Practice eating your “marshmallows”!

by Dr. Ellen Cullman, FLT Columnist

Do you buy movie theatre popcorn with your first delicious whiff? At sporting events, is the aroma of hot dogs your internal GPS to their location? You’ve had your more-than-fair-share of cookies from the tray. Is it tough resisting another one when opportunity knocks? I mean, “Just one more won’t hurt.” Right? Then, later on in dismay do you moan, “If I only had more self-control.” Wait a minute – do you need more self-control or is it something else?

In the ‘60s, Walter Mischel, a social psychologist, then at Stanford, conducted a group of studies on self-control in preschoolers (The Atlantic, 9/2014). The study’s procedure, now dubbed as the “marshmallow test” was simple. Each child walked into a private room. They sat in a chair at a table and in front of them they saw a marshmallow setting on a napkin. Mischel said he had to step out of the room for 15 minutes. He said they could eat the marshmallow now or save it for when he returned. However, if they did not eat the marshmallow and it was still there when he returned, Mischel would give them a second marshmallow.

Now fast forward to the 1980s. Mischel, now at Columbia University, tracked down and interviewed the children who were now young adults and again, later, in middle age (The New Yorker, 5/2009). Mischel found that those most successful in waiting at age four went on to be the most successful as adults. What did the children do who could successfully wait that the others did not do? Did they inherently have a level of self-control the others did not?

Mischel carefully examined the 1960s video footage of the children wrestling with temptation. It was humorous to watch the young children, each alone in a room, wait 15 minutes. Some immediately popped the marshmallow into their mouth; others waited awhile and then ate it. The successful children, although struggling like the other children, developed ways to wait in order to get the extra marshmallow ( They would cover their eyes, turn around in their chair, swing their feet, play with their hair – anything to ramp up their self-control. The successful children were determined to find a way to resist eating the one marshmallow in order to eat two later.

Let’s go back to the question in the first paragraph. Do you need more self-control or is it something else? There are hints in this column in regards to that question. I’ll discuss more in the next column. Until then identify just one of your “marshmallows” each day and, making a game of it, practice resisting like the children did. My “marshmallow game” will be with Kettle Chips!

Call 419-494-7699 or email Dr. Cullman with questions about this column, mindful eating sessions and mindful eating presentations.