Thursday, October 11, 2012

Junk Food, Willpower and your environment

A little while ago, I watched this video for a presentation I was putting together about habits.  It's a funny thing to watch -- totally worth the less than 3 minutes just for the comic lift.  But once that's done, take the time to watch it again.

Can't see the video?  Click here.
Can you see yourself in any of those coping mechanisms?  Are you the "kid" that sits in the chair rocking back and forth?  Are you the one that eats most of it right away nad puts the sticky leftovers on the plate hoping no one will notice?  Are you the one who has it almost in your mouth and then (with a big grumpy face) puts it back on the plate?

It's an interesting experiment.  The original (which of course didn't use video) found that 4 year olds that were able to delay their gratification and earn the second marshmallow turn out to be (on average) higher wage earners, less likely to be obese, earn a college degree, etc.  Makes sense, right?  Have a lot of willpower and you'll be able to "make" yourself do what you need to do.

But let's look at that whole situation again.  Why are the kids under this marshmallow stress?  Because they have to sit with the marshmallow right in front of them.  They have to use their willpower to stave off the power of the treat.

Now, think about the experiment another way.  How much stress would the kids be under if they were just asked to sit in the room (without the marshmallow in front of them) until the researcher came back and she would give them two marshmallows.  Probably not much.  The kids really didn't seem to mind just sitting in the chair (or at least the ones they showed in the video).  Without the treat in front of them, none of them would have been able to eat it -- bad for the experiment but gives us a valuable illustration for ourselves.

If you recognized yourself in any of those kids (and I'm dying to know which one YOU identified with**), then let's talk about the solution to getting yourself out of temptation's way:

Change your environment to support the behaviors you would like to see in yourself.  Willpower only lasts so long!  If the marshmallow (or it's adult equivalent of your choice .... chips, cookies, chocolate, pretzels, tacos, trail mix get my meaning) isn't in your house, you won't have to stare it down every time you open the pantry, fridge, freezer or cupboard.  You won't put yourself into the condition that leads to the stress you saw those kids dealing with!!!

In other words:  don't buy it at the grocery store to keep it on hand.  If you need it that bad, it will be worth an inconvenient trip to the corner market!  Rethink your environment so you don't have to rely on willpower!

**So back to the kids!  Which one resonated with you the most?  I am definitely the first one they showed (the blond sniffer with the "do the right thing" angst!).  Click the comments button at the end of this post and share which one seemed most like how you feel when faced with a similar dilemma.

If you're on the Eating Coach blog, click on the word Comment at the end of this post and share.  If you're reading this via email, click here to be taken to the Eating Coach site and then you can click the comment button!  I appreciate your sharing!  It gives me feedback on which direction to take the blog in the future :)  You comments are very much appreciated!


  1. unfortunately, I would eat it and hope that is satisfying enough that I don't want the second one... I will take a totally different,( out of the way), way home just so I can get a treat. So, therefore, it is worth the extra trip, even though it is not kept in the house. Though I suppose that is a whole other issue.

  2. Reminds me of my ice cream strategy. I keep the carton in the downstairs freezer. So when I want ice cream, I go downstairs and get the ice cream and bring it upstairs. Then I weigh out one portion and take the carton back downstairs to the freezer. Back upstairs, and only then do I eat the ice cream (with a baby spoon). The carton lasts three times as long as when I keep it in the upstairs freezer. And if I eat the ice cream before taking the carton back downstairs it doesn't work as well.

  3. I am definately the little girl with the orange and yellow bow in her hair..i am gonna eat my marshmallow..or maybe just "part" of it and hope that counts for something.
    Cravings and temptation are both very hard..but..can have a less fattening outcome if you don't buy "the goods".
    thanx for all you do :)