top of page

You don't need to control your eating through willpower....say WHAT?!

Hi Friend,

Have you ever been on a diet or been around someone (maybe even yourself) who makes you feel like eating a certain way is about sheer willpower and discipline? These diets or mindsets typically make you feel like you’re crushing it when you’re following the diet but leave you feeling like a complete loser if you aren’t abiding by their laws.

​Maybe you haven’t attempted a rigorous diet, but have you ever said or heard these phrases?

“I don’t have enough willpower to stop eating.”

“I’m not disciplined enough to skip dessert.”

These are common statements I hear when people don’t understand that maintaining an adequate eating pattern is not about pure willpower and unwavering discipline. It’s actually more about knowing your body and enjoying a relationship of trust between you and your body.

In your body, you have what’s known as the Vagus nerve. It connects your brain and your gut. While it was previously thought that this nerve only transports signals from the brain to its destinations, research now shows that the nerve is a bidirectional pathway, hosting messages that are sent from both the brain and the gut. This means that much like the brain communicates with the gut, the gut communicates with the brain.

The Vagus nerve is the communication highway from your gut to your brain.

Communication from the gut happens primarily through the hunger/satiety hormones that it releases including Ghrelin, Leptin, Peptide YY and Cholecystokinin. Hunger and fullness signals are sent along the Vagus nerve telling the brain to decrease energy intake and store nutrients, or increase intake. I describe this biological process to my patients as a phone call to a friend. If you were to call your friend every day for a month and he/she never picked up, would you keep calling that friend? Probably not. You might even cringe when you see that friend’s number pop up on your phone.

Now, relate this scenario to your brain and gut. When you’re on an overly restrictive diet, you’re often not responding correctly to the gut’s signals to your brain. If the gut is calling, calling, calling to say, “FEED ME!” and you rarely acknowledge the message by allowing yourself to eat, then you can develop a resistance to these signals, and the pathway atrophies (or dies off) overtime. The same thing can happen with your fullness hormones.

Essentially, ignoring the gut’s signals creates a breakdown of trust between the gut and the brain. If you’ve spent years on and off fad diets, then you likely have built up some resistance towards your body’s signals and have some trust and pathways to rebuild. Similarly, if you experience a strong impulse to control your eating through willpower and discipline, you likely have low trust with your body, and likely struggle with low motivation to achieve your desired outcome.

No need to be discouraged, however! You CAN rebuild these signals and decrease resistance. You can develop a strong internal trust that will allow your gut’s signals to start firing properly and decrease your brain’s resistance to them, thereby helping you know when to appropriately start eating and when to stop. The more you start picking up that phone, the more you’ll strengthen the vagus nerve’s traffic signals.

When it comes to properly nourishing your body, it’s not about focusing on will power to follow a certain diet. It’s actually more about re-establishing trust within your body to appropriately receive and interpret what your body is telling you. This is the foundation that a lot of people miss when trying to improve their nutrition, but it’s easier said than done. I suggest finding a professional to help you implement this powerful concept in your life, especially if you have a history of an eating disorder or have been dieting many years. When there is trust, you can shift your focus from restraining impulses, to listening and nourishing. It’s a lot easier to operate from a place of trust than from a mindset of force and control.

Make sure to check out read my next blog, where I will expand on the topic of this biological process and relate it to why intuitive eating has failed you in the past.

Heaps of blessings,

Mikyah, RDN, LD, CD


bottom of page