Imagine waking up to a day with no rules on what and how much you eat. You no longer have face the dreadful weighing scales and you only think about food when you are hungry.
What a perfect world would that be?! But is it possible? Absolutely it is. Just go on a diet or join a weight loss program and stick to it.
Yes that’s the catch:’ Stick to it!’ Do not lose focus when your best friend ditches you or your boss is inspecting your every move and all you want to do is drown your sorrows with a tub of ice cream.
Lost your focus already? So how do people manage to achieve their long term goals when surrounded by a mist of easy short term alternatives? Well they master an art called ‘self control’.
Self control is not some high end philosophical principle which should be dictating your mannerisms but it is a complex technique that can be applied to even something like your overeating habit.
Self control does not mean abstinence, it means taking a sound decision in order to improve your future.
Earlier techniques to change eating behaviour were focussed on changing environmental cues that influenced eating behaviour and rewarding and punishing the change in behaviour. Now they focus on simultaneously improving self control so that individuals are self reliant.
How much ever you may ask an individual to change eating habits or buy healthy food, eventually there will be a point where they will stand in front of the fridge debating whether to eat that item or no. That’s when self control will help them in decision making.
Self control can be thought of as a broader aspect of environmental management where the individual is taught to manage his own environment (eg: what should one order at a restaurant).
This in combination with diets and exercise can deliver great results and also assist in weight maintenance.
5 Factors That Fine Tune Self Control For Weight Loss
Self control is a powerful, deliberate and conscious control of intense desires. Mostly under the influence of emotions, we tend to take decisions that we regret.
Self control is the measure to delay instant gratification in pursuit of long run benefits. For example an empty fridge strategy could be a great answer to midnight snacking.
So what makes up a successful self control recipe? Well here is the answer.
1. Being committed to your goals
Defining your goal is a vital step. The more specific it would be, the better chance you would have to achieve it. Breaking up one big goal to smaller subgoals proves to be beneficial.
Also, focussing on one goal at a time results in better outcomes. Disengaging from goals that deliver slow results or almost impossible to achieve keeps you mentally.
‘I will walk an extra mile 3 times a week for the next 4 weeks.’ That’s how specific the goals should be.
You can use the S.M.A.R.T. principle for setting up goals to bring about behavioural change:
- Specific: Describing specific goals like I will eat three servings of vegetables a day
- Measurable: What makes your goal specific is that either the action or the result should be measurable. I will eat one serving of vegetables with every meal and one cup of fresh fruit juice at breakfast.
- Attainable: The goals should be easy enough such that they can be achieved. You might need to adjust your goal to meet this criterion.
- Realistic: Philosophy says nothing is impossible. But setting reasonable goals makes it achievable and takes you a step ahead to achieve the impossible.
- Time bound: You should specify a time frame for your goal. I will lose 3kgs in the next 3 months.
2. Boosting your Motivation
Motivation fuels your journey towards every achievement. The more you want to achieve your goal the more willing you would be to sacrifice and take efforts for it.
For example those who are aware that trans fat and saturated fat can give increase risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases will avoid it any cost.
They are motivated to avoid such future risks. Those who are not motivated in this sense will not value this outcome.
3. Believe in Yourself
Self efficacy is one’s belief to be capable to execute an activity in a way that results in desired performance. Higher self efficacy enhances one’s motivation and efforts. Only those who are confident that they will be able to achieve a task will actually take the effort to initiate it.
Higher self efficacy is associated with successful weight loss outcomes. But initial success can pave way for overconfidence which ultimately leads to loss of even the achieved results (i.e. regaining weight after a period of dieting).
So it is important to differentiate between confidence and overconfidence. Pursuing an unrealistic goal could be a sign of overconfidence.
4. Monitor your results
Self monitoring is central to self control. It is a sort of audit to examine whether your results are paying off or how much work needs to be done to reach the goal. Measuring your progress can promote your self control and commitment towards goals.
Successful dieters count their calories and keep weighing themselves to observe the efficacy of their efforts.
Those who wear pedometers exercise more and attain better weight loss results since the pedometer keeps an account of their activity.
5. Resurrect and sustain the willpower
Willpower is perhaps the most important ingredient for effective self control. It is the psychological energy that helps you resist temptations in order to achieve one’s goal.
For example sticking to a diet is an example of urge to lose weight but sticking to the eating habits set by a diet throughout your life is your willpower that urges to stay fit.
Maintaining willpower is a tough job. It is said that diets are mostly abandoned in the evening than morning since your willpower fades with time. Adequate rest and pursuit of a single goal at a time can replenish willpower levels.
11 Self Control Strategies For Healthy Weight Loss
Dr. Shahram Heshmat describes a number of self control strategies to change addictions and eating behaviours in his book Eating Behaviour and Obesity. Let’s see how we can apply these strategies to change our eating behaviour for the better.
1. Resist the temptation
This allows a person to foresee a situation which might tempt him and take measures in advance to avoid them. One might limit his options by distancing the object that causes temptation. For example a dieter can begin by emptying the kitchen stores of junk food.
Another technique to avoid temptation is to remove the possibility of achieving small rewards. To avoid devouring chocolates in the midst of emotional overflow eliminate the habit of keeping chocolates under your bed.
People reduce their consumption of ‘tempting’ foods by buying smaller quantities even though the price on larger quantities is discounted. In this manner they exert self control.
2. Impose costs on your weight loss goal
This involves putting voluntary fine when you fail to commit to your goal. For example you continue going to a health club or weight loss program because you have paid a hefty fee for it.
A study demonstrates that people given financial incentives are more successful in losing weight.
An experimental study was conducted wherein individuals were asked to bet small amounts of their money in relation to their weight loss goal.
The money would be lost if the monthly weight loss target was not met. After 16 weeks, the group that put up its own money lost an average 14 lb and earned $378 each, and the control group with no incentives lost just 3.9 lb each.
3. Rewarding yourself everytime you move closer to your goal
Its simple. Reward yourself every time you take a step towards your goal. That does not mean your reward is a good helping of chocolate cake.
Rewards help you progress positively towards your goal. Health insurance systems reward health related choices.
Certain systems provide bonuses to consumers for participating in check up programs or dieting.
4. Default option- when your only option is to eat healthy
It is human tendency to go for the default option. When you have emptied your fridge of calorie dense foods you are left with no option but to go with the healthy food items.
Fast food chains can make it a default option to provide water with meals with soda being a substitution available only on request.
5. Changing your perception about temptations
This strategy focuses on our ability to shift our thinking from ‘hot stimulus’ to ‘cold stimulus’.
For example instead of thinking of the sweetness of a gooey chocolate cake focus on the calories that will deposited as fat on your body or how it will indirectly upset your metabolic health thus making you prone to obesity and heart problems.
This basically exploits ‘the out of sight, out of mind’ strategy but it’s a little too hard to implement and requires practice.
6. Creating delays with mindful eating to give you time to rethink decisions
The idea of this technique is to prolong the time taken to act upon the choice. Mere passage of time dissipates strong emotions and prevents us from acting impulsively.
In context of eating behaviour, lets review speed of eating. Obese individuals tend to eat fast and this tends to reduce the onset of satiety signals.
However the opposite- eating slowly and concentrating on every bite- promotes satiety. Research shows that prolonging meal times for children affects future obesity rates.
7. Fighting Emotion with Emotion
You can fight a negative emotion with an even more strong but positive emotion based on reason. For this you may need to train yourself to care less about certain desires or make them seem repulsive by attaching negative emotions with it.
Eg: associating fatty foods with ideas of clogged arteries. You can even associate positive images when you do things that take you closer to your goal
Eg: Using Edit pictures of a ‘slimmer’ you and post it on your fridge to remind you of your goal
8. Practice Strategic Ignorance
You do not need to know the details of the costs or benefits involved with your food choices. One has to learn to ignore certain desires for a better future.
The simple idea that eating whole oats results in a slimmer waistline can keep you motivated to eat healthy or the fact refined sugar causes obesity can motivate you to ignore this option and use healthier alternatives.
9. Mindfulness- Being aware of your actions and emotions
This is one strategy I really believe in and if we master this, life would be a lot more easier. This technique helps become aware of our emotions rather than acting upon it impulsively. It is about observing and accepting an urge and not attempting to act upon it or fight it.
Emotional eating is one problem which tends to affect most of the population. Every time in distress we turn to our comfort foods to seek happiness.
Mindfulness teaches us to identify the emotions behind this urge, accept them and resolve them. Binge eaters tend to eat more when distracted (eg: watching TV or walking). Being conscious of every bite you eat, can help lower your intake by promoting satiety.
10. Make Personal Rules
Personal rules are promises you make to yourself in order to promote your motivation. It helps you to view current decisions as predictors of future behaviour.
For example a food addict can reason If I don’t stop eating sugar laden foodstuffs, I will not give up my food addiction for good and will end up being ill.
We all are victims of dual minds. A person who avoids overeating in the morning is aware that he may not follow the same behaviour later in the evening and this lapse will only cause regret later.
That is where enforcing a strict rule and adhering to it comes handy.
When we start resisting temptations early, we tend to believe that if we can resist today we will be able to resist tomorrow.
Defining strict rules can make this a regular habit. Making a point to eat breakfast can stop you from overeating at lunch.
Making rules public pledges is also a good option. We care a lot about what others think of us but you can’t let this get to your head. Its good to respect other’s view points but not let it dictate our life.
So whenever we lose focus, we are reminded that we do not live up to our pledges . This acts as a motivation to keep you going.
11. Demonstrate Automatic self control
Till this moment, the strategies we have discussed present self control as an active process which you need to act and think upon.
Automatic self control is the final stage where you no longer have to exert self control but it comes naturally as a habit.
Developing goals as contingency plans increases chances of success. Eg: ‘If X then Y’ – If I see French fries then I will avoid them. Such plans direct your goal related feelings and behaviour directly to specific cues generating an automatic behaviour.
However these plans must address specific problems. Eg: Eating salads at lunch will solve your problem of eating healthy but not resolve your night snacking issue.
Counteractive control strategy is another form of automatic self control. Eg: Whenever you see a tempting cue like chocolate cake, you are reminded that you are on a diet.
A study showed that female dieters expressed dissatisfaction towards their body image when hungry. Food deprivation seems as ‘alert signals’ which implement successful dieting intentions in restrained eaters.
The benefit of automatic self control is that it utilises lesser cognitive resources thus enabling you to focus on other activities that require your concentration.
6 Clinical Studies That Prove Self Control Leads To Successful Weight Loss
Research has examined the effect of implementing various self control strategies and in combination with other weight loss techniques they have delivered positive results.
A study evaluated the effect of self control on weight loss by recruiting volunteers for a behavioral weight loss program.
Treatment was group based and the volunteers were counseled by dieticians, exercise physiologists and psychologists.
Weight, treatment attendance, dietary intake, and physical activity were assessed, and participants completed an objective measure of self-control at post-treatment.
Results showed that greater self-control and increases in self-control during behavioural weight loss treatment were associated with greater weight loss, better treatment attendance, adherence to diet , and greater increases in physical activity.
Self monitoring in the form of daily weighing is found to be beneficial in terms of weight loss results.
A study demonstrates that people who measure their weight daily experience better weight loss than those who check their weight at lesser frequency.
Also daily weighing leads to better adoption of weight control behaviors.
A study was conducted wherein overweight individuals were assigned to self control strategies to change eating behavior only group, self control strategies to change eating and exercise group or control group only.
In the self control group individuals made lists of aversive events linked with unhealthy eating and kept the list available while eating. They set goals and prolonged eating times.
Results did not demonstrate significant differences, all the three groups lost weight at the end of 12 months. But a 7 month follow up showed that the groups taught self control lost more weight than control group and the exercise and eating group lost maximum.
External control stimulates self control. A study was organized to evaluate this point. One group met regularly with experimenter, a second group had mail contact with the experimenter and third group had no contact.
However the third group was as motivated as the rest to lose weight.
As expected the groups with experimenter contact experienced significant weight loss than no contact group. This suggests that external self control strategy, like in this case contact with supportive authority, enhances personal self control.
Another experimental study investigated the effect of external control and self control strategies in weight reduction program.
The self control group was allowed to administer financial rewards to themselves when they would achieve their goals directed to weight loss while in external control groups were given these same rewards by a therapist.
Results showed that self control group was more successful at maintaining weight at 6 weeks follow up than external control group.
Self control groups were trained to rely on themselves for reinforcement and they tended to attribute their weight loss change to self directed control.
In a study focused on self management program for weight loss, it was observed that behavioral techniques produced best results. Overweight women were assigned to social pressure, individual behavior therapy and group behavior therapy treatment groups.
The behaviour therapy group was taught various self control techniques like self monitoring, stimulus control strategies and self reinforcement.
Social pressure group increased motivation by exposing subject to group pressure and support.
Both self control treatment groups experienced significant weight loss in comparison to social pressure and both group treatments fared better in terms of weight maintenance.
And there are many more research studies that support the use of self control tactics for weight loss. So you can rest assured that self control is perhaps the best strategy for improving eating behavior and body image.
Self control is no easy skill and it may take us a long time to master it. But what is of importance is that it helps us improve our well being both physically and mentally.
Self control strategies when applied to eating behavior can indirectly improve our health, improve our body image, makes us socially more confident and fitter to achieve higher goals at work.
Society may offer self control strategies in the form of incentives or ban on certain food items but nothing can substitute automatic self control that makes you self reliant.