Delayed gratification v immediate cake


I am fascinated by the way our minds work. Especially when it comes to weight loss and fitness.  A few years ago, I made such a change to my approach and mindset that I lost six stone and got really quite fit, fit for someone who couldn’t walk up a few flights of stairs previously at least.

I thought I would never go back. That it was hard wired in me.  But that turned out not to be the case.

One of my lessons along the way has been this one.

Successful weight loss is about the ability to delay gratification.

If you ask many overweight people whether they want to lose weight, they will say yes. I certainly did, for all of those years that I was obese.  Why then, is it so hard?  Because really all you have to do is eat fewer calories.  An over simplification?  Maybe, but only a little.

But there is a disconnect. If you want to lose weight, they why is it so hard to do the simple thing that would enable it: resist poor food choices?

In my opinion, it’s all about timing. Weight loss takes a long time, especially when you have a lot of weight to go.  Cake is immediate.  So is chocolate.  And wine.  And crisps, and take-aways and all of the nice things.

If we stopped to think before we made the choice, we probably want the weight loss more than that individual piece of cake. But you can have the cake right now. The weight loss….. it’s abstract. It’s in the possible future.  It is too hard to equate one with the other.

You may be familiar with the leading experiment in delayed gratification at Stanford University. Researchers gave children a treat*.  They were told if they could resist eating it for a little while, they could have two treats.  Left alone, some children managed to resist and hold out for the greater long term reward.  Others just scoffed the first one.  Long term analysis of the group showed that those that were able to wait had better life outcomes in many ways….. including BMI.

No surprise to me.

I’d have been in the first group. Because one little treat can’t hurt.  Especially if it is right in front of me.

Until there are many of them, of course.

There are a few ‘secrets’ to weight loss. None of them come from a celebrity or a revolutionary new diet.  One of them is about shifting our thinking.  If we can focus ourselves sufficiently on the long term, on the bigger goal, on what we want most of all, then maybe we can resist the cake in front of us, right now.


*It was a marshmallow.  Now I want a marshmallow.

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