Are You Too Tired to Diet?
The chocolate cake or the carrot? The cookie or the box of raisins? Making choices isn’t so simple. They require willpower – and willpower requires other resources. Could sleep be your new super power?
Consumer magazines would have you believe losing weight is only about making healthier choices. If you’re craving something healthy, why not pick that celery stick over a bag of potato chips? Definitely take the stairs over the elevator. And probably limit your wine at the party to one glass.
But making choices isn’t so simple. W-I-L-L-P-O-W-E-R …
In fact, studies show that how tired you are affects how much willpower you have. And how much willpower you have, in turn, will affect how much control you can exert over your diet and exercise.
What Is Willpower?
Willpower is defined by Merriam Webster as “the ability to control yourself: strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking).” But if it were just a matter of mind over matter, of deciding to do something and then getting it done, then we’d all be multimillionaires with six-pack abs. It’s much more complicated than that.
What Depletes Willpower?
Apparently, there is a limit to our willpower. In a review of studies published in the psychological journal Motivation Science, participants who made choices about consumer products, college courses or course materials then showed poorer self-regulation compared to people who didn’t make choices, but viewed the options.
“A limited resource model can explain why people regard choice-making as stressful,” willpower researcher Roy F. Baumeister concludes. Making choices leads to reduced self-control – less physical stamina and reduced persistence in the face of failure and more procrastination.
Decision fatigue is when you are depleted mentally, even if you don’t know it, and it affects your next decisions.
How Does Fatigue Affect Willpower?
If willpower is a resource, a skill that is limited, it’s easy to see how fatigue can affect it. In a recent study in Endocrine, 160 servicemen underwent 24 hours of sleep deprivation after a week of normal sleep. Their neuroendocrine hormones (cortisol, the stress hormone, and others) increased, affecting their problem-solving and willpower. Conclusion: Fatigue reduces your willpower. In another study published in the journal Sleep about diabetes, the authors found that people who slept less than 7 hours had more pessimism, impatience and irritability: “These feelings and emotional states could reduce one’s resolve and willpower to follow guidelines for physical activity and nutrition that could help prevent the onset of diabetes.”
In other words, when we’re tired, we actually don’t have the body chemistry for self-control.
How Does Willpower Affect Your Diet and Exercise?
All this makes some of our self-control issues a little easier to understand. That’s why we’re filled with resolve to stick to our diets in the morning, but by 3 p.m. – after a day of decision-making and activity – we’re reaching for that Snickers bar. That’s also why we can promise ourselves we’ll run in the evening but just not have the mental energy to stick with our resolve. And when we’re tired? All bets are off. And probably, so are our diets. If our diet depends on willpower, we have much less of it — chemically and mentally — when we’re feeling fatigued.
How Can You Improve Your Willpower?
Some of the most successful people in the world limit small decisions so that they have room for the big decisions. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit – a gray T-shirt, hoodie and jeans – so he can clear his life for the big decisions. Ditto Apple Founder Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks.
But Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a better solution. Get eight hours of sleep. “Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion,” he tells Thrive Global.
How Do You Diet If You’re Sleepy?
First, cut yourself some slack. After an all-nighter at work or being up with the kids, you have to know that you’re not going to be your best. So, go on autopilot. Wear your most comfy outfit, make the easiest breakfast and dinner you know and put off all big decisions for another (well-rested) day. Here’s where prep comes in handy. If you planned your diet in advance, cut up the fruit and veggies or have meals prepped for the week, it’s less to think about and less to tempt you. Also, work out in the morning, before more mental fatigue sets in.
The key is to think as little as possible – and try to prepare yourself to get more rest tomorrow.
Ready to make sleep your new super power? Check out these 10 Tips for A Better Night’s Sleep.