Doughnuts, Behavioural Foodie, self control

Self Control And The Truth About Dieting

Why Do You Impulsively Eat? Do You Lack Self Control?

Hopefully you have been introduced to some behavioural terms in some of my other blog posts. In today’s blog post we are highlighting issues of self control on desires. In addition, how they directly affect our food behaviour and choices.

What is self control?

Self control is a  personality trait that many of us wish to possess. And it varies from person to person.  One of the most famous experiments to convey this was the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1960s.

The experiment involved young children who were given one marshmallow. They were told they can either eat the marshmallow now. Or alternatively wait until the adult returned and they will receive another marshmallow (and therefore have two). Subsequently, the study showed the varying degrees of self control in each child. Some pretended to eat it, whereas others had ‘just one lick’. Some even ate parts and left some on the plate. Importantly, each child reflected the differences in our levels of self control. Unfortunately for the latter, they did not receive the second marshmallow!

Short term vs long term pleasure

Undoubtedly, the study conveys the basic principles of short term pleasure versus a long term goal. Many studies have recreated this experiment to show variations of this. In particular, we tend to see this type of behaviour in diet culture. We make a plan to start a new diet. But as soon as we see that chocolate cake or doughnut, we simply can’t resist!

What are system 1 & 2?

In Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking fast and slow’, he attributes this type of behaviour to two systems, System 1 & System 2. Firstly System 1 is your intuitive, fast and present focused system. It is emotional, impulsive and often very automatic or unconscious. on the other hand System 2 is quite the opposite. In that it displays slow and deliberate choices. This is where your self control lives and it is a mostly conscious cognitive process which is much more effortful. System 1 can often suffer from present bias (O’Donoghue & Rabin, 1999) where the payoff in the present outweighs those in the future. This means the pleasure you will receive from eating the forbidden food now will outweigh the pleasure of not eating it later.

How do you control self control?

Along with this, there must be ways to stop yourself listening to your System 1 Moreover, be more successful at achieving your future goals. But how? By simply knowing when your System 1 is acting, you can send the supply of blood to the brain which activates System 2. As a result you can reflect and act in a way which is more in line with your future goals. And secondly, rather than giving in to the present bias you face. Instead of your choices being short-term, you can deliberately make choices for the long-term. And most importantly stick to your diet goals!

By building up the personality trait of self control, we as humans can become more successful in controlling our impulses. Consequently we can apply this to many other areas of our lives. This includes life choices, career options and most importantly your food habits.

salud salad, behavioural foodie, self control

Check out my other blog posts:

System 1: Your Ego Depletion And Limited Self Control

Let’s play a game and see how your system 1 and 2 are affected:

A salad and doughnut cost £1.10. 

The salad costs one pound more than the doughnut.

How much does the doughnut cost?

Well that’s easy! It’s 10p.


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  1. […] Benedict and colleagues explain that this happens due to the the sleep enhancing the pleasure stimulus processing in the brain. As a result this drives us to consume more food. Wells & Cruess reported that food choices were altered following deprivation. Consequently with individuals choosing foods less for health and weight concerns. It is clear that individuals are severely affected by their present bias, leading them to be less able to exercise their self control. […]

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