Is your willpower making you weaker?

I am currently really enjoying a chocolate Shakeology smoothie and it is worth every penny.

“Oh, here it comes.  A bunch of marketing shill for an expensive meal replacement/health supplement that I can’t afford.”

Nope.  Promise.  Bear with me, here.

I’ve been a Beachbody fangirl for a little over two, maybe even three, years, now. (Note that I don’t say “I’ve been doing X workout” for that long, because I’ve had my own fair share of false starts, lags, downtime, lame excuses to skip workouts for weeks at a time courtesy of holidays and obligations, etc.) But I have, at least, been aware of the efficacy of Beachbody products for close to 3 years.

Why is this significant? Because it wasn’t until three weeks ago that I first tried Shakeology. Three years of Beachbody evangelizing, giving people tips and tricks and insight about P-90x, etc., but not once did I get Shakeology.

Why?  Because that #@$% is EXPENSIVE.

In fact, I still wouldn’t have tried it if it weren’t for the free sample I received in a purchase of Shaun T’s Rockin’ Body.  (Paid $20 for the workout DVDs and I received a free supplement sample worth almost twice what I paid for the whole shebang.  I’m not sure whether Beachbody is still sending out the sample bags, but I got one a couple of weeks ago, so it’s worth a shot. I confess that I was actually more excited when I saw the Shakeology sample in the box than the DVDs.  Sorry, Shaun.)

Would you like some fries with that...shake?

Protein shake. You're doing it wrong.

When I first started working out, I’d actually never used a protein supplement before. I asked one of the trainers at my local gym for some tips and he told me to “consume protein an hour before or no more than 45 minutes after your workout.” Great advice, certainly, but it still didn’t narrow down the choices. So, I embarked upon some extensive, time-consuming research, gathered data, tested results, and…

Actually, I just opened up a copy of Yoga Journal, saw an ad for a new GNC line called “Be Buff” and decided to try that.

And hey, it seemed good enough for me.  I really liked the Be Buff formula. The flavor (I chose chocolate) was excellent, the consistency was thick (which I actually like), it was easy to mix, never gritty, and seemed to be doing a pretty good job at doing whatever it was supposed to do.  It was filling, my muscle soreness decreased, and I presume that I had better muscle gain/tone results with the supplement than I would have had without it.  As an added bonus, this formula was specially developed for women, so it had some vitamins and additives and blah, blah, blah that seemed to contribute to healthier skin and nails.  I don’t know, I’m typically not girly enough to notice the specifics, my hair and nails both grow naturally long without a lot of special assistance from me, but my hair didn’t fall out or turn green or anything.

So what happened?

I wish I knew, honestly.  GNC just stopped carrying the Be Buff products.  First I noticed the departure of the chocolate flavor, which seemed especially strange for a protein supplement specifically developed for women.  Then steadily the other Be- products (Be Hot, Be Buff, Be Balanced, etc.) started disappearing.


It was at this point that I really started looking into Shakeology and its benefits. I was definitely intrigued and really wanted to try it out because I genuinely believed it was the best option for me.  But, well…. $$$  I also wanted to try the product before I plunked down the $$$ on it and, while I knew that if I didn’t like it I could send it back, even if I’d used it all, I just didn’t consider that an option.  For one, I figured it’d be a hassle to send it back and, second, I was pretty sure I’d end up liking it, and then I’d feel dishonest if I tried to send back the empty bag just to get my money back on something that I knew was a perfectly good product that I was just not able to afford.

For a few workouts I used my boyfriend’s Syntha-6.  He has a gigantic tub of this stuff that I got on sale from Amazon that seems to be the Everlasting Gobstopper of protein powder.  It’s great stuff, has a great flavor, isn’t gritty, seems to work fine, etc.  But it still left me feeling a bit wanting and unfulfilled.  It didn’t really make sense, but I guess I just wanted something that was “mine.”  I liked that aspect of the Be Buff products.

So, I started looking for other options.  Sorta.  Here are some of the substitutes I tried:

  • Opening the web browser to Shakeology and staring longingly at the bag.  Average cost: Free.  Protein grams: 0.
  • Drinking some old cans of Slim-Fast Optima that were in the back of the pantry.  Average cost: Free.  Protein grams: 9. Carbs per can: 24g.
  • Eating one Fage Greek yogurt day after day after day after day.  Average cost: $1.50.  Number of days I was able to keep this up before being completely sick of yogurt:  20.
  • Going to Whole Foods and buying a trendy health drink which, in fact, contained little to no protein, but still fed my need to buy Something Healthy and Organic.  Average cost, $2.99.  Protein grams:  0.  Average ability to finish an entire bottle of green Kombucha with chia seeds:  low.
  • Going to CostCo and buying aforementioned trendy new health drink in bulk.  Average cost, $2.98.  Number of Naked and Vita Coco drinks still in my fridge: 13.
  • Buying fresh antioxidant-laden fruit, rather than pre-prepared drinks:  Average cost, $2.99 per pomegranate.  Average time spent dehusking pomegranate arils: 10 minutes (I got it down to a science!)  Protein consumed: 0g.
  • Smoothie King’s “The Shredder.”  Average cost, $5.99 for 32 oz.
  • Starbucks’ Grande Skinny Mocha.  I … yeah.  I have no idea.  Average cost, $4.30.  It’s not very effective.

As you can see, eventually my quest for “a protein supplement” morphed into a bizarre idea of just trading money for “health food” (plus a side of convenience) without actually giving a lot of thought to the benefits and value of what I was consuming. So, throughout the time that I had told myself repeatedly that Shakeology was too expensive, I ended up spending just as much money on other substitute options that didn’t even fulfill the most basic, simple purpose I had set out to find:  giving me a convenient, tasty, healthy protein shake.

And a bag of Shakeology is HOW much?

So what’s the point of this?

Too often I think we find ourselves “settling” for something other than what we really want simply because we’ve been able to latch onto a simple, seemingly logical, almost tangible objection.  Yet, because there is an emotional aspect to what we want, the logic of that objection fails in moments of weakness, attempts to find substitutions to assuage our desires, even attempts to strengthen our ideas of resolve and “willpower” by holding fast to that objection and refusing ourselves.

Ever experience something like this: “I can’t have that brownie because I am on a diet. Instead I am going to eat this healthy granola bar, here.  And this yogurt.  And now this piece of fruit.  Maybe I just need to drink something, so I’ll have this sweetened mocha flavored coffee drink.  No, that didn’t help, what on earth is wrong with me?” So now you’ve eaten more sugar and calories than you would have if you’d just eaten the brownie.

Or how about simply saying, “I can’t have that item because I am being good.”  Good?  So you’ve now equated the denial of something you want with goodness, willpower, resolve, strength, etc. Which means you’ve also equated giving yourself that item — falling prey to your emotional needs — to weakness, to failure, to guilt.

If it wasn’t an emotional desire before, you’ve probably upgraded it to one, now.

So there are two ways to address this:

  • Remove the emotional aspect so that the decision you make can truly be logical, which is often easier said than done, or
  • Stop trying to fight the emotional aspect and, instead, use your energy to find a way to make it work within your needs, rather than spending even more time, money, and other resources working around it.

In my case, I had developed an emotional sense of attachment in believing that there was one particular product out there that was the best option for me, but I made a logical objection that it was too expensive for me to justify. But no matter how many various substitutes I tried to find, as long as my emotional “need” went unfulfilled, I was never going to find the right substitute.  It was no longer about protein or supplements, it was about feeling as though I were denying myself something that would make me look better, feel better, etc.

Here’s what’s funny, though.  As soon as my logical objection was removed (courtesy of the free sample of Shakeology), my emotional need was able to be filled. And with the removal of that emotional aspect, I was able to more clearly assess the situation and realize “Hey, wait.  I was spending more money on all of this other stuff, but now that I have the item I actually wanted, I feel fulfilled and no longer desire those substitutes.”

Mmmmm, Shakey!

Oooh, Shakeology, I just want to draw hearts around you. XOXOX. Let's cuddle.

So, if you’re struggling with recurring themes of desire, “weakness,” or craving, step back for a minute.  Put the emotion and the logic on equal stead for a while and do a true analysis of what it is that you want.  Why do you want it?  Why do you want to eat that cookie?  Is it because you are hungry, because you are craving something sweet, because you are craving something chocolatey, because your neighbor is eating it and you keep smelling it, because it is there and you feel it needs to be eaten rather than wasted, or because you’re having a bad day and, dangit, you deserve it?  There is no “bad” or “wrong” answer, because the key to actually satisfying your desire is going to depend on what emotions or triggers are telling you that you want it, not on punishing yourself for having those emotions.

If you’re just restless and having a bad day, then is eating a cookie really going to change your mood (or, perhaps, could a good round of Kenpo X or some Mass Effect 3 be more effective)?  On the other hand, if what you genuinely want is something sweet and chocolatey, is eating two cheese sticks, two cups of grapes, a diet soda, a granola bar, a pack of crackers, and some peanut butter on celery ever going to make you stop. thinking, about. that. chocolate?

Instead of using your energy and creativity to find ways to deny yourself what it is that you want and equating that with “willpower,” redirect your energy into finding a way to make it work. Sometimes it may be as simple as developing a comparable, healthy equivalent of the food you desire, but other times it may require eating the real thing and adding in an extra set of Mason Twists to your Ab Ripper routine tonight.

Personal insight can be a far more useful tool than blind, rigid willpower. The better you understand your emotional cravings, the more logically you will be able to respond to them and, over time, perhaps even eliminate them.