Can we train our willpower just like we train our body? Yes, according to a new study by researchers at The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center. They suggest that with a little practice, it is possible to strengthen and improve self-control—and lose more weight.
The Miriam research team found that individuals with more willpower – or self-control – lost more weight, were more physically active, consumed fewer calories from fat and had better attendance at weight loss group meetings. The same was true for participants who experienced an increase in self-control during a six-month behavioural weight loss treatment program. Results of the study were published online by the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice in advance of print publication.
While the findings may seem obvious, lead author Tricia M. Leahey, Ph.D., of The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, explains that surprisingly there have been very few studies on the impact of self-control on weight loss.
“Of course it makes sense that if you have more willpower’ you’ll do better in a weight loss program; however, this phenomenon is surprisingly understudied,” she says. “Our study is the first to examine whether practising 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 added that the current study suggests self-control, or willpower, is like “building a muscle.” “The more you ‘exercise’ it 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,” adds Leahey.