High blood sugar can wreck your health, leading to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. For those already diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, high blood sugar can lead to neuropathy; nerve damage that causes tingling, pain, and numbness.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, good nutrition is your first line of defense against high blood sugar and neuropathy. But for many of us, eating unhealthy foods, including sweets and highly processed foods, has become a hard-to-break habit. And that’s where willpower comes in.
According to the American Psychological Association, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptation in order to achieve long-term goals. This is no easy task. Walter Mischel, a Columbia University researcher, is an expert on willpower and developed a “hot-and-cool” framework to explain how humans are or are not able to delay gratification.
According to Mischel, the cool system is a thinking system that incorporates an understanding of bodily sensations, emotions, actions, and goals. Under the cool system, individuals remind themselves why they shouldn’t do something that’s bad for them and are able to overcome uncomfortable cravings.
The hot system is emotional and impulsive, responsible for reflexive responses to certain triggers, such as stress leading you to tear into a bag of mini-donuts without even thinking about it.
When willpower works, the cool system prevails over the hot system. When willpower fails, the hot system–the impulsivity–overrides the cool system.
Interestingly, a growing body of research shows that exerting willpower, or resisting temptations repeatedly, can take a toll on your mental strength. Known as willpower depletion or ego depletion, this willpower fatigue can actually decrease the activity in the brain region involved in cognition.
Some researchers hypothesize that maintaining self-control leads brain cells to consume glucose, or fuel, faster than it can be replenished. However, other research shows that willpower depletion can be overcome by a good mood, and depletion is less marked in people who are driven by internal motivation rather than by external motivation. Additionally, people who believe that willpower is a limited resource are more likely to experience willpower depletion.
While researchers argue over whether willpower is a limited resource, a lack of willpower is often cited as a major roadblock to consuming a healthier diet. But willpower is essential for making healthy food choices when faced with options that can cause major blood sugar spikes.
Much of the research about willpower is undertaken with the intent of learning how to strengthen willpower or to conserve it. Here’s what the experts recommend.
Temptation avoidance: One of the most effective ways to maintain self-control is to avoid the object of your temptation. In practical terms, this means that if you want to consume less unhealthy food, keep the unhealthy food out of your home and out of your desk at work. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Then, if a craving does strike, you have time to engage the cool system and think it through before you head out to pick up an unhealthy snack.
Implementation intention: A helpful technique for improving willpower, implementation intention involves having a plan in place should a temptation crop up. For example, if you want to limit yourself to just one piece of candy, tell yourself that if you want another piece, you’ll walk around the block instead. This allows you to make healthy choices in the moment.
High motivation: Research shows that a high level of motivation can help overcome weakened willpower. Stay mindful each day of your goals, whether those are to lose weight or lower your blood sugar. Remember the reasons why you want to achieve your goals. Then, when you’re faced with temptation, recall the goals and your motivations for setting them.
Willpower practice: Even though willpower depletion can make it hard to resist temptation, exercising willpower can actually strengthen it for next time. One study found that compared to a control group, participants who performed assigned willpower exercises were less vulnerable to willpower depletion in lab tests that followed. Other research shows that flexing your willpower muscles can increase willpower over time.
Have one goal at a time: Working on one goal at a time can help you exercise willpower more effectively than if you’re trying to achieve more than one goal, such as quitting smoking, improving your diet, and going to the gym every day. Choose just one goal to start with and save your willpower for that goal.
Passing up dessert or turning away from a bag of donuts in the break room isn’t easy, but neither is living with high blood sugar and its negative effects on your body. Practice exercising your willpower and be gentle with yourself when you don’t succeed–just try again next time.
If you’re suffering from peripheral neuropathy, it’s particularly important to stay away from foods that will raise blood sugar levels higher than normal and make the condition worse.
Nerveology’s Nerve Support Complex can help, thanks to 21 powerful ingredients that reduce pain and help repair nerves. A daily dose of Nerve Support Complex and daily practice exerting willpower can help prevent neuropathy from growing worse, and it can improve your overall health, wellbeing, and quality of life.