Self-Regulation and Impulse Control

No where is the lack of self-regulation more obvious to us than in our relationship with food. This complexity is further aggravated when impulse behaviour overrides self-regulation.In weight management self-regulation must be stronger than impulsive behaviour.

The key to long term success

In the YOU ARE WORTH IT program there is a strong emphasis on building an awareness of  self-regulation. By being aware of it, we can then improve it. I cannot overemphasize the importance of self-regulation and its role in shaping your lifestyle. In order to get a better understanding of self-regulation we should go back to the 1970s and consider what is now called, the “marshmallow experiments.”

The experiments developed in 1970’s by Walter Mischel were designed to study the delay of gratification in children. One study consisted of placing a marshmallow in front of a child. The children were told that they would get a second marshmallow if they waited 15 minutes before eating the first marshmallow. For the next fifteen minutes the children were left alone in the room. Experimenters were watching through one way glass in order to observe the children’s behaviour.

After the scientist left the room, some of the children immediately ate their marshmallow. The other children developed interesting ways to cope with this situation without any instruction from the researchers. Some of the children distracted themselves with other activities such as singing or talking, or limited the temptation by literally blocking their sight of the marshmallow — “out of sight out of mind;” another child used a slight pain as a distraction by pulling on her hair (similar to having an elastic band on your wrist and snapping it when you wish to distract negative thoughts); one child even went to sleep! Most of the children used distraction or visual blocking of the temptation.

In another experiment some children were told to think about eating the marshmallow and how great it would taste and to visualise putting the marshmallow into their mouth; others were told to think of a fun day at the beach. The children thinking about eating the marshmallow could only defer their desire for gratification for a short time, whereas the children thinking about a fun day at the beach could defer their desire for gratification for an extended time. All of these approaches can be used to stop impulse control from getting stronger and at the same time to stop self-regulation from getting weaker.

When reading about the children’s behaviour, do you see yourself? Would you have been the child that received an extra marshmallow because you waited or were you, like me, eating that marshmallow in the blink of an eye. Has our behaviour changed very much? Probably not. Those who would have waited would still wait today, and those who desired immediate or short term gratification would still focus on short term gratification. However, change is possible. In this program there is extensive information on improving self-regulation skills. I look forward to working with you to create a stronger self-regulation process that will enable you to be successful in both your weight management and your lifestyle. Good things come from strong self-regulation!

As we continue in the YOU ARE WORTH IT program you will see how, in a reduced calorie diet, self-regulation is constantly attacked and weakened by the desire for instant or short term gratification; this is known as impulse behaviour. In order to limit impulse behaviour and strengthen self-regulation, you will need to apply one of the eleven strength skills you will have mastered. Remember both self-regulation and resilience are key factors in emotional regulation and in successful weight management.


To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart. Eleanor Roosevelt

U.S.A. First Lady