3 Sneaky Saboteurs Secretly Killing Your Willpower

Struggling to reach your health goals? Discover 3 sneaky things sabotaging your willpower and research-backed ways you can easily get it back on track.

Ever feel like hitting your health goals is impossible?

You start a diet Monday morning but fall off the healthy-eating wagon before the clock strikes 2p that same day.

You get to the gym three days in a row… and then don’t return for another three months.

Don’t feel defeated. 

It may not be you.

These sneaky saboteurs could be killing your willpower and working against your best intentions to get healthy.

Lack of Sleep

Did you skimp on sleep in order to get up early and squeeze in that cycle class before work?

It sounds like a solid plan — finding time to workout can be tough! 

But trading in an extra hour of sleep to get that early morning workout done may not be in your best interest. 

Because lack of sleep could be seriously hurting your self-control.

Sleep loss impacts the prefrontal cortex region of your brain — the area responsible for self-control and attention. Not only does lack of sleep have a detrimental effect on self-control, but it can also make sticking to a healthy eating plan particularly difficult. Studies have found that lack of sleep can lead to junk food cravings.

Why does a sleepless night leave you craving calorie-dense, high-fat food?

Blame it on your sleepy nose.

Researchers have found sleep deprivation sends your olfactory system into hyperdrive, making your brain more susceptible to enticing food smells and causing a breakdown in the parts of the brain that communicate food signals.

The result? 

Sleep-deprived subjects changed their food choices, reaching for calorie-dense foods like doughnuts, cookies, and potato chips.

Too Much Stress

When you’re trying to eat healthier, lose weight, start a new workout program, or any number of things that require added willpower…

Keep it cool, sisters.

Because stress is a super sneaky sabotager.

Stress can stack the odds against you if you’re trying to lose weight. Stress triggers the fight or flight response in your body and releases a flood of cortisol hormones — which could lead to increased belly fat.

But stress can also wreak havoc on your willpower, according to Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD.

“The biology of stress and the biology of willpower are simply incompatible. So any time we’re under chronic stress it’s harder to find our willpower. The fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for wise decision-making. Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes, but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind,” says McGonigal.

Low Blood Sugar

Are you running low on willpower… or running low on fuel?

It turns out, it may be one and the same.

Your brain is a high-energy organ that requires a steady supply of fuel — glucose — to operate. 

Researchers believe that brain cells working hard to maintain willpower and self-control can consume glucose faster than they can be replenished.

These effects appear to be reversible; researchers found drinking sugar-sweetened lemonade restored willpower strength in depleted individuals.

Does this mean that filling up on sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks can kick your willpower back into overdrive?

No way.

The best way to maintain blood sugar levels is to eat healthy meals at regular intervals — without refined sugar — to keep blood sugar levels nice and even.

Easy Ways to Get Your Willpower Back on Track

Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re constantly fighting a losing battle against your willpower.

The science clearly shows us these three sneaky sabotagers can really wreak havoc with your brain’s ability to exercise self-control.

Which means you now have the power to get your brain back on track.

Make Sleep a Priority

There are so many things that can get in between you and a good night’s sleep. Some of these are totally out of your control. (Hello, small babies and snoring spouses. We’re looking at you.) 

But sometimes a good night’s sleep is well within your grasp. 

So stop the Netflix binging, put down the book after you finish this chapter, say no to a girl’s night out once in a while, and maybe, just maybe, skip that early morning cycle class.

Your willpower needs you to get some sleep.

Stop Stressing

Take a deep breath. Exhale.

Finding ways to let go of stress can benefit your body and mind in so many ways. And increasing your reserves of willpower is just one of them.

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, adaptogenic herbs, therapy… find a way to manage stress that works for you, and you just may find your willpower and self-control returning.

Maintain Blood Sugar Levels

Eating small, frequent meals can help maintain your blood sugar levels, which means a steady supply of glucose for your brain.

Avoid sugary foods, which can cause your blood sugar levels to rise… and then plummet. 

Instead, reach for healthy foods like high-fiber complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olives), and proteins to maintain consistent blood sugar levels.

Ready to take back control over your self-control?

Sleep more. Stress less. And keep your blood sugar levels steady. It’s three little things you can do today to make sure you’ve got the willpower you need to stay on track with your health goals tomorrow. 

Melissa Zimmerman
Melissa Zimmerman is a wellness writer, entrepreneur, and GloWell Editor-in-Chief. Melissa is on a mission to help women find inspiration and expert advice to reclaim their GLO. Subscribe to the GloWell newsletter to receive a bi-weekly email containing Melissa's top tips to living your healthiest, most sustainable life.