Fighting Through the Pain of Dieting

Weight Loss and Willpower


Good news for people looking to lose weight: You can train yourself to have more willpower.

Researchers at Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI, found that getting more willpower is like training a muscle. Lead researcher Tricia M. Leahey, Ph.D., said in a statement that “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.”

For two preliminary studies, researchers monitored participants who underwent a comprehensive weight-loss program that included weekly sessions led by dietitians, exercise physiologists and/or behavioral psychologists, as well as private weigh-ins. The research subjects were also given a reduced-fat, low-calorie diet.

At the end of the program, the researchers tested the participants’ self-control level by asking them to hold on to a hand grip at a certain intensity level for as long as possible. Those who had a weight loss of 10 percent or more were able to hold on to the hand grip for a longer period of time despite cramping and pain.

Leahey said that the findings showed that the degree of a person’s willpower could be increased. “The practice of inhibiting impulses may help people lose weight, eat healthier and increase their physical activity,” she said. “Future weight loss treatments may consider targeting self-control, or willpower, as a way to enhance outcomes.”

The findings appeared in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice.


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