My Marshmallow Test

I’m normally a very patient person and usually ace delayed gratification over instant, short-term pleasure. When I need to go to the gym I will schedule seeing a friend later or on another day. I can order a salad while my friends are eating pizza – although with flexible dieting I usually don’t have to :).

I’ve been a little sick since last Thursday with head and muscle aches and sore throat. I tend to have two reactions regarding food when I’m ill. Either I lose appetite – or, sadly, more often – I want to vacuum every morsel of food in my vicinity down my throat. Try practicing moderation then… Last week at worse I felt like I’d been ran over by a Mack truck. Every part of my body ached. I was a little dizzy and had had to stress dose with extra HC. My stomach growled and twisted with hunger pangs. And I had to go to buy food in that sorry state as we had next to none at home – my boyfriend wouldn’t probably have wanted me to either resort to cannibalism or start acting like my old dog Manta who would eat pencils, mattresses, VHS tapes and cement among other things.

My beloved Manta - girl with an iron stomach. R.I.P. <3
My beloved Manta – girl with an iron stomach. R.I.P. ❤

And of course, as Christmas is less than two months away the stores’ shelves just happen to be bursting with chocolate, gingerbread, marmalade, etc… Aaaand it’s USA theme in Lidl stores here in Finland, so Hawaii pan pizza anyone? Or what about peanut butter ice cream? Needless to say, I was having great difficulties navigating the aisles without emptying half the store from the delicacies. Last weekend, when my cravings were at their worst, I constantly daydreamed about food – apple pie, vanilla ice cream, homemade pizza. Strawberry and caramel protein bars. Hot chocolate with banana liquor, marshmallows and whipped cream on top. I may even have drooled on occasion. I’ve wanted so, so much to just shut the MyFitnessPal app and start eating like crazy. If you don’t count it, it doesn’t count, right? Right??

Luckily during my life I’ve learned a bunch of useful tools and behaviors to help me resist temptation. I ended up utilizing a few of them:

  • If I crave junk food, I’ll fit it in my macros and just have some :). One slice of pizza, two cookies or an ice cream cone isn’t gonna wreck my diet – hasn’t so far, and won’t in the future. Flexible dieting is absolutely the way to go ❤
  • If I’m constantly hungry, I eat lots of veggies to fill my stomach and drink a couple of glasses water and some herbal tea.
  • Battling with harder cravings such as I had last weekend, I try to focus on something else – read an interesting book, watch Netflix, work out – usually in time the cravings will subside.
  • I visualize my goals – lean physique and athletic performance, the overall good feeling I get when I’m in shape.
  • I remind myself how awful I felt when I weighed more and was out of shape – how hard it was to exercise, how my clothes wouldn’t fit and squeezed at all the wrong places…
  • I also remind myself how bad I feel when I overeat – the stomach aches, stuffy feeling, nausea, all the swelling that comes afterwards – I don’t want to experience all that!

Besides food, I also fought with an entirely opposite dilemma. Not being able to work out. And it was driving me crazy once again. I already thought on Saturday that it would be a better day and I’d be able to go to my pilates class. Blah. Already at 12 AM I was dizzy with a headache and rising temperature. So it was stress dosing and resting again.

I already toyed with the idea that I’d just pump myself full of HC and antipyretics and go to pilates anyway. But I chose to be smart and think ahead. Pilates is fun, yes. But it’s only accessory to my lifting and to help my back stay in shape. Yes, it’s also a venting place where I get to meet my krav friends. But if I messed up my recovery and health for a longer period just because I wanted to go and train while being sick, I wouldn’t have gained anything, just lost. And boy, would it make me furious if I was forced to stay away from the gym a whole week, let alone more than that. So I acted like a good and sensible athlete and ditched pilates last week. I have – or at least pretend to myself that I have – enough patience to wait this disease out and then return to progressive heavy training.

Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel conducted a series of tests in 1960′ and 70’s that are today commonly referred to as “The Marshmallow Experiment”. A group of children of different ages were sat in a room and given a marshmallow or a cookie to eat, but they were promised that if they could wait for 15 minutes without eating it, they would get a second marshmallow or a cookie as well. The children were followed into adult age after the test. The ones who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow instantly to get a better reward, seemed to be more successful in life: they had better SAT scores, lower BMI, higher education and overall fared better in life. How were the successful children able to resist temptation? They had different coping strategies. Some turned away from the food or closed their eyes. Some kicked the table, or tucked their pigtails, or otherwise focused their attention on something other than the marshmallows.

Image source

Could we all learn something from the marshmallow experiment, other than the fact that successful people are better with delayed gratification than unsuccessful ones? How could we get better with delayed gratification to reach our goals in life? Besides relying on pure willpower, you can also use distraction or other strategies to cope with temptations. It’s also good to keep your goal clear in your mind. Think what you want to achieve in the long run. What are your goals? Are the long-term rewards enticing and motivating enough to help you resist short-term enticements?

Willpower and motivation aren’t infinite resources. They run out. If you are tired or hungry, have had to make lots of decisions during the day, or otherwise use a lot of your mental capacity, your ability to resist temptations will weaken. Decision fatigue can affect any one of us, like this NY Times article uncovers: For example, Israeli judges studied by Stanford and Ben Gurion university researchers approved 70% of parole applications in the morning hours, but less than 10% of applications late in the day. Only because their mental reserves for decision making got worn out during the day. Also, if you have to use much of your willpower all the time to resist temptations, you are very likely to end up succumbing to them at some point.

Stanford psychologist and lecturer Kelly McGonigal has written a good book about willpower – The Willpower Instinct. I cam warmly recommend it, as well as her other great book The Upside Of Stress. You can read more about her here:

A great read !! Warmly recommended !!

I’d like to know how you keep up motivation to train and eat healthily? Do you have temptations? What kind? How do you deal with them? Do you think willpower and motivation are the keys to success or are they overrated?



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