Willpower, Joy, Food - what goes through your mind when you read these three words? Are they a logical mix, or does one of the words seem at odds? Which one? Why?
While many of us find the concepts of willpower and joy at odds in our relationship with food, I argue all three concepts can indeed go together, like peas in a pod.
We often perceive that a lack of willpower leads us to procrastinate over adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours. I would suggest that we just need to look at the relationship between willpower and food through a new framework.
Food can be a source of joy. If, up until now, you have thought of it as a response to stress, as a tool to help you relax, or even as the enemy of your goals - I want to offer a new framework.
Many of us feel we have no willpower, especially if excess weight has been a concern for years. I suggest we DO have willpower, and we exercise it again and again in every avenue of our lives.
For many people, their mental bandwidth is simply at maximum capacity. There is no space for self-care. This is true for nurses and midwives in particular, as their caring roles and institutional frameworks often involve chronic stress.
The concept of mental bandwidth comes from behavioural economics literature and looks at why poor people, on the face of it, make apparently poor financial decisions.
A good example of this is someone taking out short term loans with exorbitantly high interest rates.
Reasons for this generally boil down to scarcity. If there was plenty of money obviously the money would be able to be borrowed at reasonable rates.
Similarly, overweight people may make apparently poor food decisions — types, quantities and frequency. To understand these choices it is necessary to understand the multiple sources of stress and multiple streams of responsibility.
Nurses and midwives in particular often have high levels of personal and professional responsibility. Many nurses and midwives feel they have a suboptimal nutritional routine, but they are not making poor choices because they are ignorant of the issues. Their mental bandwidth is simply full. Food decisions may be one more thing to worry about, one more element to fit into an overcrowded bandwidth.
One more decision is one too many. Scarcity again, potentially across a range of areas — maybe they don’t have enough time, money, autonomy, respect, self-care… so what should they do?
Let’s go back to willpower, joy and food. How can we capture these elements in a positive or empowering combination?
It has to be easy. It has to be joyful. It has to have been planned. Cook. Remember the joy.
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