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Finding balance this Christmas

With the hedonistic festive season almost here, might we be able to find balance during our celebrations by truly understanding willpower? Ali Roff unwraps the secrets…

by Ali Roff

Finding balance

4 minute read

With the holidays approaching, we may anticipate the indulgence with glee, but fast-forward to 3 January – am I the only one who never wants to see another Toffifee again? Beating myself up with guilt is not how I want to ring in 2017.

So, this year, I’ve decided to see the beauty in this ‘season of celebration’ as just that: a celebration! There is an abundance of meaning attached to the feasts we prepare; cosy nights in with loved ones, the clinking of glasses at parties. To deny indulgence at this time of year would be torture. We don’t indulge like this all year round; ‘Christmas comes but once a year’, after all. And research says that, with deprivation, we set ourselves up for failure.

Use it, don’t lose it

Why? Well, it’s all to do with willpower. Studies show that willpower is not limitless, but runs from an energy reserve. Like a muscle, when we exert it, the reserve becomes fatigued and runs out. When we overuse our self-control supplies, we find it increasingly difficult to say no to temptation and, as the energy dwindles, we give in. This is one reason why the diets I have tried in the past didn’t work – I couldn’t physically keep them up for the long haul.

In addition, this energy reserve within is also used for decision-making. Which is why, after a stressful day, it’s tempting to come home, leave our running kits in the cupboard and throw a ready meal in the oven. It’s also why, when we have difficult life choices to make, our healthy eating and exercise plan is the first to fall by the wayside. I recently had to make decisions about my living arrangements, and it drained my energy reserves to the extent that, before I knew it, I was lying in bed rather than going to the gym, while eating processed food.

The good news is that, while our self-control might not be infinite, we can, like a muscle, strengthen it by creating healthy habits. How? Using it often. Employing our willpower every day, flexes and strengthens that ‘muscle’ and, ultimately, we become better at it.

I think of my regular gym sessions, yoga practices and the nourishing meals I cook after busy days. Through these achievable daily rituals, I am strengthening my self-discipline and good habits – every decision; every act of self-control makes me stronger.

This festive season of indulgence is temporary. Life is about balance. So, let’s enjoy it! This year, I choose to banish guilt and see the lazy, indulgent holidays as a boost to my willpower reserves; a treat for the mind and taste buds; topping up my enthusiasm for ‘clean’ nourishment and healthy movement and getting me ready to face the new year with a surge of energy.

3 willpower hacks

  • Avoid ready meals after work by making meals in batches at the weekend, when you have a greater willpower reserve for making healthy choices. Later in the week, when the reserve may be lower, the decision has already been made.
  • A healthy snack could not only help you say no to junk food, but yes to a wintry run. Studies show the brain uses large amounts of glucose when exerting self-control and we’re more likely to fail when blood glucose is low.
  • Allow yourself treats. Your reserve will run out if you deprive yourself. Enjoy and move forward with a sense of renewal.

Image: Laura Doherty

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