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Three skills needed for Self-Control with food


self controlSelf control is basically a necessary amount of effort required in order to achieve a goal.  But imagine if this perceived “effort” was no longer perceived as an “effort”?  As the saying goes the way we see the problem is the problem.  By changing your attitude and beliefs about eating healthy, it begins to feel effortless and less like a problem.  Self control involves planning and evaluating our actions rather than acting on impulse so that we can refrain from eating things we may regret.


“The biggest enemies of willpower are temptation, self-criticism, and stress. These three skills self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control.”

Let’s explore these three skills needed for self-control with food;

Self awareness

Mindful eating – Mindful eating is about balance and all about awareness.  If you adopt a mindful approach having a treat isn’t a failure because it involves either giving yourself full permission to indulge and/or to pre commit to this.  If you have been mindful then there is no need for any guilt or sense of failure to be attached to your actions.  You can give yourself permission by having a conversation with yourself prior to eating something outside of your normal healthy eating, a question to ask is “Do I want this food or do I need it?”  When it’s a treat you do not really need it and what this conversation does is makes you accountable for eating it, if this is what you decide to do.  The next question can be “How will I feel after I eat it?”  This is mindful eating which is in moderation and helps to reduce destructive impulses.  It also allows you to fully enjoy the treat if you can really justify that it is in alignment with your goals and values.

But giving into temptation that is mindless and destructive moves you away from your goals and values and can increase your tendency to repeat again in the future, mainly because you lose trust and confidence in yourself.

When you slip up, it is critical that you forgive yourself; it’s not helpful to ignore how the mistake makes you feel, that is simply denial.  Instead you can explore which of these skills you did not apply to improve your self- control in the future.

Self belief – If you do not believe you can eat well then your actions will follow.  So if you speak about yourself or to yourself in a way that supports a lack of belief such as “I am such a pig”, “I have no self-control” or “I am so greedy” then you will only aim to prove yourself right.  You need to start with healthier self beliefs such as “I trust myself to eat healthy food and enjoy a balanced and controlled attitude toward food”

Affirmation – Means reaffirming the core things you believe in and how you want to see yourself in the future, the affirmation needs to be written in the present positive tense as outlined above in self belief.  This can also reflect your values which I will outline in more detail below.

Self care

Exercise – Some clients tell me they feel more hungry when they exercise but from my personal experience and the majority of clients I have trained, when exercising this helps to curb something called ‘exaggerated hunger’ and makes you think twice about undoing the hard work carried out from exercise.

Do not leave gaps in your meals – you are much more likely to give into a craving if you are hungry so eat regular meals and snacks at least every four hours to prevent falling into this trap.

Sleep – its a fact that when we are tired we produce more ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and will be more likely to turn to the wrong foods to give us energy.

Non food rewards – making time for yourself is a non food reward, having a massage or a facial is a way of rewarding yourself without sabotaging what you may have already achieved.  Rewarding yourself with food is fine if it is in moderation but very often if someone has denied them self a treat for a sometime the reward can quite easily turn into a binge, which brings me to my next point.

Be realistic – be realistic about the expectations you place on yourself. If these are unrealistic you are basically setting yourself up to fail.  For example I have heard from many clients they are “all or nothing” when it comes to eating treats, as pointed out above if you deny yourself for too long and if you perceive this as a punishment verse taking care of your body chances are if you do crumble you may swing to the “all” side of the scale.  If this sounds like you, then what you most need to work on is your self-belief and the label you have placed on yourself as an “all or nothing” person.

Remembering what matters most

Values – Thinking about core values can help top-up your self-control when it’s been depleted.

The reality is that we are all emotionally driven – by our values.  Our values drive our behaviour, knowing your values will help you to better understand your behaviours.

You exercise to fulfil the value of improving your health

You drink alcohol to fulfil the value of feeling less inhibited

For example if your value is health, an affirmation could be “I see myself in perfect health and my eating reflects this”, or vanity “I feel confident to wear anything I wish to wear because I am in perfect shape”

You can determine what your values by asking yourself “what is most important?”

Pre commit Based on your values above you can now make a deal with yourself about how many treats you will allow yourself and when you will have them.  This avoids a situation where the food is controlling you and instead you are in control of your food.

Creating these new habits and developing these three skills takes time but without them the alternative can be years of yo-yo dieting and feeling out of control, which despite feeling liberating at the time does not feel that way after the act.

If you feel that you need more support to learn and apply these three skills simply book your free consultation with Sharon Mercieca, Personal Trainer Barking.

To find out more please read about Nutritional Coaching which focuses on the principle of balance and Wellness Coaching which focuses on self-awareness and self-belief.

Some quotes on self-control

“Self-control is a key factor in achieving success. We can’t control everything in life, but we can definitely control ourselves.” 

“The is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention.” ― Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence, 1967



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