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.

Thinking about exercise

The way you think about exercise is important. The framing of it in your own mind can be the key to doing it, or not doing it.

Take yesterday. I was working from home.  For me, this means I don’t have to spend two and a half hours commuting, time I usually spend on doing life stuff.  Yesterday, this meant washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking and the like.  By 8.30am yesterday I had a sparkling bathroom, washing on the line, and my OH had some crisp shirts for the rest of the week.  After then doing my contractual duties to my employer, I sorted the Tesco shop, did a nursery run, emptied the bins, cooked the tea and washed up.

So when it got to 7pm last night, frankly, the last thing that I wanted to do was exercise.

Two things made me go. First of all, I had set myself a target for the week. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be letting down anyone but me.

Second, I decided it was my me time. All of the other stuff in the day was for someone else.  Bosses, trade unions reps, colleagues, family.  Exercise is when I get to be selfish.  Exercise is when I get a few moments to think about nothing but the sounds of the road, the next rotation of my bike wheel, my breath.

10K later, I was, as always, glad I had gone.

If you make exercise a chore in your mind, you will never appreciate it. You will never want to do it for its own sake. If you find your very own reason for doing it, reframe it from a must do to a want to do, it is ever easier to walk out the door

The Women’s Magazine Weight Loss Story Formula

I love a women’s magazine. Not the glossy ones full of adverts and expensive handbags.  Not the ones with worthy articles.  I love the real life versions.

These magazines have a formula. Problem pages and horoscopes.  Reader tips, letters and photos.  Ordinary people doing something different or over coming adversity.  And nothing says over coming adversity than a former Big Girl who has lost a whole load of weight.

The story goes a bit like this (all of them).

  • Before photos. The more unflattering, the better.
  • How they put the weight on. This is usually all about business of life, too many take-away meals and being slightly oblivious to the ever increasing waistline. There will be no attempt to really understand what makes people put on weight.
  • Their experiences of being big. People laughing and commenting, the acceptability of fat shaming.
  • The moment that made them change. Needing a seatbelt extension on a plane. Failing to fit in the seat in the rollercoaster. Breaking a chair. A terrible photo on Facebook.
  • A sidebar with before and after typical daily diets. TBH, I often prefer the first one.
  • A reference to their new love of (add to the list as you see fit: running, Zumba, weight training etc.).
  • After photos. The more glamorous the better.

I am not attempting to be critical in this post. Truly.  I wrote my own one of these stories after all.  I have also found it inspirational to read the stories of others.

But these magazines are hugely influential. Check out this piece here about how a leading women’s magazine has influenced our views on slimming for decades.  Flick through the pages in any of the magazines I’m talking about and you will most likely find a diet plan or some slimming recipes just a little further along.  Some of the approaches that the magazines tacitly promote aren’t necessarily health ways to lose weight – or sustain it long term.

We are fed a continuous diet (if you will excuse the term) of messaging about how terrible it is to be fat and how much more wonderful your life will be when you are thin.

For every person these stories inspire, there will be another who will be made miserable by it, should they find themselves unable to achieve the desirable ‘after’ photograph.

We need role models. But of health and wellness and not just thinness.  We really don’t need any more diet plans.  There is no ‘secret’ of weight loss or miracle plan, no matter what the articles try to tell you.

We also need to acknowledge that weight loss is not a panacea for a happiness. My life is better for losing all my weight in that I am healthier, more confident, and more capable of doing little things like walking up a flight of stairs.

But let’s stop pretending that it is the answer to everything. Let’s try and stop the quick fix, follow a magazine diet to lose weight instantly mentality.

Let’s stop doing this stuff to each other.