I recently read a book by Sylvia Tara called The Secret Life of Fat. No, this isn't just another diet book. Tara is a biochemist who was dealing with the question of "Why do some of my friends eat so carelessly and not gain weight, while I eat one bite of dessert and put on a pound overnight?". The book talks about the evolution of our understanding of fat, and wavers between discussing medical anecdotes with groundbreaking research studies that help the reader understand the vital role fat plays in the human body.
Toward the end of the book, in a chapter called "Mind Over Fat", Tara discusses the importance of will power in maintaining control over our fat. Dr. Katherine Milkman studies self-control and decision making, and a lot of her work is based off of the idea that we have two selves, the "should" self and the "want" self.
The two selves compete with one another, with the should self being controlled and the want self being impulsive. There is a balance between the selves, but external factors can disrupt the balance. The example given in the book is the factor of timing. Making a choice that benefits you in the present is choosing the want self, whereas when you make a choice about tomorrow our should self influences our decision. So after a long day of work when you give in to having ice cream for dinner, you're giving in to the want self. After you eat the ice cream, you tell yourself that you'll work out tomorrow, giving in to the should self. If we give in to the want self too often, it ends up weakening the should self.
More research into these selves shows that different parts of the brain light up for each self when a trigger is given. Overall, the biggest takeaway the researchers had is that it is important to practice small acts of willpower, which will strengthen your ability to handle bigger tasks of willpower.
So while in the day-to-day you may think that having an extra handful of granola is no big deal, or eating just one donut at the office is okay, it's these small tests of willpower that will play a role into your overall strength of willpower. When it comes to your health and wellness goals, remember that small changes have a big impact! I highly recommend Tara's book as well if you haven't read it already!