Better than Willpower

By: Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND —

I am not a fan of willpower. It isn’t because I don’t have any. It’s because willpower is unreliable. It’s there during one chocolate craving, but gone the next. Willpower might keep you from digging into the chip bag several afternoons in a row, woo you into a false sense of confidence and eventually lead you astray. Better than willpower are strategies. Willpower may fade, but strategies and skills are yours forever.

I encourage my patients and clients to arrange their environments in ways that are most likely to lead to healthy eating and living success. Here are several strategies for your home environment.

Keep it out of sight.

I am a lover of all things dark chocolate. Instead of keeping chocolate chips and chocolate candy in my pantry where I would see them multiple times a day, I store them in that hard-to-reach cabinet above my refrigerator. The chocolate is out of sight and even out of reach, unless I pull up a chair. A few other strategies:

  • Store tempting foods in opaque containers
  • Keep your trigger foods out of the home. Enjoy them when you go out
  • Delegate the frosting of cakes or the cutting of brownies, if they bring out your demons
  • Keep healthful foods, like a bowl of fresh fruit, in sight and in reach.

Be portion savvy.

Even healthful foods in portions too large can pack on the pounds and jack up blood sugar

  • Pre-portion tempting foods. When you first open a box of cookies or bag of chips or put away freshly baked desserts, pack them in single servings. Put two cookies or a dozen chips into separate baggies. Store all of the baggies in the original package or a larger storage container.
  • Be selective with your dishes. Pick out a small bowl that’s just the right size for cereal and another for ice cream and so on. If you always eat these foods from the same dishes, you will always eat the same portion. Search online for portion control dishes. There are many designs that guide you to proper portions without looking like anything more than attractive dinnerware.
  • Pull out your measuring cups and spoons. If you don’t know how large your portion is, measure first, eat second.

Use clever exercise strategies too.

For optimal health, we need both regular, planned exercise and reduced sedentary time. Even if you jog for 30 minutes everyday, be sure to keep moving throughout your day. Keep hand weights and a yoga mat in your home office or near the TV remote control. Why not do squats or walk around the house while you wait for your coffee to brew? Give some thought to a few wasted minutes here and there and brainstorm ways to fill them with movement.

Give up the notion that you need more willpower. Instead of working harder, work smarter. Use some of these strategies to make the better choice, the easier choice.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week and two upcoming books, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American Diabetes Association. Follow Jill on Twitter @NutritionJill and find more at