Have you ever heard of the so-called Marshmallow Experiment?
It involved a psychologist, Walter Mischel, working with a group of children. He brought each child into a room alone, and gave the child a marshmallow. He then told the child that he had to leave the room, but if the child waited and didn’t eat the marshmallow until he returned, he would reward them with two marshmallows. The psychologist left the room for 15 minutes.
About one-third of the kids ate the marshmallow immediately. Another third waited a little while, but ate it before Mischel returned. The last third waited the entire 15 minutes for Mischel to return, and got their reward.
Have you figured out why I’m bothering to tell you this?
Because if you want to lose weight and keep it off, sometimes you have to be willing to delay the gratification of eating something when you aren’t hungry for the long-term joy of having a peaceful relationship with food, losing your excess weight and not gaining it back.
No, this isn’t about willpower. Willpower is a finite resource. We run out of it every day. That’s one of the reasons diets don’t work. Willpower just isn’t sustainable.
Let me digress a minute before I apply this to weight loss. The significance of Mischel’s experiment became glaringly clear when he decided to see how his group of study subjects were doing in their lives 20 years later. He noticed that the kids who were able to delay gratification during the marshmallow experiment were also the ones who later in life had the greatest academic and professional success, compared to the kids who didn’t.
Other research has confirmed that the ability to delay gratification correlated more to success and higher quality of life than other measures previously thought to be major factors, like IQ, family income, or personality tests. They were more successful academically and in relationships, had better jobs, and were financially more stable. Fascinating, huh?
This seems like a good time to mention that I’m naturally very impulsive. That’s how I am wired. While being impulsive can sometimes be fun and produce interesting results, it can also cause problems. It's one of those traits that we sometimes need to rein in.
Especially if you want to be a healthy weight.
The good news is that even if you’re an impulsive type or simply have that challenge when it comes to eating, anyone can learn to put off immediate and fleeting pleasures in exchange for a bigger reward a little further down the road. In fact, I bet you’ve managed to do that with lots of other aspects of your life. Think about it. What have you really set your mind to accomplish, then worked hard, and did it? Quit smoking? Run a 10K? Win an award?
And you can learn how to do it with food, too. It’s like a muscle. The more you are able to practice and exercise self-discipline, the easier it becomes.
So how does an impulsive foodie (like me and maybe you!) learn how to delay gratification without relying on willpower?
Ask yourself this question. Would you rather be your naturally healthy weight and free from food obsession forever, or would you rather seek immediate pleasure from food, regardless of your body’s needs, and struggle with your weight for the rest of your life?
It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
It’s the difference between external sources of very temporary gratification and long-term happiness that comes from within.
If you choose the second option, you will need to work to change your habits, bit by bit. By rewiring your brain and creating new, healthier habits, you can change your entire relationship with food without dieting or relying upon willpower. Over time, it actually becomes easy. Plus you’ll feel so great you won’t miss the extra food at all.
I’ll talk about this more in the coming weeks.
You can learn how to change your eating habits for good by joining my Weight Loss for Foodies group coaching class, starting in mid-September. Stay tuned for more details. If you’d like to be sure to receive information about the group, you can do so by joining Ditch the Diet Tribe, my fabulous Facebook group, by clicking HERE.
Thanks for the info. Look forward to reading more.
Interesting—the marshmallow test. It reminded me of another test with kids. I might not have it exactly right, but to my recollection, they took a group of toddlers and left them in a room with free access to food, both candy and fruit. The expectation was that the kids would immediately go for the candy, but they didn’t. The vast majority chose fruit instead. I always thought that was interesting.
This is brilliant. And you’re right… it IS just like a muscle.