Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't try to fight the Death Star -- Willpower is Over-Rated

Following up on last week’s post, I ponder the question:  so I wrote a book, but why???

Reason #2:  I’m pretty sick of hearing about will power

I wrote this book for every person who has ever had to listen to the sanctimonious admonition:  “Get some discipline, eat less and move more.  It’s simple!”

My response to this admonition:  put a sock in it.

It makes me more than a little crazy the way obesity is over-simplified.  Let’s start with some basic logic:  very few people struggling with obesity are particularly happy about that fact.  I know I wasn’t.  The notion that it’s easy if we were all just a little bit less lazy is a bad combination of being 1) wrong and 2) incredibly harmful.  If it was easy and straight forward, I think we can all reasonably expect that we would not have an obesity epidemic on our hands.

Fact #1:  obesity levels are much higher today than they were 30 years ago.
Fact #2:  the availability to food anywhere, anytime has expanded just as fast as our waistlines.
Fact #3:  We live in an environment that conspires to encourage us over-eat.
Fact #4:  our brains aren’t really helping the matter.

So if the answer is complicated, what can we do about it?

Most of what is written about dealing with weight is in the form of nutritional theory, usually in the form of regimented meal plans that are frankly hard to live with.  There is no shortage of diet books constantly streaming into the marketplace focusing on the finer points of nutritional theory.  Cut out fat.  No wait, cut out carbs.  Eat nuts.

Don't fight the Tractor Beam.  Find your
inner Obi Wan and shut the bad boy down.
This begs the question of why I bothered to write a book on the topic of weight.  My answer is that it’s not a diet book.  It’s a change your lifestyle/habits/brain book.  I would argue that the most interesting research happening in the field of weight management is much more in the territory of behavior and neurological science than it is in nutritional science.  Said differently, we eat for a thousand reasons that have nothing to do with actually being hungry.  We eat because we want a reward.  We eat because it’s an ingrained habit.  We eat, and we aren’t even fully aware that we’re eating.  When we get in the tractor beam of a trigger food, we find ourselves being yanked into the Death Star of eating mistakes.  What all of this research points to is a simple truth:  if we try to rely on willpower to stare down temptation, we will almost certainly fail.

Over the past few years, I’ve been pretty heavily influenced by a lot of different writers and researchers in this topic.  Some of them are the writers:  Tara Parker Pope, Mark Bittman, Michael Polan, and more recently, Charles Duhigg.  Many of them are behavioral economists and psychologists such as Brian Wansink, Richard Thaler, Kevin Volpp, B.J. Fogg and many others.

When it comes to what we really need to know about nutrition, I would argue that much of what we need to know is pretty uncomplicated.  The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (aka MyPlate) got it pretty right:  fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the rest with lean proteins and whole grains.  Have low-fat dairy.  Minimize junk food.  Watch portion size.  Exercise daily.  Repeat.

If knowing what we should ultimately eat is straight forward, knowing how to make it happen in life is a lot trickier.  It’s not easy to make those noble decisions when we are staring down our most dreaded food temptation.

This brings me back to the book.  I started writing the blog when I became a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers (i.e., reached my goal weight).  Everything I’ve talked about or thought about over the past three years has had to do with learning to live with my new lifestyle.  It wasn’t until I got to maintenance that I really began to understand what was necessary to try to change my life patterns for good (and better).  In fact, if I knew what I’ve learned in the last three years of maintenance when I started Weight Watchers, it would not have taken me nine years to reach my goal weight.

Therefore, in this book, expect to hear a lot more about changing habits, managing our personal environments and establishing new healthy routines.  The promise is to make healthy decisions easier, and ideally automatic.

Important announcement redux

As noted in the last post, all author proceeds of the book go to Share Our Strength ( to benefit their No Kid Hungry campaign.

Here are the Amazon and Barnes & Noble have links active for pre-order.  I’m told there will be electronic versions as of the on-sale date (I’m still confirming this…)

Here are the pre-order links...


Barnes & Noble:

Books a Million:




  1. arthur.w.schmelkaMarch 31, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    Thankyou looking forward to reading you daily! I have just become one of the newest employees of Weight Watchers! I am SOOOO excited to continue my journey by now working for the ONLY succesful company for weight loss. The new store in ftmyers, Fl. will be opening on Monday, and I am part of it! Arthur

  2. Great post, David! I've always said that my battles with weight and food had much more to do with what was going on between my ears than what was on my fork. Thanks for the reminder! I just pre-ordered the Kindle edition of your book and look forward to reading it when it comes out in May.

    1. So utterly true...I agree with you both..

  3. I'm glad I'm not alone with taking years to reach my goal. I'm 12 pounds away from goal and I've been on the program for 4 years losing 71 pounds to date. I know I will get there but it was nice that David wrote it took him 9 years to reach goal. People don't post how long it takes them to reach goal specifically if it takes years.


  4. There is a kindle version available - and I'm THRILLED!!! After being on program for nearly 2 years and being 171+ pounds lighter (and counting) I know that this is all about changing my behaviors so I can't wait to read more. Congratulations on the book.

    1. Congratulations Jen - it's folks like you and David and others on this WW journey that makes me know the journey's do-able.

  5. Congrats on the book David! I love your blog because it is so relatable and can't wait to read your book. You are an inspiration.

  6. "I would argue that the most interesting research happening in the field of weight management is much more in the territory of behavior and neurological science than it is in nutritional science."

    True 'dat! I'm also fascinated when I read about the research that goes into the various diet drugs from Big Pharma, not b/c I want to take them but to see which pathways in the body the science geeks are looking at for answers. And so much seems to come down to brain chemistry, etc. Kind of doing the reverse of what Kessler wrote about food reward in The End of Overeating. I also like the stuff by Duhigg on how to combat habits - very useful, that. Much more so than the ridiculous focus on macronutrient ratios in the field of nutritional "science". Also congrats on getting your book done. No easy feat that. They're like having kids though in that during the writing, you wonder why on earth you thought writing a book was a good idea - it's torturous - and then as soon as you're done & it's out of your hands, you're already thinking about diving into a new one! :)

  7. Can't wait to read the book, DK.

  8. Great phrase - weight loss exhibitionist. I think that takes some courage to refer to yourself that way. What a cool and funny journey...

  9. Love that you linked with IndieBound! But...the link isn't working. Let's keep our indies just as healthy as we keep ourselves!

  10. I've always said that "Eat less move more" is like telling an insomniac that the cure for them is to just fall asleep. Well yes, but ... that's not where the problem lies. Falling asleep isn't how you GET cured, it's how you know you ARE cured. Similarly, eating less and moving more is the goal, not the method to reach it.

    The complexity comes in when you have to get your brain to cooperate with letting you do that. If you can't sleep well, you KNOW the "cure" is calling asleep, but how do you manage it when your brain seems determined not to cooperate and throws disaster scenarios at you at 2am all the time? If you have trouble with weight, you know you need to lay off the fettuccine alfredo, but how do you manage that when your brain yammers at you for a week straight over a plate of it?

    Eating less and moving more is like falling asleep for an insomniac. It's not the cure, it's how you know you're cured.