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The Marshmellow Test

Ok, so the title of this post may sound a little like something  you would do at a college party, but I assure you I will stay within the typical FITNESS premise that all of our articles do.  That being said, I read an amazing article on the psychology of “DIETING”.

The article was titled “The Marshmallow Test”.  Much like you, I was interested to know what the hell that was.  Ok I’ll be honest I wanted to see if I could beat whoever ate the most, did it the fastest, or whatever (I know I have a problem let’s move on).  What I found was an AMAZING study that basically sums up the type of people that we see in our gym every day.

Bascially a Dr. took 12 four year old children into a classroom and sat them each at a table.  In front of each child on the table was a marshmallow.  Now the Dr. explained to the children that they had 2 options, 1. they could eat the marshmallow right now, 2. they could wait for an undisclosed amount of time at the end of which they would be given another one.  After hearing the explanation, all the children decided that they would wait for a chance to get another marshmallow.  The video below is what happened when the doctor left the room.  In the original experiment, 3 of the children ate the marshmallow as soon as he left the room, another 3 within the first minute.  3 of the kids made it 15 minutes, and only 3 made it the full 20 minutes.  Here is the part that is interesting to me.  The kids that ate the marshmallow before the 20 minutes was up, were the ones that obsessed over it.  They sat there and stared at it, smelled it, licked it, pretended to eat it, even rubbed it on their faces, for the entire time until they finally broke down and ate it.  The 3 that made it came up with ways to distract themselves.  Some covered their eyes, some looked away, others seemed to zone out or stare into space.

Now, what you ask does this have to with me?  You are an adult that is fully capable of not eating a marshmallow (I hope).  What I took from this is that so many of you focus on your diet or your workouts just like the marshmallow.  You think about crappy food and how much you want it and try to actively defy your urge.  Or you workout so much that you burn yourself out and inevitably return to your old inactive lifestyle.  If this sounds at all like what you do, you are DOOMED to fail.  If you make something the focal point of your life, and spend your time thinking about it and wishing you could have it, you will eventually give in.  You will some how justify to yourself why it is ok to have just one, or this one time, or I had a bad day, week, month, or any of the other bull shit reasons people give.  The bottom line is that you gave in.

All too often Aaron and I have people join our gym that are set on a combination of working out every day, and starving themselves.  This is bad for a number of reasons, but I will only talk about the main ones.  First and foremost, the rule of thumb when making any kind of change, whether it be your life, diet, activity or anything else, if you want permanent results, you have to make permanent changes.  So what that means is if you decide to go on some fad diet or crazy exercise program that you can not do forever, your results will only be temporary.  It makes sense when you think about it, your results will only last as long as you can keep up what  you are doing.

If you ask anyone that has lost a ton of weight (unless they got surgery) how they did it, I can guarantee none of them will say it was Atkins, or South Beach or any other catchy sounding diet.  They will tell you that they completely changed not only the way they eat, but the way they think about food.  Not only are they more active, but changed how they think about exercise.  These are the things that lead to real results that you can hold onto for the rest of your life.

So what does this mean?  This means that you need to make small adjustments over time that you can keep up for the rest of your life.  The problem with people today, is that they want everything RIGHT NOW!  Well I am here to tell you TOUGH SHIT!  The fact is that it took you years to build the body that you are not happy with, and it will probably take at least a year to take off the weight properly and for good.  If you are looking for a quick fix, please DO NOT come to our gym.  We have an amazing track record for getting people in shape and having them stay that way, not rebounding back to worse than they were before as soon as they hit their goal.  But it takes time, commitment, consistency, dedication, and TON of hard work.

So here is the take away from this article.  Don’t make your fitness goals (your marshmallow) the focus of all your energy.  Rather, direct your focus elsewhere, and you will begin to realize that your obsession is really a waste of time.  Once you see that it is possible to live with out…whatever it is that you crave, you will want it less.  Especially when you start to see what its absence has brought to your physique.  It is extremely important to remember that when you do have a craving, not to tell yourself you CAN’T have it.  Rather tell yourself I CAN have it, but I CHOOSE NOT TO.  Now YOU are in control.

  1. Denise Fontana
    February 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I tell my clients this day after day !But the way you write it is so powerful!!I am one of those people who has lost 161.50 lbs(no surgery!) ! That means nothing to get there ,you must make fitness and nutrition changes for life !Find what works for you and never give up!!!

  2. February 12, 2011 at 12:44 am

    This marshmallow thing just struck me as a great analogy, that I could use with my members. I am glad that other professionals appreciate it as well. Thanks

  3. Urvashi Patel
    February 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Love the article. This totally descripes what everyone goes through when dieting. My marshmellow is diet coke, and I’ve gone 10 days without it.

  4. February 13, 2011 at 1:37 am

    URVASHI!! We miss you at Train Insane. Glad you liked it, and congrats on the 10 days without diet coke. Keep it up and we hope to see you soon.

  5. justin
    February 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks guys I just went and bought a bag of marsh mellows and ate them cause the damm kids made it look so good.

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