Training Your Self-Control May Be Key To Improved Health And Weight Loss
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
There’s no doubt that exercising your body can play an important role when it comes to losing weight and getting in better shape. However, new research suggests that there’s something else you can train – something that’s even more important to your quest from improved health and fitness: your self-control.
A six-month behavior weight loss treatment program conducted by Dr. Tricia M. Leahey of Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and colleagues found that participants who had more will power also had higher levels of physical activity, consumed fewer calories from fat, and were more likely to attend group sessions.
While the results of the study may seem like common sense, Leahey explains that research focusing on the role played by willpower in weight-loss has been woefully sparse. They also point out that it is actually possible to improve one’s self-control through a training regimen.
“Of course it makes sense that if you have more ‘willpower’ you’ll do better in a weight loss program; however, this phenomena is surprisingly understudied,” she said. “Our study is the first to examine whether practicing acts of self-control during weight loss is linked to an increase in self-control and better weight loss outcomes, although other research has demonstrated this effect in the area of smoking cessation.”
Leahey, also an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, compared building willpower to building muscle through willpower. “The more you ‘exercise’ [your willpower] by eating a low fat diet, working out even when you don’t feel like it, and going to group meetings when you’d rather stay home, the more you’ll increase and strengthen your self-control ‘muscle’ and quite possibly lose more weight and improve your health.”
Her team conducted a pair of preliminary studies to focus on willpower’s role in behavioral weight loss treatment programs. The first study involved 40 subjects participating in a six-month intervention that included weekly sessions led by dietitians, exercise physiologists and/or behavior psychologists. Each participant took part in private weigh-in sessions every week, consumed low-fat/low-calorie diets, participated in exercises designed to increase the amount of time they were active, and received relapse prevention and behavior change counseling.
“At the end of the session, researchers tested participants’ global self-control with a handgrip task, a commonly used tool that measures how long participants can hold onto and squeeze a handgrip,” the hospital said. “During the task, participants experience ‘aversive stimuli,’ such as cramping, pain and discomfort, and have to override the desire to end the uncomfortable task in order to achieve their goal, which was to squeeze the grip at a certain intensity level for as long as possible.”
“The second study extended the findings of the first by examining whether changes in self-control were associated with treatment adherence and weight loss outcomes. Twenty-three participants enrolled in a six-month behavioral weight loss program similar to that in the first study, and completed the same objective measure of self-control – this time at both pre- and post-treatment,” they explained.
Leahey’s team, whose work was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that those who managed to lose 10-percent of their total body weight had more self-control than those who failed to reach that milestone.
Additionally, individuals in the second study who showed increased levels of self-control from pre- to post-treatment were able to lose significantly more weight, went to more group meetings, engaged in longer periods of physical activity and ate an overall healthier diet.
“Our findings suggest that self-control is potentially malleable and the practice of inhibiting impulses may help people lose weight, eat healthier and increase their physical activity,” Leahey said. “Future weight loss treatments may consider targeting self-control, or willpower, as a way to enhance outcomes.”
The results of the study were recently published in the online journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice.