods studied, tested and engineered for “maximum flavor intensity” and “you-can’t-eat-just-one-ability” and “oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-good-I-can’t-stop-eating-ity” – it’s supposed to make sense that I can easily say no? That’s why I believe the first step starts at the grocery store. That’s where I first developed my ability to say “No.” That’s where I first realized that I needed to be able to use the two feet I was born with, and walk away from certain aisles… and each time I was successful, I felt a little freer. Just a little… but a little was enough.

Before long, I was learning about food and improving my ability to say no, simply because I was realizing what was in everything. It certainly wasn’t food, and I wanted to develop a better relationship with food – not chemicals – so I spent a fair amount of time casting the chemicals out. I’m still developing my relationship with food – I don’t know that this is a process with a finite ending to it – but I can tell you one thing: I’m intuitive enough that I can dine outside of my home and, within two bites, turn down a dish that I think isn’t homemade or is simply poorly made. I’m not going to be hoodwinked into redeveloping bad habits because someone used chemicals in their food. I’ll pass.

If a company spends $30 million on studies for creating the “perfect spaghetti sauce,” and spends years on taste testing for the perfect balance… then guess what – they’re investing all of that money and doing all of that taste testing to find out which sauce will please the majority of the public. (Note: This will almost always be a sauce full of sugar and salt. The sugar makes it pleasing on the tongue and in the brain. The salt makes you want to use more of it.) It makes sense, then, that the majority of the public would be able to say no to the sauce? I’m confused.

The myth of will power is simply that we give it far too much credit. Self-discipline, in my mind, can only be achieved when the playing field is leveled – that means, no chemical interference – and if you never take those steps to make that happen, you are going to struggle. Does that mean that it’s smooth sailing after that? Of course not. There are lots of bumps in the road but for me, the real progress in developing my self-discipline began there.

What about you? What struggles do you face with developing self-discipline? How did you develop yours? Let’s hear it!

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By | 2017-06-10T11:47:09+00:00 December 20th, 2011|Debunking The Myths, It's All Mental|22 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Solace October 18, 2010 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    To some (myself included) saying no is a doozy. This isn’t an excuse, it’s a reason. It’s a war I fight daily.

    What it seems to come down to is seeing the word “no” less as a tool for depriving yourself and more as a weapon to avoid sabotaging your journey towards health.

  2. ChellBellz October 18, 2010 at 10:16 AM - Reply

    Since i decided to change my way of living I’ve had to work on my disipline big time. Things like seeing someone else who is bigger and struggling or in pain triggers something in my mind for me to put downnnn and step away from the bag of oreos and milk. I know it sounds bad but I always think to myself, maybe they couldnt eat just one, or jeeze i wonder if their weight has anything to do with it. I think about all those things, and then i reconsider.

    I was told i was diabetic all of a sudden out of the blue. I started eating better, burbing my carbs all because I was afraid of being sick, and it being on me for not doing something about it. As my numbers lowered and my stress level came down, a doctor told me more then likely since i had a history of good glucose levels that it might have been temporaray, but I got so use to eating better that now i have weened myself off a sugary drinks, and Sweet tea (which i would have killed for). I lose weight, and its all because i was scared into it. I know it sounds bad but that was all i needed for self disipline.

  3. Nicole October 18, 2010 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    If I could *just* say NO to starbucks, I would be complete. UGH its so hard.

  4. rissa October 18, 2010 at 10:58 AM - Reply

    my biggest problem is eating regularly. many times i go 4-10 hours without eating and then i’m starving so i a) grab the first thing i can find and b) eat heaping mounds of it. i dont plan and i’m not prepared. and my next biggest problem is the sweets. just eating fruit as my sweets will suffice for a couple of days then some super craving comes and i eat an entire half of a cake. or i get frustrated. quitting sugar gives me those really REALLY bad withdrawal headaches which lasts for hours or until i eat some sugar. i really need help.

  5. Nannette Wade October 18, 2010 at 11:33 AM - Reply

    I agree that it is a process. I lost 35 pounds, then struggled for the last 4 months going up and down within a 6-7 pound range. Part of me wanted to stay on the healthy track and part of me wanted to eat in response to stress or just because it tastes good. Yesterday I ate clean for 24 hours and will continue today. Some people tell me it is easy “just say no”. If it were easy, no one would be fat. Your blog is excellent. I read it all the time. My health is now my priority so I’m not giving up the fight to lose another 130 pounds.

  6. Tazzee October 18, 2010 at 11:44 AM - Reply

    Thank you for this article. Many attributed weight loss success to will power but I knew it started at the grocery store. I just kept certain foods out of my house. At the time I lived alone. Friends would joke that my refrigerator only had bottled water and salad. Now that I’m married with a 15 year old stepson, it is SO much harder. Every other day I come home to chips, cookies, cereal (my weakness) – all kinds of ‘goodies’.

    Well recently I proclaimed that the entire household is going to start eating healthier and if the Teen wants junkfood he has to get a job and buy it himself. My husband is the main culprit and I’ve been working hard on him.

    Unfortunately I’m not at the point where junk tastes bad to me or my body rejects it but I’m trying to get there.

    • SexyCool August 8, 2011 at 5:24 PM - Reply

      Hey you!

      I didn’t know you were over here on this site! Sheesh…I just stumbled across it a week or so ago. (Mean mugging you for holding out on the good info….lol)

      • panviki May 15, 2012 at 3:30 PM - Reply

        I too have the same problem. My husband love junk food and when my sixteen year old was there it was excused. Now that he is 20 and gone my husband still keep junk food at home and those I become sometimes so weak for. Doing a little better but still trying to get more self discipline.

  7. Streetz October 18, 2010 at 12:20 PM - Reply

    It all starts mentally. you have to make that decision mentally that you will eat better. Sometimes it makes outside motivation or stimulus. I remember a conversation i had with Erika, where she usually roasts me, lol, but challenged me on my claim that I eat majority well. so I started keeping a food journal to prove it, and that became a great way to regulate my eating.

    Before that, it was the prospect of having that Beachbody, and thinking if i just cut back now the endless return on investment of a great body and great health is worth it.

    So yes, Will power isnt the end all be all, but once you start winning those battles, and you develop real will power, it will asisst you

  8. Merewen October 19, 2010 at 9:51 PM - Reply

    My ability to say no is tested on two different fronts. At work boredom and at home. I don’t do the grocery shopping. And it’s almost impossible to dictate what some one else (skinny person) buys. I’m working on it, but I’ve got to be sneaky about it 😛

  9. Jay A October 23, 2010 at 8:56 AM - Reply

    I enjoyed the article, and proud to say that I do EXCEPTIONALLY well at the grocery store. Even when going down “the aisle” of temptation. However, It’s when I’m other places besides home that I get in trouble (work being THE WORST…it’s that dang vending machine). I teach 2nd grade,so drinking tons of water is NOT convenient for me, neither is eating every 2-3 hours. I know how to pack my own snacks, but for some reason…those snacks do NOT have the same kind of satisfying taste as regular empty carb snacks. Why is that I wonder……?
    I KNOW better, and the fact that at times I don’t do better causes me to become upset with myself leading to more negative eating…it has taken some years for me to get to this size 16/18 but some of the pounds that I have gained have come quickly (within a month)….and I want them off just as fast…..all in all I guess it’s mind over matter.

  10. Ighosime June 14, 2011 at 4:08 AM - Reply

    Hi Erika,

    Great piece. I often tell people that weight loss is a process and not a quick fix, and it begins with first of all accepting what it is you look and feel like. Then you can go ahead and analyze your diet and exercise regimen, and then you can begin figuring out and making the changes. Yes will power is important, but you are right in that it’s something you develop and of course the more you see and feel positive results the more your will power increases.

    Your post reminded me of the fact that in America, unfortunately, the food that is good for you is the food that is most expensive. Shouldn’t be the case, but that’s how it is and I put a lot of blame on the companies that come up with these addictive food products. These are coincidentally cheaper to buy as a result of all the chemicals in them, and the ensuing fact that they know people will keep buying them! And from what I observed, this most negatively affects the lower income strata of American society, because why spend 5 bucks on some gourmet celery when that same amount can get you a double cheeseburger, large fries and a large soda. It’s a really sad cycle.

    Anyway, bravo on this site. I’m a guy who is also on a weight loss mission and my mantra is slowly but surely because that’s how I know that the change will be lasting.

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