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Refrain Yourself for the Reward (The Marshmallow Test and Delayed Gratification)

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

-Tyler Durden

I was very fortunate this weekend, to be able to take some time off and visit some family. One of my favorite people I was able to visit with was my Grandfather. He recently turned 88 years old this month. Still walks almost every day, goes to the gym three times a week, and eats pretty clean. When I visit, we often get to take walks together and it is a great time for me to learn about some of his past stories. Growing up during The Great Depression, he often has many great stories to remind me of how truly blessed I/we are. During one of our walks, he told me a story about how his mother used to have to save up a nickel so she could buy a candy bar for the three of them to share. Can you imagine? And he said, when she came home with it, there was no better 20 seconds than when he used to hold that small 1/3rd in his mouth and just savor it, until it melted away completely.

I really thought on that (and still do almost on a daily basis), for a while. I doubt/hope, that no one in my family or yours, or anyone’s for that matter, would have to know what that feels like. That was my first thought. But then I thought how I will never taste a candy bar like that. For those of you who have ever seen Fight Club, you may remember the scene where Brad Pitt’s character holds a convenience store clerk to gun point and tells him that he is going to die. For those who haven’t seen it I want to warn you about the Spoiler Alert (Just the scene, not the movie). Raymond, the clerk, is on his knees weeping and begging for his life to be spared. Brad Pitt’s character takes his wallet and lets him run away free and alive. Edward Norton’s character who is not happy with what just took place, ask what the whole point of all that was? Brad Pitt’s character responds, “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

There is something to be said about how we over-look some of the best things we have. More than that, we get so caught up in trying to get more and more of things, that we forget to savor how truly great we have it. How many of you have taken more than five minutes to eat a dessert when you are by yourself? I know I haven’t (yet), but this story really made me think about the new practice of refraining for reward.

When I meet with my nutrition patients, I often talk about making something they over-indulge in (like desserts) and making it “ritual”. I am writing this to get some of you to start this practice. Let’s say for example, every night after I eat, I enjoy a nice moderate slice of cake. Because of this, my waist line has grown and my inflammation/pain levels have rose as well. Just like I have said before, I am not about taking things out completely, but adding the right things in. How great do you think that piece of cake would taste if you saved it for only Tuesdays and Fridays? OR, better yet, just one night a week you were able to refrain from it. How great would that piece taste? How long would you take to eat it?

The point I am trying to get across is that something like eating the right way isn’t punishment. It can truly be a reward. From not only your energy levels going up, but also how you look at how great you have it. Just like on the opposite end, if I made you eat your favorite meal three times a day, seven days a week, for 30 days. I GUARANTEE you would hate that meal by the end of 30 days. It goes to show once again, everything on this earth and in this lifetime is to be enjoyed to its fullest. But only in moderation;)

*If you google Stanford Marshmallow Test, be prepared to laugh hysterically

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