Do blood sugar levels influence our ability to lose weight?
I recently listened to a radio interview about a book called Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength, by Roy F Baumeister & John Tierney, in which the author, Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, discuss- ed his thesis on how to master willpower and overcome temptation. His ideas, purported- ly based on the latest scientific research, were supposed to help people to exercise the willpower to stick to a diet, among other things.
He believed that the ability to say no to temptation is directly related to blood sugar levels, and that we only have a finite amount of willpower for each day – if we exert a lot of willpower early in the day, we will have nothing left to withstand temptation later on. He postulates a false catch-22 situation: In order to display the willpower to resist cravings, we need to increase our blood sugar levels by giving in to those cravings.
The great flaw in his argument lies in his total failure to realize that eating the right foods allows our blood sugar levels to remain consistent until our next meal.
Consuming properly balanced meals, high in fibre, and removing refined and heavily processed foods from our diet, means we do not need to restrict our intake of calories, so our resolve will not be tested by low blood sugar levels. This does not mean we are likely to overeat.
When we eat the right foods, the rate at which energy from our food is released into the system is regulated naturally, so that the flow is even and smooth, with no spikes or sudden dips.
Under these circumstances, the point at which our blood sugar levels begin to dip to low levels, corresponds with the point at which we naturally need to eat. The hormone ghrelin is released into the blood stream, and we experience all of the familiar effects and indicators of hunger.
Since our diet is healthy, we experience the desire to eat a good meal. If our diet consisted of mainly processed foods, the refined nature of the food would cause our blood sugar levels to spike and then tank. By the same token, the absence of nutrients in these foods would cause us to crave foods rich in fat and sugar, precipitating a shameful binge on unhealthy, fattening stodge.
Replenishing the reservoir of willpower
This reasoning does not only apply to curtailing the urge to binge-eat. A similar approach can be taken to maintain willpower in many other arenas.
If, as the professor contends, the power to exercise self-restraint is a matter of blood sugar levels, ensuring that those blood sugar levels remain steady between meals would seem to be a very good way of keeping our degree of willpower at a consistent plateau throughout the day.
If we exclude alcohol from the equation, most forms of temptation hit us hardest when our blood sugar levels are low. The temptation to skip a workout at the gym is clearly related to our energy level. Even the urge to smoke or take drugs, for people who are trying to stop, is much more difficult to withstand when blood sugar levels dip.
People who are trying to lose weight, then, do not need to eat in order to top-up their reserves of willpower, thus sabotaging their efforts to lose weight. They simply need to follow a diet regimen that gives them the energy they need, as and when they need it. If you expend a lot of energy resisting one desire, Baumeister insists, you’re more likely to succumb to another.
I would counter that, with the proper amount of sleep, and the right food, our willpower will not be restricted to the hours before noon, and we will not find ourselves having to avoid making decisions later in the day, or trying to adjust our schedules to suit the vagaries of imaginary biological constraints.
Instead, we will truly be masters of our own destiny, since we will make decisions based on our reason, and will not be forced to abandon them because a dip in blood sugar has caused our mood to fluctuate, robbing us of motivation. Now, isn’t that a better way to live?
Further Perspectives On Willpower
Below is a video in which professor Baumeister elaborates his ideas on willpower. He may be eminent, but does he convince you?
In stark contrast, this article at 10tv.com insists that “Willpower alone might not be enough for people who are significantly overweight”, and suggests a range of medical interventions, including medications, appetite suppressants, and even surgery.© Copyright 2012 Dane Thorsen, All rights Reserved. Written For: Hourglass Odyssey