Carbs and Cravings
Why carbohydrates are so important for your willpower
Today I want to share a crucial aspect of dieting that needs to be mentioned. We all know willpower and discipline are always going to be two of the most important aspects of dieting. We can throw in all the top diet plans, training programmes, new supplements and cling film wrapping or whatever crazy trend that’s making news. But when it comes down to it, deep down we know willpower and discipline are the keys to our success.
Take Sara for example. Sara works an office job. She’s quite successful and holds a high position in her company. She works long hours but she still cares about her diet and figure. She struggles very much with consistency however finding herself losing a stone here and there but always putting it back on.
How can Sara be so successful in one area of life but fall short in health and fitness? She constantly finds herself binging on the weekends, over indulging in cheese and wine and then the curry. If you’ve read my article on how the weekend can ruin a diet, you can see why this is dangerous.
As we know, discipline is what drives us to take the correct steps to achieve our goals. discipline is what forces us to get up at early hours of the morning to get to work, when the bed seems like the greatest place on earth.
What fuels our discipline is our brain. This is the great being that says “Do you want to be fat for the rest of your life? - well put that blueberry muffin down now”.
When we are required to make our conscious decisions of willpower, our brain helps us choose. We know willpower is crucial but like all good things, willpower must end.
Think of willpower as a bucket of water. Every decision you make that requires conscious effort such as making a healthy breakfast, choosing having a salad for lunch instead of the the extra fat lunch, choosing to start a college project instead of watching Netflix for the night requires you use up some of that bucket. Whenever you are faced with a decision to take the easy option most often the unhealthy option, our willpower is used and our bucket is slowly emptied. When our buckets of willpower empty, we are left with the path of least resistance. We choose the easiest option because our willpower reserves have been exhausted.
This is perfectly shown in a study in which parole judges were observed for a number of weeks regarding their decisions about whether prisoners were to be set free after their crimes. This involved the judge interviewing criminals and reviewing facts and figures about whether the criminal was to be released back to society. Most interestingly the study found two key facts. Prisoners who were earliest to see the judge in the morning and earliest to see the judge in the afternoon were the most likely criminals to be released, while criminals seen late in the morning or late in the afternoon had the least success of being released. Strange isn’t it? What has time got to do with a judges decision making?
Carbs and willpower
You see the judges decisions to release prisoners perfectly matched two times throughout the day. Breakfast and Lunch. Carbohydrates are the number one fuel for our brains and as the judges ate they had the necessary fuel to think straight, analyse all the facts and make informed decisions. This led to prisoners being released. Most scarily however is the fact the closer before lunch, the less likely a prisoner was to be released.
So if judges are not able to make the best decisions for people's lives when lacking energy, how are we expected to have perfect diets after long days in work and stressful days using precious energy.
Sara is the perfect example of this. After her “last” take away on Sunday night motivation is extremely high to start that diet on Monday. She may have even seen one of my motivational pictures uploaded and she’s feeling great. But what happens? she hasn’t gone to the gym in weeks but decides to go anyway (Bucket of willpower has been dipped into). She loves coco pops for breakfast but chooses oats instead because they are the healthy choice (bucket of willpower being used). She gets to work and the lunch menu has a nice fry. She chooses the healthy salad she bought instead (bucket of willpower dipped into again). Her boss has her doing mindless activity on the computer looking at numbers all day that needs her full concentration (Bucket of willpower dipped in). Work is nearly over and although she hasn’t been running around all day, she’s mentally exhausted after concentrating all day in work and training earlier in the day.
She finishes work and arrives in the door exhausted. Now let’s look at that bucket of willpower. Firstly she forced herself to get up at the crack of dawn, then she decided to skip her favourite breakfast, following on from that she willed herself to the gym and put herself through a tough workout. For lunch she made the conscious decision of eating the healthy lunch. She then sat through work concentrating all day. After all this she arrives home. Now what’s the easiest option. Sit down and cook a healthy meal, or simply go straight on her smart phone and order the dominos? Having seeing how important habits are for our diets, we know Sara is doomed. The pizza is ordered and the glass of wine is already out before she even thinks about cooking some broccoli and chicken.
So what can we do?
Since carbohydrates are so important for our brain energy and therefore our energy to make better decisions, there are a number of steps we can take to keep our willpower high throughout the day and prevent the all out binge that evening:
1. Firstly PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE!!!- Ensure you have healthy meals prepared in advance that actually taste nice. This involves cooking meals with slow release carbohydrates for the day. Slow carbohydrate foods include whole grain carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats, sweet potato and beans. Going forward I’ll be uploading simple tasty meals that you can cook up. This will ensure our brain is adequately fuelled to fight cravings. Cooking meals in advance also means less willpower is required to cook after work when energy is at its lowest and binges are most likely to occur. If our meal is already there for us when we are going throughout our day then less conscious decision making needs to occur.
2. Secondly- Have healthy snacks for mid morning cravings so you are not starving before lunch. This can be as simple as rice cakes and if you are truly stuck then grab a protein bar which will fill the sweet tooth.
3. Make sure that your meal at home is delicious and healthy. This is a crucial one. If you come home from work with willpower and energy quite low it’s so important your meal is actually tasty. If you are coming home to plain chicken and rice, the pizza will win a majority of the time. The last thing you'll want is to come home to a cardboard tasting dinner If the meal is also tasty but has over 1000 calories then again, this needs to be looked at. Going forward hopefully meal suggestions will be made here so you can choose great meals but there also are already tons of resources to choose from.
4. If you struggle to find the motivation to cook meals then try do it first thing in the morning after breakfast on days when you are not in work. If we consider that our willpower is to decrease throughout the day, then it’s best to cook all your healthy and tasty meals in the morning when willpower is at its highest.
So there you have it guys. Before you go deciding to completely cut out the carbs forever, consider how it can affect your willpower and positive decision making for the rest of the day. If regularly keeping our hunger and cravings in check can help judges then it might be worth a go if it can help us with our cravings after work.