What is self-regulation?
The concept of self-regulation has been used in different disciplines and by different theoretical approaches. It is commonly used in physiology, biology, medicine, sociology, economics, and psychology.
Depending on whom you ask, the definition of self-regulation differs. But from macroeconomics to cell information processing, all attempts to explain the term share the common principle that something must be transformed from an imbalance to a balance by a kind of self-regulation.
Self-regulation in clinical and psychological research
In psychology, the approach of self-regulation is well known but seldom described as a theoretical approach. Humanistic psychology focuses on self-regulation as the main principal of personal development and mental health (Kriz, 2001). In behavioral psychology and therapy, self-management and self-inducted compliance are key variables (Kanfer et al., 1996). Modern psychoanalysis, especially neuro-psychoanalysis, accentuates the concept of emotional self-regulation (Schore, 1994). In developmental psychology, Piaget describes cognitive development as the differentiation, integration, and synthesis of new structures with respect to the past. Further examples of the concept of self-regulation in modern psychology, psychopathology or psychosomatics could be cited. Self-regulation is a concept that has been well known for many years and has proven its clinical and scientific relevance.
Self-regulation in normal feeding
Feeding behavior and self-regulation are strongly interrelated; regulation of hunger and thirst through oral intake is a self-regulated activity. Children adapt their oral intake to internal and external factors, increasing their caloric intake to aid vertical growth or in cold temperatures, for example. Children also take a broad variety of different foods by themselves, if they are presented (Birch & Marlin, 1982). Even if children prefer certain tastes, textures and food, they mix them to create a sufficient and balanced diet (Birch et al., 1991). Self-regulation in children is an organizational principle, which organizes feeding development. It does not explain feeding development by itself. Therefore more research is needed to explain why an infant knows what it needs, how much it needs and when to change texture. What we do know is that the infant develops this ability by itself.
Self-regulation in feeding-disordered infants and toddlers
The causes for disturbed self-regulation cumulating in feeding disorders vary, from impact of medical diseases, to oral motor apraxia, to attachment disorders. Understanding and treating feeding disorders is a relatively new challenge. It is important not only to focus on the disturbed eating habits and their patterns, but to also take a close look at the self-regulation capacity. Symptoms can make sense if the inner motivation of the child is understood. The research projects outlined are an attempt to understand the network of self-regulation in feeding development and disturbances.
Feeding and eating disorders, especially when they result in failure to thrive or obesity, are in the majority of cases a result of self-regulation disorder (Dunitz-Scheer et al., 2007). If a hungry child refuses to eat, it ignores the inner perception of its state and avoids a more balanced situation. If a child does not stop eating when its hunger is satisfied, it is suffering due to a massive misperception of own needs. Children described as picky eaters select a narrow range of foods, which in some cases do not fit the need for micronutrition. In tube-dependent children, oral intake is low or completely refused due to a full tube-fed nutritional supply.