Will power & your hormones

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Here’s something I’ve noticed this time of the year.

Most of us are fired up and excited about the prospects of “a new self”. We feel a sense of novelty — a fresh start— to achieve our lofty or even romantic New Year’s resolutions.

If you’re anything like me, the anticipation of a new year is incredibly seductive —so much that the holiday season makes me feel like I’ve got permission to derail. I mean — can’t we just enjoy ALL the cocktails, espresso, and eggnog we want at least once a year?!

Besides, the promise of a New Year brings the willpower to finally go cold turkey— right?

Unfortunately, it’s just not so.

While most woman will blame a lack of willpower on the failure to follow through on their New Year resolutions, it’s actually more complex.

If you’re struggling to find (and keep) your willpower this time of year, I’ve got news for you.

It’s not willpower, it’s your hormones!

And that’s why I was eager to tackle today’s topic.

In today’s post, you’ll learn about the link between willpower and your hormones, plus 3 tips to recover from your holiday splurge.

The physiology of willpower

So here’s how it works.

The excitement of your New Year resolutions creates a surge of brain chemicals called dopamine, lighting up the part of your brain that is similarly activated by sugar and recreational drugs. At the same time, we get an adrenaline rush that revs up our motivation.

The dopamine-adrenaline rush gives us a burst of energy and euphoria making us feel like we’re ready to tackle pretty much any New Year resolution.

Unfortunately when adrenaline and dopamine wear off, self-control becomes critical in the follow through of our goals.

The problem with self control is that it’s highly susceptible to glucose.

In other words, if you indulged over the holidays, it’s more than likely you’re entering the New Year with blood sugar imbalance and will make it really challenging to maintain self control.

Exaggerated spikes in blood sugar take us on an energy roller coater all day long.

At the bottom of those spikes our sympathetic nervous system goes into red alert and our adrenal glands start pumping out cortisol. This causes our blood sugar to go up so we can get energy to our brain, heart, and muscles to prepare us for “fight or flight”.

This “fight or flight” response impacts the prefrontal cortex which controls willpower and influences our attention, emotions, impulses, and stress management.

To keep fuelling this response, our body needs energy and we end up craving sugar and refined carbohydrates as fuel. These cravings become so strong and almost always override willpower. In fact, it’s a physiological response driven by our evolutionary design to help mobilize us into “fight or flight” mode.

This explains why it’s so hard to break the cycle of sugar cravings and why it’s so challenging to maintain self control when our blood sugar is imbalanced.

Is this sounding familiar?

Additionally, studies show alcohol reduces glucose throughout the brain/body and as a result impairs self-control even further.

The effects that sugar and alcohol have on willpower, now that’s a double wammy!

Alright, so, what’s a girl to do this time of the year when New Year resolutions are so seductive and willpower is tanking?

For starters, here are 3 tips to get you started on recovering from your holiday splurge.

1. Win the morning

Have you ever noticed that what you do within the first hour of your morning sets the tone of the rest of your day?

As the saying goes, “If you win the morning, you win the day”.

Start your day with a high protein + high fat breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar.

Don’t skip meals— especially breakfast.

Avoid coffee and refined carbohydrates first thing in the morning —what I like to call “survival foods” — which will only give you a temporary bust of energy but generally leave you feeling more tired and less happy a few hours later.

2. Hydrate, hydrate, & hydrate

Curb your cravings by staying hydrated throughout the day. While it may be inconvenient to carry your own water bottle wherever you go, it will make you more likely that you drink it.

Staying hydrated helps minimize sugar/salt cravings, increases blood circulation, thins your blood, and reduces inflammation in the body — all of which are important for hormonal balance.

3. Get your beauty sleep

Sleep affects blood glucose control and your blood glucose control affects your sleep.

It's a vicious cycle.

We need about 7 hours of good sleep every night. Healthy sleep allows you to reset your cortisol rhythm and keeps you from seeking fast energy during the day. Make your beauty sleep a priority lady!

According to research, it takes about 60 days to completely break an old habit and form a new one.

While you’re anchoring a new pattern of action into your life, you’re also uploading new information into your subconscious mind. Whatever New Year resolutions you’ve set this year lady, bring this wisdom about your willpower and hormones with you.

Just know, if you’re battling any kind of hormonal imbalance, don’t be shy to reach out, I’m here to support you!

Love & Ladyflow

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Elaine Clark, nutritionist, writer, women's health pioneer, and founder of LADYFLOW. Elaine is creating a movement of women living in sync with their hormonal wisdom and creativity. Elaine works with health conscious women to feel at home in their body and awaken to their creative potential. She offers a variety of tools to support women with her workshop offerings, retreats, and wellness products.