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Is Impulse Control A Factor?

On a scale of 1-10, with “10” being completely able to control your impulses to proceed with certain behaviors vs. “1” being completely Unable to control your impulses, how would you rate your impulse control?

The cortex of the brain is heavily involved in impulse control.  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that handles planning, making choices, and suppressing urges provides that “voice” that tells is to proceed with an action vs. holding back.  It coordinates with another region of the prefrontal cortex called the right orbitofrontal cortex, an area involved in regulating emotions. When a person encounters a potential reward, these areas of the brain do some quick calculations to determine whether he/she will be better off going for it or blocking this activity/behavior.

When you Google “impulse control disorders”, things like kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting fires) pop up.  However, to a large extent, addictions to alcohol and gambling are forms of impulse control disorders.  People that suffer from these know the consequences of their actions yet they are not able to control their impulsive behaviors.

Let’s turn the discussion to the weight control arena (what a surprise, huh?).  I do not think many people wake up in the morning and strategize or plan for attacking the M&Ms or ice cream in the evenings.  Reaching for these snacks and others similar in high sugar content, is sort of an impulsive behavior.  Failure to control impulses becomes a large part of failure to lose/control weight.

I always urge people to take a several second “delay” before proceeding to behavior patterns that derail their weight control efforts.  As hokey as it sounds, placing a 3X5 card with bullet points as to WHY you need/want to control weight and placing these on your pantry door, refrigerator and work desk may allow you to delay the impulsive behavior and forego an action that in aggregate, will derail your weight control efforts.

There are many patients in our program that only have poor impulse control when it comes to food.  Every other impulse (to gamble, drink alcohol, shun work needs, etc) is incredibly well controlled.  Take a step back, and self-evaluate your own impulse control as this relates to food/drink ingestion.  If you find this is a significant factor in blocking your weight control efforts, there are steps that can be taken to help.  Let’s discuss this on your next visit.

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