Shape Up America! Newsletter
This issue of the Shape Up America!
newsletter covers July and August. Our next
issue will be in September. Enjoy the summer!
Willpower and "Wait" Control
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
It is no secret that dieters feel frustrated
by their efforts to resist overeating, and it
is well known that even successful diet
attempts are usually followed by overeating
and weight regain. Recent research
attributes the obesity epidemic in the US to
overeating rather than a decline in physical
activity, and data show that Americans are
consuming more calories today than they did
in the 1970s.1 A majority of
overweight adults struggle to control what
they eat, especially when hungry.2
Surrounded by an abundance of tasty and
affordable high calorie foods, how can we
possibly resist overeating? What exactly is
willpower and how can it be harnessed to
insure effective weight management?
Surprisingly, according to Dr. Walter
Mischel, a psychologist at Columbia
University, willpower may have nothing to do
with a force of will — a painful or
uncomfortable insistence on denying yourself
pleasurable foods. According to Mischel,
willpower can be thought of as a skill of
self-distraction that can be learned and that
allows you to successfully navigate your hot
emotional response to tempting foods.
Curiously, what he has learned about
willpower was based on studies of 4-year-olds!
Delaying gratification has its rewards
In the late 1960s, Mischel studied hundreds
of very young children to measure their
willingness to delay
gratification — specifically, postpone
tasty treat.3 The protocol used
to study each child was unvarying: offer a
tray of tempting treats, ask the child to
select one, ask the child to "wait a few
minutes" before consuming it and promise a
second treat if the child succeeds in waiting
for the researcher to return. While the
researcher was out of the room, each child
was observed in order to document the behavior
while left alone with the treat. Here is a
description of how the children struggled:
"Some cover their eyes with their hands or
turn around so that they can't see the tray.
Others start kicking the desk, or tug on
their pigtails…One child…looks
carefully around the room to make sure that
nobody can see him. Then he picks up an
Oreo, delicately twists it apart, and licks
off the white cream filling before returning
the cookie to the tray, a satisfied look on
his face." 4
The unique contribution of this research is
that Mischel has been following these
children for more than 30 years. In 1981, he
contacted the families, teachers and academic
advisers of 652 children he had studied and
learned that the long delayers (those who
waited the full 15 minutes to eat the treat)
had SAT scores that were 210 points higher
than those who waited only 30 seconds or
less.4 The short delay group had
lower academic achievement and more
behavioral problems, including drug
problems.3 Unpublished research
by Ozlem Ayduk, an associate of Mischel,
suggests that the children with short delay
times also had a higher body mass index or
BMI (i.e., they were fatter).4
By far the most interesting group was the
group of children with short delay times who
grew up to be long-delaying high achievers.
The success of this group suggests that
delaying gratification or the exercise of
willpower is actually a skill that can be
learned. This raises the interesting
possibility that as adults, we can learn a
skill that is of central value in weight
management — controlling the consumption of
What's the Secret?
According to Mischel, the children who
delayed eating their treat were able to
distract their attention away from the tasty
food. The self-distraction techniques were
varied. Some busied themselves with toys or
games; some turned their back on the food;
others pretended it was not real or did
whatever they could to not see and then
forget about the treat — a version of
sight, out of mind." Mischel says these
children learned how to make waiting "second
nature" and worthwhile. In other words,
waiting or accepting a delay in gratification
is a skill that can be practiced on a daily
basis until it finally becomes a habit.
These interesting studies suggest that we can
learn how to manage tempting foods so that
they don't defeat our efforts to control food
intake. This is not a new concept.
Techniques to modify eating behavior have
been formulated by others and used since the
1960s to assist dieters.5,6 For
lasting or long-term weight loss success, the
idea is to turn these mental tricks and
tactics into habits. Here's how:
- Remove temptation from
your immediate environment by ridding your
home and kitchen of tempting foods. Avoid TV
food advertisements by turning off the TV.
The key is to avoid looking at tempting foods
you are trying to avoid.
- Establish daily rituals that force you
to practice the delay of gratification on a
daily basis. Examples include preparing a
meal without snacking, putting away meal
leftovers without eating them, and not eating
dessert. The goal is to practice the delay of
gratification until it becomes habitual.
- If you are in a situation where
you cannot remove tempting foods, use your
imagination to strip the foods of their
appeal. At a party where tempting
being served, imagine that the food is
poisonous or dirty so that it is completely
unappealing. Then distract yourself by
engaging in a conversation with someone, so
you will forget about the food.
- Divert yourself from thinking about
food by engaging in a pleasant task that
occupies your hands. Examples include
knitting, sewing, carpentry, or having a good
book handy for reading daily.
- Make delaying gratification of food
worthwhile. Devise a non-food reward
will give yourself after six days of
successful practice of these rituals, then
six weeks, then six months, and so on.
Of course, you must decide for yourself if
you have made it a habit and if it was worth
the effort of training yourself.
In summary, willpower is developing mental
tricks and tactics that allow you to control
a challenging situation. You can change your
environment by ridding your home of tempting
foods. But inevitably, you encounter
temptation in restaurants and shops or in
other people's homes. So when faced with a
challenge, willpower boils down to learning
how to divert your attention away from the
tempting foods and onto something else that
is important or enjoyable for you. This is
something you can learn and practice. If you
can make it worth your while, you can turn it
into a satisfying daily ritual that
eventually becomes a habit.
Barbara J. Moore, PhD, is President and CEO
of Shape Up America!
Fun in the Summer: Kid-Friendly Tips for Physical Activity
by Kathy Ermler, EdD, Joella Mehrhof, EdD, and Sheri Beeler, EdD
Vacationing and traveling with children can
be a family time full of fun and adventure.
However, often confined to smaller spaces
(e.g., cars, planes, trains), travel for
children can also become a frustrating and
energy-consuming venture. Children can
quickly become bored, restless and agitated
due to their need for physical movement to
release pent-up energy. With just a little
preplanning, it is possible to keep your
children happy and allow for their need to
move. The National Association for Sport and Physical
Education (NASPE) recommends that
infants, children and youth get a minimum of
60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Creating an airline activity travel kit will
assist in helping children pass the time in
both the airport and the plane. Here are a
few things to include:
Playing cards can be done in a very
quiet way or they can be used to increase
physical activity. For example, the game
"War" can be played the normal way or the
children can turn over cards while holding a
push-up position in the airport.
- Yo-yos are small and easy to store.
They improve hand-eye coordination and cause
- A plain piece of white paper can be
used to make a
"Fortune Teller" paper-folding game to
play in the airport. Instead of writing
numbers in the middle, write physical
activities your child can perform (e.g.,
jumping jacks, sit-ups, hopping, stretching).
Every parent knows the refrain, "Are we
almost there?" A car travel kit can also
provide opportunities for energy release and
muscle stimulation. This kit should contain
items that can be used both in the car and
when rest stops are made along the route:
A jump rope can be a life saver at rest
stops, and helps children participate in some
vigorous physical activity for short durations.
- During those frequent rest stops or at
hotels, chalk and a bouncing ball can allow
the children the options of a two/four square
game or hopscotch.
- The quarter game is a low level
activity that stimulates movement while the
children are still restrained in the seat
belts. Call out a single activity (e.g.,
make a fist, flap arms like wings, point/flex
the feet). The children do the activity 25
- Opposable Thumbs! - All humans have
them! Thumb wrestling can be a great
activity for a car when the children crave
- If your family is taking a long car
trip, be sure to choose a motel with a
swimming pool. Swimming is a great way for
you and your children to forget about
sitting all day in a car.
Staying home does not have to be boring or an
excuse to watch TV all day:
Children love nothing more than running
through a sprinkler on a hot day or sliding
down a hill on a slip and slide. Hours will
quickly pass with this water invention.
- Hiking/walking to local sites
encourages family fitness and togetherness.
Plan a trip to a local historical site, then
discuss the favorite aspects of the adventure
on the walk home.
- A bike scavenger hunt can provide your
children with physical activity while using
their skills to locate required objects.
Give your children a list of 10 things they
need to collect from around your local area.
Invite the neighborhood children. Make it a
challenge between two or three teams of
Day Trips and Weekend Vacations
These fun ideas are good for a single day
trip or a weekend getaway:
Plan a weekend of outdoor activities
that include horseback riding, swimming,
hiking, bike riding, fishing, canoeing,
whitewater rafting, or camping.
- Visit a theme park or a zoo close to
your home and you will become a champion.
Children love the rides and animals, and
everyone gets a lot of physical activity
walking from attraction to attraction.
- Plan a trip to a beach or lake. Your
children can build sandcastles, dig some sand
ditches and collect shells.
Summer is a great time to reconnect with your
children and other family members while you
are keeping them active and motivated. It
just takes a little planning to have a safe
and physically active summer.
Kathy Ermler, EdD, is chairperson and
professor and Joella Mehrhof, EdD, is
professor in the Department of Health,
Physical Education and Recreation at Emporia
State University in Kansas. Sheri Beeler,
EdD, is associate professor in the Department
of Kinesiology at Missouri Southern State
Childhood Obesity as a Morality Tale
A book review by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
Big Blue by Vanita Oelschlager is a
children's book that tackles the sensitive
subject of childhood obesity.
Big Blue is the story of a mountain
blue bird who starts out happy but gets lazy
and just lies around eating and sleeping.
His feelings are hurt one day when another
bird calls him "Big Blue" (but what could he
do?) Too fat to migrate when winter
comes and abandoned by his friends and
family, he struggles to survive the winter
alone. But chastened by the experience, he
changes his ways and was able to migrate the
following year. The moral of the story is
summarized at the end of the book:
You can play and have fun,
But there's much more to do.
Don't sit and eat snacks
All the day long,
But balance your day.
Have fun and be strong.
The book provides an interesting tale of a
blue bird who gets lazy, gets fat, suffers,
gets thin and wins. The blue bird as a
reformed individual is industrious and a
But the book is, of course, very
simple, and obesity is not simple. The story
does not explore the sadness in human life of
being targeted and ridiculed and it does not
deal with the pain of living in a
dysfunctional family where you are surrounded
by people who make bad choices, or suffer
from depression, chronic stress or economic
deprivation. The family and community in
which this particular blue bird lives is
healthy and sound. In other words, all of the
other blue birds surrounding Big Blue were
healthy and high functioning. Too often that
is not the case for human blue birds. Still,
I did like the book and feel that any parents
who want to initiate a sensitive discussion
with their child about these issues could use
the book for that purpose.
Big Blue is nicely illustrated by
Kristin Blackwood and published by
It is intended for children ages 4-8.
Violet found the Shape Up America! Web
site to be a great help in her efforts to
lose weight, be fit and stay motivated. SUA
wishes you well with your continued success!
I started my exercise program approximately 6
weeks ago. My weight had gotten up to 240
pounds, the heaviest I have ever been in my
life. I felt fatigued all the time, and
basically had no energy. I realized I had to
do something about it. I had tried every fad
diet there is. And this time I wanted to do
it right. I joined a Boot Camp fitness
program along with using this site to help me
with tips as well as motivational resources.
In six weeks I have lost 13 pounds and have
gained a renewed sense of vitality. The Shape
Up America! Web site has provided me with a lot
of useful information and is very user-friendly.
Editor's note: The Shape Up
America! (SUA) Web site offers helpful
tips and guidance to
assist with your weight control efforts.
Resources include the SUA
Up and Go! 10,000 Steps a Day; Portion
Control tutorial; and SUA Story
Shape Up America! wants to hear about
you! If you would like to share your
personal success story and be an inspiration
to others who desire to lose weight, simply
use our story
submission system on the SUA Web site.
Menus for Weight Loss and Healthy Eating
Shape Up America! offers these simple,
calorie and 2000
calorie menus to help
you eat healthfully while controlling your
Recipe of the Month
This colorful salad includes some of the ingredients typically found in salsa.
Mango, Cucumber and Red Pepper Salad
Makes 4 servings, 1 cup per serving
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- 2 tsp. brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Ground black pepper
- 2 Persian or 8-inch piece seedless
cucumber, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch slices
- 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut
into 3/8-inch strips
- 1 ripe medium mango
- 8 red lettuce leaves
- 1/4 cup lightly packed spearmint leaves
- 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
- In medium mixing bowl, combine lime and
orange juices with sugar, red pepper flakes,
salt and a few grinds black pepper. Add
cucumber and red pepper.
- For mango, cut thin slice off stem and
pointed ends. Using a swivel-bladed vegetable
peeler or sharp paring knife, remove peel in
strips, working from one cut end of fruit to
the other. Cut flesh away from both sides of
the pit, making two large domes. (Any flesh
remaining on the pit is the cook's portion.)
Cut each mango half lengthwise into 1/4-inch
strips and add to mixing bowl.
- Toss with fork to combine salad, then set
aside for 20-30 minutes to allow ingredients
to marinate in the dressing.
To serve, line four salad plates with lettuce
leaves. Mound one-fourth of salad onto each
plate. Sprinkle on mint and peanuts. Serve
Nutritional analysis per serving: 120
calories, 5 grams total fat, 0.5
grams saturated fat, 17 grams carbohydrate, 4
grams protein, 3 grams dietary fiber, 300
milligrams sodium if use unsalted peanuts;
360 milligrams sodium if use salted peanuts.
Source: American Institute
for Cancer Research
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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD