Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - Women refusing to accept a plate of donut

Why Willpower Isn’t Enough to Stick With Keto – Plus Strategies To Boost Your Keto Willpower

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You’ve made yourself a promise – this time, I will stick to Keto.

This time will be different, you might say to yourself.

You know you feel amazing on Keto, your body and mind are happy. You have more energy and you are losing body fat.

You are getting closer and closer to your healthy goals.

Then you remember… last time you said the same thing.

Whether it was last week, last month or last year – there’s a reason why you are bargaining with yourself again.

If you have been relying on willpower and motivation to stick with Keto, you may be worried that this time you will fail again.

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got.” – Albert Einstein

But it’s not your fault you couldn’t stick with Keto last time.

This time can be different, if you approach Keto in a different way.

In this article, I will take you through:

  • What is willpower?
  • Why does willpower run out on Keto?
  • What is low willpower telling you?
  • What depletes our willpower on Keto?
  • How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto?
  • Practical tips to boost your Keto Willpower Today
Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What is Willpower - Young woman in white t-shirt choosing between green apple or junkfood, donut.

What is Willpower?

  • Willpower is not a battery
  • It’s not your fault when it runs out

We’ve all been there – we have an amazing, healthy, keto week only to fall to a binge filled weekend full of carbs and often alcohol.

After going on this keto-binge cycle for a while, it doesn’t even surprise us anymore. We can see ourselves doing it while it’s happening, but we can’t stop.

We’ve been told that willpower is a limited resource.

You use it up throughout the week, and by Friday night, there’s none left. Your willpower battery has run flat and there’s no chance you can resist that pizza, pasta, wine, bread – whatever it is that’s calling you.

Even if you have fully committed yourself to Keto, your willpower may just run out when it matters the most.

Then comes the guilt and shame from being kicked out of ketosis, chipping away at your confidence that was abundant on Monday when you started.

So what’s going on here, why does our willpower run out?

Willpower has been described as a limited resource that we use throughout the day to keep ourselves from making bad decisions.

We have a certain amount of willpower at any given time, and when we spend it on something like working out or eating healthy, our remaining supply goes down for other things like sticking with Keto.

However, the science around willpower is becoming clearer – it IS NOT a limited resource.

Willpower is not a battery that runs out, but an emotion that ebbs and flows.

And it’s not your fault if your willpower runs out, if you’ve been thinking of it like a battery rather than something that is much more in your control.

“Even worse, holding on to the idea that willpower is a limited resource can actually be bad for us, making us more likely to lose control and act against our better judgment.”

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - Why does Willpower run out on Keto? - Hand holding pink donut

Why does Willpower run out on Keto?

  • Comparing willpower with other emotions
  • Why willpower is especially hard with healthy eating

Once we are willing to consider that willpower is an emotion, instead of a finite battery that runs out, we can start to work out why willpower runs out on Keto.

Like other emotions, say happiness or anger – we never run out of them.

Emotions come and go based on what is happening around us and how we respond to the situations we are in.

If you have a short fuse and are easy to anger, you know you can snap at someone or go into a rage if provoked in just the right way.

If you’ve tried to improve your anger, you’ll also know you don’t have to react to the provocation or stimulus.

The provocation will still be there – someone cuts you off in traffic, someone at work is rude to you, your toddler is screaming in the supermarket. You can’t control these triggers but you can choose your actions and how you respond.

Let’s apply the same principal to willpower and Keto.

The outside stimulus or provocation occurs – let’s say it’s Friday night, you’ve had a huge week and you are exhausted.

Your husband announces it’s pizza night, the kids are excited. There’s no salad on the menu and you can’t be bothered with salad anyway. You want the carbs and feel the urge to blow your Keto diet.

If you accept that willpower is an emotion, it might feel like you’ve run out from resisting all week already, so you cave.

All these circumstances – the long week, the pizza, even the day of the week, might make you think you have no willpower left.

But really, it’s just like another driver cutting you off.

The outside triggers are there, but now it’s over to you how you react to these outside provocations.

Sometimes Keto feels like a constant battle of willpower though – and that’s ok.

It’s particularly hard on Keto because carbs are everywhere. Plus they are delicious, they are comfort food, and they are by nature addictive.

Restricting a major portion of all food available to use makes us feel like the battle is harder than what it has to be, but also causes more shame when we do cave.

What is low willpower telling you?

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What is low willpower telling you? - Fat lady exercising with dumbbell and looking at sweet donut, dieting willpower
  • Examining what the willpower emotion is telling you

When we have a strong emotional reaction to something, we usually listen to it.

For example, if you are working with someone who constantly gets under your skin and frustrates you, you tend to be wary of that person or limit your contact with them.

Or if you have an amazing, happy time on a holiday, the first thing you want to do is book another holiday!

We have learnt that willpower is another emotion, so we can listen to it and learn from it just like joy, anger or any other emotion.

What could your low willpower be telling you?

Depending on the circumstances, if you are feeling low on willpower it could be telling you any number of things.

It might be hard to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling at the time, but the more you can practice the easier it will get.

Here are some examples I have felt when I have started to examine my willpower as an emotion when it comes to the Friday night carb binge:

  • You feel like you’ve missed out all week by trying to eat healthy. This ‘fear of missing out’ can be a big driver for weekend binges
  • You are stressed and have learnt to use food to soothe emotions
  • You are missing social connection or feeling lonely, so want to participate in what the family or your friends are eating to feel more connected
  • You are too physically tired to cook something healthy, and feel shameful that you aren’t more prepared
  • You have eaten well all week and want a reward
  • You are disappointed you are not seeing the results you want from eating Keto, so feel like it is hopeless

These are just a few examples, what are yours? Can you uncover what the emotion of low willpower is actually telling you?

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	Self defeating thoughts, Decision Fatigue, Unfamiliarity, Forcing ourselves, Misalignment with goals

What depletes our willpower on Keto?

There are a number of things we can be on the lookout for to avoid willpower depletion. These include;

1. Self defeating thoughts – the most important one! Telling ourselves we have no willpower, or we are too tired to make a healthy decision, or we have failed = no willpower. It’s a self-fulfilling thought. If we think we have no willpower, we have no willpower.

2. Decision Fatigue – if we’ve had to make many decisions throughout the day, our mental energy to make good decisions starts to decline.

3. Unfamiliarity – new situations or tasks can be mentally draining. I find this happens when I plan a whole week of meals that are new recipes, too much thinking required! Fall back to old favourites you know are easy and simple to cook.

4. Forcing ourselves – taking away a choice, or telling ourselves we must do something (eg. follow a strict meal plan exactly!) makes us resist and want to choose for ourselves

5. Misalignment with goals – doing or saying something that contradicts your beliefs or goals can diminish self control and willpower. If you don’t really believe in what you’re trying to do, it can be harder to convince yourself it’s worthwhile.

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? -

How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto?

Now we understand willpower is an emotion that comes and goes, and it is usually telling us there is another feeling connected with it – guilt, shame, loneliness, reward, anger, stress – the list goes on!

So what can we do about it to boost our willpower?

How can we get more willpower if we are running low, to help stick with Keto long term?

Here’s some strategies to beat those willpower zapping situations that happen.

Further below, I will give practical tactics you can implement TODAY if you’re feeling low in willpower.

1. Noticing the self defeating thoughts without acting on them, and questioning their reality. If you notice a thought like “I’ve had such a stressful day, there’s no way I can manage without a glass of wine…” stop and examine this thought. Is it true? Can you really not survive without wine, chocolate, whatever?

2. Tapping into our big goals: taking a moment to remember why you are doing this (or anything), and checking it still aligns with how you feel. Is that goal still important to you?

3. Soothe any negative feelings in compassionate, healthy and goal-aligned ways (i.e not food or alcohol).

4. Planning your more keto-relaxed meals in advance – delaying your gratification can help you ride the wave of cravings, knowing you’ve got a planned mindful meal coming up later in the week.

5. Recognise and accept that it isn’t permanent – much like a craving or any other emotion, this willpower depletion will end. It might only be 5 minutes of temptation but it will go away – if you notice it, recognise it, and soothe it in other ways, you’ll come out of it stronger.

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto?

Practical Strategies to boost your Keto Willpower Today

So now we know:

  • What will power is
  • Why it runs out
  • Why it’s so hard on Keto
  • High level strategies to replenish it

Let’s unpack the 5 top strategies to boost willpower above, and give you practical things you can do TODAY to start boosting your willpower.

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? Noticing the self defeating thoughts on keto

Noticing the self defeating thoughts on Keto

Noticing when you tell yourself you can’t resist something is key.

Without noticing, you can’t do anything about it.

In the moment of craving something that isn’t keto – a thought pops in your head like “oh I definitely need some chocolate right now” or whatever it is. You feel yourself moving towards opening up a packet of biscuits and having one… STOP!

Where did this thought come from?

What are you feeling or thinking about? Some ways to improve how easily you can notice your thoughts and feelings include;

  • Journaling. If you’re a regular journaler, then this is an obvious one for you! You can even do it during the day as little snippets of things that come up – but I like to write my thoughts and feelings about things after they happen (when I’m not rushed) so I remember them better.
  • Meditation or mindfulness practice . This one might be a little more surprising, but really “mindfulness” is just about being able to notice your thoughts and feelings. You can do this anywhere you are – sitting on the bus or train, walking down the street, waiting for someone! Just take some time out to focus inwards and watch what is going on with yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, you don’t have to sit on a mat in a yoga position for an hour. It can be as simple as stopping for 30 seconds before acting on an impulse to look at the thought.
  • Pinch yourself. This is a little weird but I tried this and it does work! If you’re having an impulsive thought, like reaching for chocolate when you’ve had a long day or whatever that might be, then take your hand and pinching the skin on the back of your other wrist (just below where your thumb joins to your wrist). It will hurt a bit and the pain is enough to stop you from acting on that impulse, to give yourself time.
  • Deep breathing can help slow down our nervous system and get us back in our bodies, soothing a racing mind. There are many types of breath work available, so why not experiment and see what helps you!

Having these strategies as habits can really help boost willpower in keto situations – but I find for me it’s all about having my big WHY clear before hand!

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? Tapping into our big goals

Tapping into our big goals for Keto

Having clear goals and a strong driver for doing Keto is key to sticking with it long term.

In my Keto For Life program, the very first day is focused on finding these drivers, to help set you up for long term success.

If you haven’t been through a goal setting activity before, here’s some things you can try today to find your WHY on keto.

  • Identify the reason you want to be on keto. What’s in it for you? Why do you care about this enough to make changes, stay focused and stick with it long term (or try again after falling off the wagon)?
  • Dig deeper once you have your initial reason by asking yourself “the 5 Whys”. You might start with weight loss as your initial reason, but ask yourself WHY that is. It might be to feel more confident. Ask yourself WHY again and keep digging until you find a deep reason. It might get a bit heavy as we uncover what is really driving us.
  • Set your goals so they are realistic with short term benefits. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. They set their goals too far in the future, or they are not concrete enough to be able to measure them and know when they’ve achieved it! Writing out smaller milestones can help you achieve success along the way, but having a big goal that keeps moving further away doesn’t. So instead of “lose 30kgs”, try “eat keto for 1 week and exercise 4 days this week.” Smaller milestones on Keto are motivating.
  • Plan some healthy rewards for when you hit your milestones. I know that I’ve written before about weight loss not being the goal, but it can be a motivating factor for some people. If this is you – set yourself rewards when you hit milestones too! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or spending money on yourself either (unless your why was “to buy new clothes”) Think of what will motivate you and feel like a genuine celebration of your success. For me, buying new workout clothes or runners, new meal planners or a luxurious keto friendly meal does the trick.
  • Make your goals visible with regular reminders. This might be post its on your mirror or fridge, around your computer monitor or using apps with reminders to exercise. Some people love a printed calendar that they can tick the days off. Move them around regularly too, so they look different and don’t become part of the furniture!
Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? Soothe any negative feelings while staying on keto

Soothe any negative feelings while staying on Keto

So if you’ve been through #1 and #2, you have your goals clear, and a negative emotion comes up and you’ve spotted it.

Let’s say its the end of the week and you are super stressed or exhausted, or dealing with a really challenging time in your life.

It might feel natural to reach for chocolate, chips, pasta, wine, whatever will give you a short term feeling of comfort.

Learning to soothe these emotions in a healthy way is crucial to Keto success.

Some things that are proven to work include:

  • Soothe stress by practicing mindfulness and meditation, yoga or talking with an understanding friend.
  • Soothe anger with some physical activity, like exercise, dancing to your favourite song or hitting a pillow. Use your energy and frustration into something you can touch and feel. I find even cooking is helpful!
  • Soothe sadness by journaling about it and feeling the feelings without hiding from them. Feeling sadness is ok, so let yourself feel sad and process those thoughts to help alleviate them.
  • Soothe loneliness with connection. Whether that be a phone call with a friend, doing some volunteering in your community or even participating in a friendly group discussion online can help you feel connected, appreciated and understood.

There’s many other ways and it’s different for all of us, but I encourage you to do some trial and error until you find what works for you!

Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? Planning your more keto-relaxed meals in advance

Planning your more keto-relaxed meals in advance

I’ve written about dealing with cravings on Keto in depth , but one of the biggest things that can help the panic of never having pasta again is to plan a relaxed meal in advance.

Instead of waiting until Friday night, when you are exhausted and starving hungry to decide what takeaway you’re going to have, try planning it in advance.

I encourage including occasional non-keto foods that you are really craving, otherwise we can end up obsessing over them and ultimately bingeing on the forbidden food. I cover this topic in depth in my Keto For Life program, which is designed to make Keto long term sustainable.

We can all maintain keto for a few weeks or few months, but over 80% of people fall off the wagon and have trouble getting back on. Building in non-keto meals into your long term keto lifestyle is crucial to have balance and remove the fear of never being able to enjoy carbs again.

Here’s some ways you can help balance the cravings and food obsession to avoid bingeing:

  • Choose your meal in advance, including the quantity. You might be really missing pasta, so you plan a small quantity of pasta with a piece of delicious crusty bread in advance. Now you can relax, knowing you can eat pasta again instead of obsessing over it, feeling sad you can’t have it and bingeing on it when you do get the chance.
  • Eating mindfully and savouring your food can help slow down the urge to binge. Try chewing slowly, appreciating the flavours and textures in your mouth. You are more likely to enjoy it less quickly when you do this!
  • Satisfy the craving with a keto version first If you’re really craving something specific, try finding a healthy keto-friendly recipe that will help satisfy those cravings without sabotaging all of your hard work.
Why Willpower Isn't Enough to Stick With Keto - Plus Strategies To Make It Stick - What depletes our willpower on Keto? - 	How do you get more willpower to stick with Keto? Recognise and accept that it isn't permanent 

Recognise and accept that it isn’t permanent 

When our willpower is low, we might feel like it’s not going to come back again until the following Monday, when we have vowed to be strict again.

Remember – willpower is an emotion, and just like any other emotion, it can change pretty quick!

Here’s how you can overcome dips in willpower and bring it back up.

  • Give it just 5 – 10 minutes of doing something else, not thinking about the urge to eat something carb heavy. Trying some of the above tactics like movement, journalling or meditating can be helpful.
  • Do something that makes you feel STRONG – physically or mentally. Physically might look like some quick exercise or yoga. Mental boosts can include thinking on times you have been successful and strong, to remind yourself you DO have willpower and it will come back.
  • When you are feeling good and strong, write about it! When your willpower is feeling tip top, write a few post its or a letter to yourself. Write about how great you feel, why you feel so strong right now and how proud you are of yourself. Then you can refer back to this when you can feel your willpower is waning to give yourself a boost.
  • Learn about urge surfing. This is a tool used in addiction recovery – and yes, carbs are an addiction. Learn to surf the urge and you’ll see it dissipates pretty quickly and you DONT have to act on it.

Whilst willpower can be a useful tool to help us with many day-to-day tasks, it is not the most effective strategy for sticking with ANYTHING long term.

The Ketogenic diet will benefit from implementing strategies that boost your motivation and strengthen your resolve – both of which are separate emotions from willpower.

I encourage you to do some trial and error, see what works for you and continue build your internal well of willpower to finally meet your Keto goals.


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2 responses to “Why Willpower Isn’t Enough to Stick With Keto – Plus Strategies To Boost Your Keto Willpower”

  1. Michelle Avatar

    Great article really great read, ive been on keto for 8 weeks and ive stalled on my journey an this is exactly what I needed to keep going on my journey and get my willpower back

    1. Rachel Avatar

      I am so glad it was helpful Michelle. Great work on your first 8 weeks and I wish you every success! If you find yourself stuck in the stall, this article might help trouble shoot it for you: https://aussieketoqueen.com/the-top-reasons-keto-has-stopped-working-for-you-or-it-never-worked-for-you/

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