If You Can’t Commit, Try Willpower

I have been on a popular weight-loss program for the last few months. I participated in this same program a few years ago and made it to my goal, then kept the weight off for three years. The secret to keeping the weight off was simple: consider what I was going to eat and make choices each time I faced food. I did great until choosing to eat empty calories got me off track. Once I made the choice to pop a few doughnuts, candy bars, and chips for two or three weeks, it was easy to slip back into habits that had caused me weight gain. desserts

Today I talked with my weight-loss consultant about this subject, and as always, she asked thoughtful questions that require insightful contemplation from me.

When I mentioned that I felt a key to being successful in turning away from unhealthy choices was willpower, her question was, “Do you think it’s willpower, or do you think it’s commitment?”
My immediate response: “It’s the same thing.”
My on-second-thought response: “I’m a commitment phobe.”
My on-third-and-later-thought, “No, I’m not commitment phobic, I just don’t like making promises I can’t keep.” (When I’m asked to speak to groups – something which I love to do, by the way, it’s such fun and I have no phobia about public speaking – my physical reaction is one of feeling trapped and suffocated simply because I am now committed to that date, time, and place.)

So by this time, I’m completely confused by her question and my inability to respond with confidence. I think I confused her as well. confused

Logophile, I am. I needed to study these two terms: willpower and commitment. I looked up their dictionary definitions and gave them both a good long think.
1) Willpower: “Strength of one’s will, esp. in the exercise of self-control.” That is definition my dictionary offers. Simple. And it puts the responsibility squarely in my hands. If I succeed or fail, I have no one but myself to be accountable for the outcome, and changing the behavior is a matter of being more determined next time.
2) Commitment: “The act of committing; the state of being committed.” Further examination led me to look at “commit”, and what I saw there scared me. “To bind or obligate.” Yikes. In other words, no matter what, it has to be done. There is no grace or mercy without the shattering of trust. I have a husband, a mortgage, and book contracts. That’s enough commitment for me, thank you.

I can dissect these terms and their extraneous definitions until the cows come home or I give myself a migraine, or both. Instead, I choose to embrace my initial thought, which was to look at my weight loss endeavor one day at a time rather than committing myself to a lifetime of pre-made choices. In this way, I will celebrate those wise decisions that help me to become a healthier person and to underpin more healthful behaviors.

This suits me so much better than committing to a lifestyle change and failing to honor that vow. I know myself, and I would see those failures, even the small ones, as a massive betrayal of myself and my integrity. The outcome: self-deprecation and depression.

Now. After having written the above, I reserve the option of changing my mind, and doing the commitment thing tomorrow, or next week, or later this year when I have reached my goal weight. In fact, the day I step on the scale and see the numbers I haven’t seen in four years, I probably will say, with happiness and confidence, “I commit to the maintenance of this weight.”Illustration of a girl standing on a weigh-scale

Today, it is enough for me to say, “I will have the apple, not the apple pie.”

3 Replies to “If You Can’t Commit, Try Willpower”

  1. K.D.,
    Your post today really resonates with me. As a recovered bulimic going on 25 years, all I can tell you is I eat for my health. All my choices have to do with what is going into my body. I avoid most junk food because I don’t want to feel like junk after I eat it.

    This is not to say I never splurge and have a dessert, but I mostly avoid all fried food.
    When I was battling my food disorder, no amount of willpower helped me. I had to figure out what my relationship was with food and why I ate. For me, it was about stuffing emotions in – not just food.

    I know my food issues were extreme, but hope this helps.

    Kathleen 🙂

  2. Knowing you personally, I sometimes suspect that your serious commitment to deadlines and ‘addiction to writing’ get in the way of your personal care! Glad to see that you are parsing out ways to successfully ‘look out for #1’ because that is the beginning of looking out for the rest of your responsibilities from family to pets to characters and friends. If #! isn’t on track, #2,#3, and #25 just lose too much. Look out for #1 to the benefit of the others.

  3. Bravo, KD!! I agree so very much with your attitude about commitment to the one-day-at-a-time philosophy rather than an entire lifestyle change (the thought gives me the shivers…a whole lifestyle change?). This is a beautifully-written piece. Thanks so much for sharing. Joy

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