You should have heard the giggles in my house when I sat my three nephews and daughters at the table over Spring Break and conducted the Marshmallow experiment on them. Replicating, more or less, an experiment from the 1960s. I placed a large marshmallow in front of them and promised a second one if they could keep themselves from eating it. Then they had to sit and wait. After fifteen minutes they had all made it through and got to eat two marshmallows.
There is a great explanation of this experiment and what it means on Youtube by Practical Psycology called “The Marshmallow Test” https://youtu.be/2xMgHKxukr0 . Pretty much, back in the 1960s they got a group of preschoolers togethers and one by one they put them alone, in a room, with a single marshmallow. They promised a second marshmallow if they didn’t eat the first. Some were able to wait, others weren’t. Then they tracked those individuals over time. It turned out that the preschoolers who demonstrated self-control with the marshmallows were more successful adults. In other words, self-control is positively correlated with success.
However, they repeated this same experiment just a few years ago and tracked socioeconomic status and education of parents as variables. Guess what? Kids in low socioeconomic homes demonstrated severely less self-control. Psychologist confirmed that this made sense. Children from low economic homes are more impulsive. Psychologist explained that children from low socioeconomic homes often have parents who lack the time and resources to follow through with promises. Their kids are then very impulsive, more likely to take advantage of the opportunities even when the consequences long-term are negative. Essentially, kids that grow up with consistency and follow through in their homes then innately have more self-control.
Isn’t that crazy?! And, while the kids and I were talking about it, I had a light-bulb moment. It is exactly the same when it comes to dieting.
We break confidence in ourselves with our restrictive eating and inconsistent habits. We teach our brain and body that we often operate on low resources and are incredibly unreliable with how we eat, hydrate, and care for ourselves.
Then, guess what? Our lower brain becomes more impulsive than ever. It sees opportunities and needs to take advantage of it because it has learned from past experiences that tomorrow might be very different.
Isn’t that awful? But it makes sense right?
I see this process play out in my classroom all the time. Students who have consistency at home, parents or guardians who follow through, and believe that adults will keep promises…those kids are much less impulsive, they can wait with more patience, and they make better choices overall.
So, I have good good news for you…you can really change things in your own self-care abilities. It isn’t complicated. I want you to consider making these three simple changes in your weight loss or health journey.
First, become the queen on consistency. Establish habits that you follow through with come rain or shine. This means you have to start small. It is so much better to start with one or two habits and start building up that evidence than to be all “gun-ho” and take on all the habits just to have yourself give up again and again. Then your brain will just say: “There she goes again. She always quits eventually.” Well, not this time. Make consistency your goal. Do what is doable and build it up from there.
Second, follow through with promises. This might mean that you have to start making some nice promises to yourself such as rewarding yourself for reaching weekly goals or having a planned exception treat once in a while. Promises to yourself might also be that you take the dog out for a walk like you said you would or go to bed on time. I would start to really notice what you plan and promise yourself and even write it down. Work on imprinting the concept that you follow through. Then, when temptation arises you can tell yourself something like, “We’ll do that tomorrow.” and your lower brain will calm down, becoming less reactive and impulsive, because it knows you follow through.
Third, focus on care not restriction. Going back to that comparison of impulsive children and our impulsive brains, I’ve also seen that children who only get consequences and little to no positive reinforcement, tend to have impulse issues. If kids feel like the people around them don’t have their back, they’ll take matters into their own hands. Once again, begin to build evidence that you truly love and care for your body and the health of your mind and heart. Then it is so much easier not to become reactive and impulsive with your eating.
Alright, I know you hear me and are totally ready to start building up your self-control. Give yourself grace. This will take time. However, the beauty is that if you lose weight or work on habit change and with consistency and caring, you’ll not only lose your weight, but you’ll be building up that self-control.
So, lets review the three ways to bring self-control back into your weight loss journey:
First, become the queen on consistency.
Second, follow through with promises.
Third, focus on care not restriction.
You can do this! I know it will make a world of change in the process.
Ok, next week we are going to talk about making the bathroom scale one of your best friends. If that sounds impossible, then you definitely need to listen to this one. Until then, all my love and blessings to you. Goodbye for now!
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by Lora Armendariz
You Can Do It!
Do you want to fall out of love with a destructive habit? The first 42 episodes of this podcast are a resource for anyone who wants encouragement and information as they take a six week break from a habit in order to fall out of love with it.