Home All Self-Regulation as a Sexier Option!

Self-Regulation as a Sexier Option!

written by Marie-Josée Shaar 24 November 2008

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

holiday-shopping-cart-2.jpgDid you know that the average American puts on 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

And how much do you figure the average Holiday shopper has spent per year for the past 10 years?  $500?  $600?  Try $961!

This year may be different: according to a recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being measure, the majority of Americans report they are struggling financially at the moment and almost 90% of people think their situation will continue to deteriorate. Our national savings rate has been steadily negative since 2005, a first since the Great Depression years.

Three Epidemics: Obesity, Inactivity, Indebtedness

If the financial news worries you, there is more to be thinking about. In America, over two thirds of adults and 17% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, which costs over $117 billion annually to the country.  In addition, fewer than 20% of the population exercises sufficiently to experience the health benefits associated with physical activity.

Yes, we are observing what are now referred to as epidemics in obesity, inactivity, and indebtnesess. These concerning trends are all on the rise, and there is no sign that they are slowing down. While any single individual may not solve the economic crisis, there is a lot each one of us can do to reverse the obesity, exercise, and spending trends.


What if we first take accountability? We hear about credit card debt and obesity as if they were viruses we could inadvertently catch through no fault of our own. Few people have costly medical conditions that drive them deep into debt, or that make them much more prone to put on pounds.

thanksgiving-dinner.jpg For the majority of indebted people, it’s overspending that’s driving them into debt. Who spends the money? It is not some external uncontrollable force. It is the cardholder.

Similarly, what if we take accountability for the weight we put on?  We have to eat 3,500 calories over our caloric expenditure to put on one pound of fat.  To gain those unwelcome ten pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that would be 35,000 calories inside 35 days – or, yes, you got that right, 1000 calories per day!  That’s a lot of food.

If your arm is easily twisted by family members wanting you to “pound down” – literally – one more piece of pie, keep reading.  This article is for you.


Often dismissed as a no-glam strength, self-regulation may be the key to the ills here described. Problem is, it requires work and we tend to prefer the easy road.

But here’s the good news: Dr. Roy Baumeister suggests that self-regulation is a core capacity with spill-over benefits. In other words, if you can self-regulate in one domain of your life, you can do so more easily in other domains.  Are you surprised that self-regulating in food may lead to better money management?

I have been working with a client for quite some time – we’ll call her Sarah.  Sarah was obese, sometimes moody, and admitted she spent too much. We decided to get her started with a regular exercise program. Here’s what happened.

While Sarah trains, she’s away from the temptation of spending. Physical activity also boosts self-esteem, so these sexy new Versace jeans and that overpriced Coach handbag no longer appear necessary anymore. Her new posture – shoulders back, tummy in, chest out – is working wonders for her.

Physical activity is not only calorie expenditure, but it also keeps Sarah away from food for some time. What’s more, since she trains regularly, her body needs higher quality energy, and so she is naturally drawn to healthier food choices. Better food, better mood (for more details on this topic, please see my previous article Food Influences Mood).

Today, Sarah is still overweight, but no longer obese.  Her spending patterns are much healthier and her credit cards are paid off. The best part? While exercising used to be an act of self-regulation, she now enjoys it and is convinced she will continue to be physically active all her life. (Need to get started?  Try reading my Top 10 Stimuli to Exercise Your Body.)

Sarah got herself out of the national statistics thanks to self regulation and exercise. This strategy may not solve all the world’s problems, but it certainly can address the bad news about obesity, inactivity, and indebtedness – and help us avoid making things worse over the Holidays.  It does require work, but the pay-off may be well worth it.

mother-daughter-hug.jpgSo how will you approach the Holidays this year?  Will you mentally equate the Holiday enjoyment with a food coma or with cozy conversation?  Will you need to undo the button of your jeans after your Thanksgiving dinner, or will you support the idea that self-regulation is sexier?




Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of personality, 74(6), 1773-1801.

Boyle, M.A. & Long, S. (2007). Personal Nutrition, Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Brooks, D.S. (2004). The Complete Book of Personal Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetix.

Fleming, J., Rath, T. and Conchie, B. (2008). Your Organization’s Survival Plan: When the going gets tough, high-performing companies make sure they double down their investments in people. Gallup Management Journal, Web Edition, November 13, 2008.

American Research Group (Nov 14, 2008). Shoppers Cut 2008 Christmas Spending Plans in Half from 2007.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Seligman, M. (2008). Address at the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology Summit, October 2008.

Shaar, M.-J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press. (Added later)

Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C.R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Images: Holiday Shopping Cart, Thanksgiving Dinner , Mother-Daughter Hug

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


waynej 24 November 2008 - 4:04 am

Marie-Josee – you might also be interested in the research that showed that watching a comedy restored peoples levels of self regulation.

Editor K.H.B. 24 November 2008 - 7:47 am

Great point, Wayne. How about providing a pointer — authors and/or article names & rough dates — to get her started on the search!


MarieJ 24 November 2008 - 10:05 am

The Baumeister article I used in my sources also explains that eating or drinking carbohydrates seem to restore self-regulation as well. Now I think we’re on to something – it’s probably because both carbs and comedies act on the pleasure center in the brain. Does laughter stimulate the production of serotonin or dopamine? Carbs do!

Thanks for that valuable piece of info, Wayne!

TimothyT.C. So 24 November 2008 - 11:25 am

I am wondering if Waynei is referring the study conducted by Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli & Muraven last year in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

In the study, they demonstrated that where participants who experienced positive mood induction (through watching a comedy video) had better performance on different self-regulation tasks than participants who experienced sad mood induction, neutral mood stimulus or even a brief rest period, which was as well as participants who are non-depleted.


Tice, D. M., Baumeister, R. F.,Shmueli, D., Muraven, M. (2007) Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following

waynej 24 November 2008 - 1:48 pm

MarieJ, Kathryn – Timothy is on the money with the reference.

As an aside parasymathetic nervous system activity is a measure of self regulation. It’s used in psychology studies as a measure of emotional regulation.

MarieJ – I’ve seen research that shows that eating carbs activates differential prefrontal cortex activity (ie positive emotions). When stressed we seem to crave sugars as it has maximal impact on mood enhancement.

Jeff 24 November 2008 - 5:44 pm

This was a fun article MarieJ. The environment plays a strong role in behavior. What environmental factors could improve & support consistent self-regulation?
I know going to a Thanksgiving feast increases the chances I’ll overeat. Not going creates a lot of resentment. It seems that savory dishes are kind of magnet drawing me ever closer to lapses in self-control, especially when my internal environment, my stomach, is empty.

I’d enjoy a follow up before Christmas rolls around on ways to modify environmental triggers that work.

MarieJ 24 November 2008 - 5:52 pm

Timothy, Wayne, thank you both!

Jeff, my next article will be posted December 24th – the perfect time for your request! Stay tuned!



KevinT 25 November 2008 - 6:35 am

Careful here. It is well established that a major contribution to fat gain is a high carb diet. So, we want to avoid most carbs with empty calories –e.g., pasta,bread, rolls, bagels, doughnuts, soda, etc. What we want to increase is enjoyment of complex carbs, such as fruits and veggies –so, apples, oranges, blue berries, cherry tomatoes as snacks, etc.
Happy Thanksgiving and thanks tyo everyone on this site for attempting to contribute to everyone’s well being, including mine!!

KevinT 25 November 2008 - 6:47 am

There are many tactics that work for me, as I have the same issues being around a feast.
Most important is not letting myself get hungry and exercising that morning.
So, when I know I’m going to be assaulted by sights and smells of a feast, I m,ake sure that an hour ore so beforehand I drink lots of water and I have a meaningful snack that contains lots of protein and very low carbs –like a 200 calorie protein bar. That way I enjoy myself but do not pig out as bad.
The otyher thing I’ve done in prior years –not this year –is prepare days in advance by eating especially well and exercising especially hard. Then I just “let go” for the feast. If this is truly asn occasion –e.g., thanksgiving dinner –the self regulation is in the days leading up to it and I can just enjoy what I want on the day. Usually it’s not so bad…
The danger in that approach, however, is a mind that starts saying too often “this is a special feast”. So, u might think about giving yourself a set number of feasts in the holiday period –e.g., 4 but no more…” But if you do that, you have to achieve 4 feasts worth of energy tradeoffs (exercise or calorie saves)..

Suzie 28 November 2008 - 12:44 am


Thanks for a wonderful article. I just had a chance to read it now after my lovely Thanksgiving Feast.

Happy Turkey Day.

Suzie 🙂


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com