Weight Loss: Does Willpower Matter?

Sticking to a diet has little to do with will, experts say.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

For decades, dieters and doctors alike believed willpower was the key to successful weight loss.

"Many people go through life believing that they can't stick to a diet because they have no willpower. They believe that some innate force is keeping them from resisting food temptations," says Warren Huberman, PhD, a psychologist who counsels patients in conjunction with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss.

The truth, experts now say, is that the ability to stick to a weight loss diet has little to do with will -- and everything to do with changing the way we think about food.

"People like to think of willpower as some mystical, magical power over which they have no control ... but in reality there is no such thing," says Gerard Musante, PhD, founder and director of Structure House, an inpatient weight loss program in Durham, N.C.

Believing that willpower is at work only serves to make you feel less in control of your eating habits, experts say.

"Once you buy into the idea that self-control is something that is out of your control, and the domain of some indigenous character trait that you either have or you don't, then on some level you accept that staying on a diet is also not within your control, " says Huberman.

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