What do marshmallows have to do with weight loss? In the 60s, Walter Mischel, a researcher at Stanford performed experiments with preschoolers to examine self-control. In the experiment, researchers told the preschoolers that they could have one treat (marshmallow or cookie) then or two if they waited until the researcher came back. The researchers then followed up with the children throughout the years. They noticed that children who were able to delay gratification and wait for the larger reward had a lower BMI twenty and even thirty years after the experiment. Why are some people able to hold out when faced with temptation while others struggle with delayed gratification?Part of it is our genetic make-up and the other part depends on our coping skills or the importance we place on the object of our desire. This has a huge impact on weight loss and our ability to manage our cravings. We have a finite amount of willpower when we are bombarded with temptation. This is difficult to avoid when we are working on weight loss goals because we cannot avoid food. Next time you are faced with your “drug of choice” (most craved food), try this:
- Imagine the food as a picture in a frame on a wall instead of a 3D version that you are waiting to eat. This gives you enough distance to think about it objectively.
- Think about it in terms of what it looks like instead of how it would taste. Instead of thinking about a brownie as gooey, chocolatey and delicious, think about it as a brown square. By removing the emotionally charged description, thinking about what it looks like loses power.
- Imagine that something unappealing has happened to the food. If you think about it falling on the floor or someone sneezing on it, it doesn’t sound as delicious.
So, the next time you find yourself obsessing about a food item, change the importance you place on it. That being said, deprivation isn’t the goal. If you are physically hungry, allow yourself to eat desirable food items in moderation to reduce the obsession. This helps you accomplish your weight loss goals by giving you a sense of control and allowing you to use refusal skills when you aren’t physically hungry.