Willpower — Will It Work?

spy vs. spy

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at what various authorities say about willpower. Way back in 1988, in his book, No More Cravings, Dr. Douglas Hunt took on the challenge of explaining how it works:

Willpower is easily defined in two simple words, ‘will’ and ‘power.’ Will refers to the mind, Willpower equals mental energy. When you have energy you can have willpower. When you don’t have energy, obviously you don’t have willpower. Willpower to eat or not to eat depends on energy levels which come and go and cannot always be relied upon.

He goes on to discuss the importance of the internal conversations we hold with ourselves, which later came to be called “self-talk.” Supposedly, according to some, all it takes is to change the inner conversation. But Dr. Hunt disagrees:

The trouble is that this simply doesn’t work with overresponsiveness to food. Thoughts can encourage feelings, but more often feelings determine thoughts. Withdrawal symptoms create such powerful feelings (feelings are more powerful than thoughts) that self-conversations tend to reverse themselves toward justifying the immediate relief of unpleasant feelings instead of blocking cravings.

Despite doubts and caveats, he does think that willpower can work if you take advantage of unemotional, reasonable frames of mind to set things up so you will be protected from temptation. Maybe throwing all the sugar out of the house will be effective, if going to the store is very inconvenient.

Then there is Robert Lustig, who doesn’t believe that obese people have just abandoned themselves to laziness and the perpetual consuming of food, or that they lack willpower. Willpower is a commodity that assumes the existence of free will, yet our responses are chemically controlled. The behavior of overweight and obese people is driven by biochemistry and hormones. Once obesity has further tampered with the hormonal balance, weight loss is not a very obtainable goal.

Dr. Mark Hyman has been mentioned many times by Childhood Obesity News, and for good reason. He thinks that so many people are overweight or obese because of the hedonic qualities purposely engineered into junk food. He openly uses the term “food addiction” and urges patients to remember that food addiction is not a result of weak willpower or moral failure.

His suggestions follow:

1. Balance your blood sugar: Research studies say that low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain, which means more bad decisions.
2. Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners and your cravings will go away.
3. Determine if hidden food allergies are triggering your cravings.
4. Get 7-8 hours of sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep increases cravings.
5. Optimize your nutrient status with craving-cutting supplements (vitamin D and omega 3s).

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar by Robert Lustig — review,” The Guardian, 01/25/13
Source: “Food Addiction: Could it Explain Why 70 Percent of America is Fat?,” DrHyman.com, 01/04/11
Image by Hawaii_Christian.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources