I haven’t been posting because the Christchurch murders really got to me and everything else seemed silly in comparison. But today, I’m determined to move on and get back on track. So what have I been doing this past week? Reading, eating and watching Harry Potter! Not very helpful, I know. But the good news is, I haven’t gained any weight and I did learn some stuff. And I thought I’d share that with you today.
One of the main comments lobbed at fat people – usually unasked for and unwanted – is that if we’d just exercise some willpower and stop eating, we’d lose the weight. This heaps massive amounts of guilt onto someone who’s overweight and struggling. You find yourself constantly asking “Why can’t I do this? Why don’t I have any willpower?”
Normally, I don’t get past the self-flagellation part of this thought process, but this week, my writer brain kicked in and I thought: what exactly is willpower? So, I looked it up! Here’s the definition:
control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.
synonyms: determination, strength of will, strength of character, firmness of purpose, fixity of purpose, resolution, resolve, resoluteness, purposefulness, single-mindedness, drive, commitment, dedication, doggedness, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power, backbone, spine; More
Now, here’s what hit me about that – I do have willpower. Quite a lot of it actually, or I wouldn’t be able to write ninety-thousand word books, or stop myself from impulse buying handbags, or force myself through walks I really don’t want to take, or sit through the many, many activities my kids’ force me to sit through! See what I mean? In my life, overall, I’m a very self-disciplined person. Someone who’s driven and exerts willpower in lots of areas.
So what the hell is going on with food?
Well, it just so happened there was a really interesting article on the topic in our New Zealand news site, Stuff, this week. It was called “Weight gain not about lack of willpower, study finds.” (Talk about a heading that’s click bait to the desperate dieter!) Turns out, scientists have discovered there’s an area of the brain that affects our ability to resist highly processed food that’s full of sugar and fat. The article went on to explain how this affects weight:
“The Canadian and Australian researchers found that differences in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is the area of the brain related to decision-making and self control, can lead to weight gain and, at the same time, weight gain diminishes activity in that same part of the brain.”
“…diminished function in the PFC can make it harder to override food cravings and resist the junk food saturated environment we exist in (so we put on more weight which has the effect of further diminishing PFC function)”
Reading this was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. A flash of hope that my failings weren’t down to my dodgy willpower, but there might be physiological reasons for it being so damn hard for me to diet. Struggling with weight is self-esteem destroying. I’m an intelligent, educated, accomplished woman – yet I can’t lost weight? How is that possible? Well, it seems that the reason isn’t willpower after all, but something else. Maybe it’s a chemical problem in my brain? Maybe there’s more to it than that. I went off seeking more information on this and found some in Michael Mosley’s new book The Fast 800.
In a section headed “What are the most addictive foods and why?”, I discovered the answer to why I binge eat Cadbury Creme Eggs, but never binge on dark chocolate. It’s to do with the fat to sugar ratio in some foods. The 2:1 ratio. I gram of fat for 2 grams of carbs. And as you can see from the list in the image, everything that we find hard to resist hits that ratio – fries, pizza, cake, milk chocolate – or as I call them, my dream team!
So, not only does my brain have compromised function when it comes to resisting these foods, but there’s also a type of food that is almost impossible for anyone to resist! This explains why my willpower works great when resisting sugary candies (no fat in them) but can’t resist milk chocolate (perfect 2:1 ratio). The problem isn’t with my willpower, it’s with my brain and the type of food that it’s geared to want.
Which brings me to my conclusion. Although, it’s a relief to realize that my willpower isn’t to blame for my failings, and that there may be a chemical reason (both in my brain and in the composition of addictive food) that I can’t resist certain foods, I still need to lose weight. And how am I going to do that if my brain and the food industry are working against me? It’s not like I have a great track record here!
The answer isn’t willpower but won’tpower!
I need a list of foods that I won’t let myself near. And I mean that seriously. These things are as addictive to me as whisky is to an alcoholic! I can’t be in the shop with them, or at a party with them, or keep them in my house. This is my list:
- Anything milk chocolate related.
- McDonald’s french fries and cheeseburgers.
I would be better off having a meringue, if I wanted sugar, than a cake – because I can stop at one meringue, but I can’t stop at one slice of cake. Basically, it’s time for me to exert my willpower in the areas it will affect, instead of wasting it on foods that are designed to get around it.
Armed with this information, and the hope it gives me, I’m marching into this week, ready to exert my won’tpower and apologize to my willpower for blaming it all these years. I’ll let you know how it goes.