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Health & Wellness

Self-Control Improvements for Weight Loss

A lot of people want to lose weight, but find that they struggle when it actually comes to taking action. Weight loss is easy on paper, but people tend to fail in their diet plans because knowing what to do and then actually doing it are two very different things.

Losing weight requires you to consume fewer calories than you burn on a day-to-day basis. It really is as simple as that, especially for people who fall into the medical categories of overweight or obese. The “tricks” that bodybuilders talk about for dieting down to very low body fat percentages don't really matter when someone is carrying more fat. It's all about calories. Modern diet plans such as intermittent fasting, keto, atkins, etc, all still rely on calories to work— but they feel so much more effective because they are diet plans that are easier to stick to.

If you decided "I'm eating too much, I'll eat the same food I currently do, just less of it" then you would have a chance to lose weight if you stuck to that resolution. You probably wouldn't stick to that resolution, though, because you would be hungry all the time and not have much energy. Change to something like keto, where you're eating a lot of filling meat and healthy fats, or a plan like Intermittent Fasting, where you can enjoy a particularly large meal every day and you will still be eating less but you will feel fuller, and not want to snack as much.

Finding ways to improve your self-control is incredibly valuable when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Research shows that a lot of people struggle with self-regulation and there are many factors— cognitive, emotional and motivational— that can affect people's ability to self-regulate. 1 The good news is there are steps that you can take to increase your chances of success.

woman running in park

Build Healthy Habits

Losing weight takes willpower and self-control, and if you try to go straight from leading a lifestyle that does not prioritize healthy eating and exercise to being someone who eats salad and works out every day, you will find that the adaptation is too much. Making several sweeping changes to your lifestyle all at once is setting yourself up to burn out and fail.

Instead of making numerous changes at once, try making one change at a time. Start, perhaps, by cutting out soda and drinking water instead. After two months of doing that (a study conducted at UCL says it takes 66 days to form a habit) 2 , move on to the next step, which could be swapping out fries for vegetables, or ordering a regular instead of a venti frappe at Starbucks. By making small changes, one at a time, you will be more likely to stick to them and succeed.


Set Simple Rules

As you embark on your weight-loss journey you will learn a lot about yourself and what works for you. Some people find that they can open up a huge bag of potato chips, eat a handful, and then put the rest away. Some people find that this is not easy for them to do, and it's better for them to either buy smaller bags and allow themselves only one bag, or to not eat those kinds foods at all. If you're the sort of person that struggles with moderation, then you might want to try setting clear, simple rules such as "I don't eat cake at work" or "I won't buy snacks unless I plan to eat them immediately."

By setting those rules, you remove the temptation to indulge. It's easier, for some people, to get themselves into a state of mind where cake doesn't even register as an option than it is to know that they "can" eat cake, and then have to make the conscious choice not to.

Take Emotion Out of The Equation

Some people associate food with reward or punishment. They think that if they eat salad they are "being good", they think that eating chocolate is "bad", or that if they're feeling down or depressed, or they have done something interesting and want to reward themselves, then eating a pizza is a good treat. These emotional and in some ways moral associations with food are a minefield and can make it hard to stick to a new lifestyle. If you associate food with morality, it can lead to very negative thoughts and make you feel shame and regret.

It's easier to think about food in a more neutral capacity if you understand calories and macronutrients. Once you know how much food you should be aiming to eat a day, and how much protein you should be getting, you can re-frame how you think about food and you will be less stressed about it. You can plan for treats, too. You'll know that going over your budget on one day won't do any harm in the long term as long as you have generally been sticking to your plan and making good choices.

aqcui bowl

Don't Deprive Yourself

Some people think of diets as something that they do for a few months, then they go back to their old way of life. That won't work. If you gained weight on your old lifestyle once, it will happen again. Getting to a healthy weight requires making good choices, and then continuing to make them.

That's why it's so important to find a lifestyle that you can sustain. If you find yourself thinking "I can't live like this" while you're following a diet plan, then it's not the plan for you. Moderation is key. You may find it a lot easier to stick to a diet if you use a sensible plan of self-reward. That could be "if I stick to my plan this week, then on Saturday night I'll have a really nice chocolate bar", or "if I achieve my goals at Crossfit then I will buy myself some new lifting shoes." Not all rewards have to be about food, but you don't have to deprive yourself either. Self-reward can help with self-control 3 , but you need to find rewards that motivate you.

As soon as you start telling yourself that certain foods are 'forbidden', you will find that you want those things even more than you used to. Yes, there's a little bit deep down in all of us that is just like a child who wants to touch the one thing that their parents told them to keep their hands off! If you know that you can have a small piece of that tasty treat, or that you're not going to have junk food every day, but that you can have it sometimes, and savor it, then you'll find it easier to say "no" on a regular basis. It's just like Cookie Monster says - "Cookies are a sometimes food".

glass of water

Give Yourself Simple Coping Strategies

Weight loss requires a long-term thing, and there will be days when you have cravings and when you are in a bad mood and you swear that the only thing that will make you feel better is your favorite junk food. While indulging yourself from time to time is not going to be the end of the world, it helps if you can find ways to improve your self-control. In some respects, you can bargain with yourself. Indeed, many diet tricks work on that principle, for example:

- Only eat sitting at the dining table, rather than mindlessly eating in front of the TV or while working.

- Drinking a glass of water and waiting for a while before you feel hungry

- Not keeping snacks at your desk, so you have to get up to go fetch them

Those tricks work by adding obstacles in the way of eating, so that you only eat when you are actually hungry, rather than when you are just bored. There are some other strategies that are useful to help people to avoid snacking, though, that are even more effective. For example, it has been discovered that certain scents can help to reduce chocolate cravings. Jasmine essential oil is quite effective for this. 4

Scientists believe that our brain has only a limited amount of resources to put towards cravings, and when our olfactory senses are stimulated that takes attention away from the craving, making it subside.

So, if you know that you're prone to cravings at certain times, carry a personal diffuser with you, or a handkerchief with a few drops of essential oil on it. When the cravings hit, sniff the essential oil and you should find that the cravings pass quite quickly. It's a simple idea but it can really make a difference and stop you from burning all your willpower out on not snacking while at work.

Willpower is a finite resource, and if you can make healthy habits second nature, you'll find that there are fewer things to apply willpower to. You should not be constantly thinking about food. You should not be in a position where your diet takes up more than a few minutes each day to perhaps log your food into a diary. If you are finding that managing what you eat takes up a lot of time in your head, then you need to revisit how you are doing things. Once you have an eating plan that works for you, it should simply be a part of your life like washing your hair or brushing your teeth.

woman with weights

Change for Life

One study conducted this year by researchers at Drexel University found that painting a realistic picture of how weight loss works can improve people's long-term chances of being successful. 5 Many people feel despondent when it comes to dieting. They feel like they will have to make sacrifices for the rest of their life, and as if that's just too much for them because others can eat whatever they want and still be thin. Once you know that everyone is in the same boat and that those naturally slim people either move more than you realize or eat less than it first appears, it becomes easier to manage your expectations and to focus on making a steady stream of good choices.

When you first change your eating habits, it is normal to have cravings for foods that you used to eat, but over time your taste buds will adapt, and if you're eating smaller portion sizes then your stomach will adapt as well. After a few months, you might find that the foods you used to eat a lot of taste too sweet or too greasy, and smaller portions become the new norm. You will find that you have more energy. You can focus better, your complexion is better, and you feel generally more alert and happier. The longer you stick to your new healthy lifestyle, the easier it gets and the more the things that you are doing will become normal.

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