Self-Control and Weight Loss: Is It The Answer?

By Dr. Rick Tague

I have tremendous respect and concern for individuals seeking to enhance their health through weight loss and positive nutrition.  In fact, serving them is my passion.  And I know from years of working with such clients that weight reduction and maintenance is a very difficult task if one is not empowered with all the right tools and strategies.  People typically need assistance to be successful.  Why?  Can’t they just exercise “self-control” and be successful?

My pastor offered an interesting and insightful definition of self-control in his message last weekend.  He defined it as “stepping back from pleasure” to seek a higher purpose.  And we all need more self-control.  I get that.  Let’s all seek to grow in self-control. But is it really the answer for ultimate weight management?

And how pleasurable is it to be overweight anyway?  Are those who are overweight really seeking pleasure?  If so, they are on the entirely wrong path.  To have health risks, to get short of breath going up a flight of stairs, to struggle playing sports with children or grandchildren, to have achy knees, or to have to buy progressively larger clothes is anything but pleasant.  No, being overweight is not about pleasure.  Even eating those unhealthy foods is typically more about satisfying an unwanted craving or appetite than it is about lacking self-control.  Eating just for pleasure does happen, but is not typical.  It is far more common to eat in response to appetite and internal cravings.  Rather than eating to pursue pleasure or eating due to a lack of self-control, most eating of common snacks and improper foods is simply seeking to resolve the unpleasant and uncomfortable cravings deep within us.  See the difference?

I often explore with those beginning a weight loss journey what role self-control has in the process.  The typical belief is that their success must surely be all about self-control.  After all, they’ve always been told it’s just a simple matter of “pushing themselves away from the table” and “getting up off the couch”.  And surely those actions are directly related to self-control and only self-control, right?

Self-control, although an admirable character trait, is not a great answer for weight reduction.  If it were, why would some of the most disciplined, controlled individuals I’ve ever met, have some of the most difficult weight reduction challenges?  Physicians, trial attorneys, CEO’s, health educators, dietitians, professional athletes, and close friends with outstanding and disciplined character have all been clients of mine pursuing weight reduction.  These individuals could all give lectures on self-control, yet they gained weight and could not lose it without assistance.  You see, self-control might appear to be the solution, but it is only a partial key, at best, to an overall successful strategy.

Think about your motives for eating.  Do you have cravings and appetite struggles that you don’t want and find impossible to suppress with self-control?  If so, you are not alone.  Unhealthy food cravings are there for a reason, and the reason is not a character flaw.  Nutrient deficits, sleep deficiency, excessive stress, certain medications, and hormone disorders are just a few of the possible proven reasons for unwanted food cravings.  Self-control is great, but always seek resolution of unwanted cravings at their source of origin rather than trying to muster superhuman levels of self-control to manage them.  Think through any unwanted cravings or excessive appetite you may have.  If the source is not obvious, seek professional help.  Our Free Consultation is designed to help you assess your motives for eating and outline a success strategy.

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M. is a nutrition & weight loss specialist and the Founder & Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, P.A.

Dr. Tague is an Alpha Omega Alpha honors graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Tulane. Dr. Tague is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine. His medical practice has focused on optimum health, nutrition, and weight loss since 1996.

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