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Keywords:

  • autonomy;
  • eating regulation;
  • motivation;
  • self-determination;
  • self-regulation;
  • weight management

Summary

This paper addresses the issue of the self-regulation of eating from two different perspectives. One is strongly based on social cognitive theories, whereby it primarily emphasises functional and executive aspects of behaviour change, broadly named self-regulatory skills. The other assumes that humans are active and self-directed organisms and emphasises particular psychological processes associated with optimal functioning, with a special emphasis on motivation and perceived autonomy. Although these perspectives clearly do not represent opposing approaches, this article attempts to illustrate how they differ when applied to promoting health behaviour self-regulation, highlighting some implications for patient counselling. Primarily, this article demonstrates that motivation quality plays a central role in the capacity to adopt and, more importantly, to sustain healthful diets. Furthermore, it is asserted that health professionals can create more or less conducive environments to elicit patients' autonomous motivation. Long-lasting self-motivation is also described here as being closely aligned with the qualitative elements of motivation, namely the degree to which people perceive a sense of choice, find well-grounded meaning and feel volitional (i.e. make a conscious decision or choice) in their pursuits. Thus, interventions that include the essential elements of promoting a person's sense of ‘ownership’ over their eating routines, deeply valuing and identifying with the goals associated with eating choices, and displaying genuine interest in the experiences associated with selecting and preparing meals are most likely to succeed in the long-term. This paper presents empirical evidence that supports these propositions and suggests some resources for health professionals who may wish to explore these concepts further. Moving forward, it is hoped that readers may feel (volitionally!) engaged in exploring some of these ideas in future work, particularly when attempting to support patients and clients towards the successful self-regulation of their eating habits, their weight, and ultimately their health.