The Futility of Willpower and Weight Loss
Traci Mann, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab, describes the futility of willpower like this:
Let’s say you’re in a meeting, and someone brings in a box of doughnuts. If you’re dieting, now you need to resist a doughnut. That is going to take many, many acts of self-control. You don’t just resist it when it comes into the room — you resist it when you look up and notice it, and that might happen 19 times, or 90 times. But if you eat it on the 20th time, it doesn’t matter how good your willpower was. If you end up eating it, you don’t get credit for having resisted it all those times. In virtually any other arena, that would be an A+, but in eating that’s an F.
So it’s for reasons like that that someone’s willpower, which is measurable by the way, does not correlate with people’s weight. It just doesn’t. But, and here’s the thing, it does correlate with tons of other stuff, like SAT scores, grade point average, and all kinds of other achievement outcomes. And if you think about it, that makes perfect sense. If you’re studying for an exam and give in to checking Facebook, those 10 minutes that you waste don’t erase the studying you did before. You haven’t lost anything. Whereas with eating, when you suffer that one moment of weakness, it actually undoes all the successful willpower that came before it.
Traci Mann, Researcher at the University of Minnesota.