This is a very hard question for me to answer...so, I've taken awhile to think about it and reflect on the journey from where I was to where I am now...
In the beginning, yeah, it took quite a bit of willpower and perhaps, most importantly, planning. I chose to go low carb because I had done so many years previously when I was young ( like 21) and Atkins had worked like a charm for me to lose like 12-15lbs really quite effortlessly. I then continued on it for a couple of years and really felt the best I'd ever felt in my life.
However, life rolled on...
At 46 when I found myself roughly 90-100lbs overweight, riddled with illness that all came on over a two year period, anxious out of my gourd and depressed after years of PMS that evolved into severe PMDD. I was in a very not good place. So, I dove back into researching ...reading the newer Atkins, Eades, Heller and Heller and Sugarbusters. And out of the 4, most closely aligned my plan with Atkins, but used aspects of all of them.
With my temperament, it was imperative for me to craft a way of living/eating that did not require calorie or overtly "anything" counting. I am a pretty extreme intuitive type (per Myers-Briggs, Kiersy and Jungian typing) and am a highly inductive, non linear-sequential thinker. I perceive the large picture and have to move backwards/downwards to the "pieces." What works so well for others re: calorie counting, using fitday etc., would be the ultimate torture, poor fit and route to failure for me.
However this doesn't mean that I just ate/eat whatever I want without any observation or quantification on another level. I assiduously studied and learned carb counts of low, medium and high carb veggies/fruits, as well as categorizing glycemic index and glycemic load for fruits and medium and high carb vegetables, so that it became a foundation of working knowlege, that over time required no thinking. From years before with limited eperience with calories, i had a pretty good running knowlege in that area. Sugar in all its hiding places became a major study. I read labels - every label, of everything, that I bought. And I armed myself with what I needed in any situation. In the beginning, I quite literally had to eat about every 3 hours, so I had to have portable food that I could wolf down quickly because of the nature of my work. I also had learn to eat "pre-emptively" sometimes, which was not ideal, but again, was necessary.
In the beginning years, I did far more complex, multi ingredient, "fancy" cooking and had far more involvement with recipe searching, creating "treats" without sugar or grains, and overall, spent alot more time "with food" on my mind and actually concocting sugarless/low carb dishes of all kinds. One of my "greats" was a variety of cheese cakes with crushed pecan crusts, that were "to die for" that my family and others at parties, etc., loved. Now all of this has gone by the wayside, with the exception of holiday events. I cook very simply and evolved into this over the years between 05 and now.
In the beginnng, it certainly took willpower to consistently refuse all kinds of foods in the workplace that for most people were considered healthy snacks. I learned very quickly how to make a statement that conveyed my choice that left no opening for others to push at me. Probably the one that I have used through the years the most and still use is: "Thanks, I don't do sugar."
Like Melissa, I have lived the majority of these years with family (son b4 he married) and now my H., who are NOT low carbers and most decidedly NOT paleo. I realize that I am a bit like Gibbs on NCIS...I crafted my "rules" early on and they have simply been strengthened over time. Also, I am a a great believer in the super powerful effects of investing in change, carefully crafted, and developing habits that become stronger and stronger over time.
And I am a very stubborn person with a very strong will. I may flounder around in the intial stages of the hunt for a solution, but when I get there, I know if it is right for me and I am the woman with the iron will.
I would say to any significantly overweight/obese/morbidly obese person, that your'e going to have learn to be very comfortable being " a committe of ONE." Learning to be comfortable with being the "odd man or woman out" is a great asset!
Another thing I forgot is that after the first 40 or so lbs, I had to also invest time and effort in learning portions, so that this too, became a font of working knowlege to add to the no counting and measuring overtly regime. Of course this also requires a high level of self honesty. We can all choose to fool ourselves and I have certainly done so on more than one occasion!
For me, I feel very grateful to be a low carber, because satiety and being able to eat and feel full (not engorged!) was and is a big deal. It is much less an issue for me now, but is still important. Also, I feel that in general it made it much easier for me to fairly quickly respond to some foods as if they are chunks of cement. There just isn't any real pull the vast majority of the time. This is likely also because I am not a 60/40 or an 80/20 or even a 90/10. I am pretty much a 99.9% LC paleo. I do use splenda in my two cups of 1/2 caff coffee in the am as stevia makes me absolutely gag. And when I eat ice cream (rare) I eat carbsmart icecream which also contains splenda. The last time I had "real" icecream was in 2002. There is no discernable difference for me in Carbsmart icecream.
I believe that the longer you are on this road, the easier it can get. The biggest challenge for me, after getting the eating trip nailed was getting together a movement/fitness trip that would work for me forever and be portable as well. I did nothing but walk daily until I hit my goal in 02.The increments became longer and longer and the intensity greater over time.
I also consider myself sort of blessed that my path into severe obesity was strongly linked with worsening PMDD and an eventual eruption into horrible, unremitting anxiety and depression. Why do i feel blessed? Well because my whole trip is bound up in this and learning to do what i can to ameliorate this. It peaked, not shockingly, when i was very perimenopausal. I found DHEA and bioidentical progesterone, but will not go into that, and no longer use either.
What took me awhile was finding the right exercise piece, which has changed my life completely and is an absolutely crucial piece of the puzzle for me. I probably had to use willpower more for this piece than for any other. In the beginning, it was hard. Now, I look forward to it every day, because i have found (EUREKA!!!!) the right combo for *me.*And I remain ultterly amazed and grateful.
So, what's the answer to the question? My answer is that it isn't so much willpower (for me, now) as it is about paying attention, being very present in my life, approaching my life in a mindful way, ditching all denial about all my crap, understanding my "hooks" and where the big cliffs can be for me, and journeying forward as a stubborn and yet also open, "committee of one."
And lastly, yes, it helps that clean carbing/paleo type eating literally cured multiple health conditions, or brought them down to a minor roar, as with my rosacea. It is also helpful that I had minor relapses when I twice started eating soy baking mixes and low carb/gluten free breads and that scared the shxt out of me.
But even if you haven't had these things...I can promise you this...time marches on..and your odds are very good of getting some of this nasty health stuff if you fall off a cliff into SAD..it's Russian roulette...and from one who has played and suffered, rather horribly...even on what would be considered an excellent "clean" SAD diet...my advice is that we are all not nearly graced as I have been. You don't have to go there.