Learning To Delay Gratification

Long Term

It could be argued that the topics I’ve explored over the last several months (you can read them here, here, and here), were a bit directed at AIP long-termers, folks who have been walking the path for a while and who are ready to expand their horizons. Today I wanted to step back a bit and talk about something that applies to us all, but can be especially helpful when first starting . . . learning to delay gratification.

Instant gratification is the name of the game these days. We don’t have to wait for a phone call, because we carry our Apple phones with us. Dominos can deliver dinner and we don’t even have to talk to a human; it can be ordered on-line. We never have to go the library and research that thing we want to learn about, because we have Google at our fingertips. In the near future we might even get our latest package from Amazon delivered to our door, via a drone, in less than 30 minutes. (Uh? What next? Will Amazon hire clairvoyants and send us junk before we even knew we wanted it?) These are such familiar, entrenched examples of instant gratification that it’s almost irrelevant to point them out.

What if, in our quest for better health, we just naturally lean toward the “App-Dom-Goo-Azon Standard” of healing? (“App-Dom-Goo-Azon?” Naturally, this refers to the Apple, Dominos, Google, Amazon level of promptness.) What if instant gratification is so ingrained, we don’t even realize we’re expecting it to apply to everything in our lives, even healing?

“I’ve been following the autoimmune protocol for awhile now, Ethel, and I’m totally not seeing results.”

“Really? That stinks! How long have you been at it?”

“Since Sunday!”

“It’s Tuesday afternoon, Ida.”

Following AIP for a couple of days, no matter how intensely we did it, is not going to yield results. Reversing years of illness cannot be done in milliseconds simply by Googling it. When restoring our good health is the objective, the gratification, the reward, comes gradually.

I think, probably one of the most important parts of the healing process is learning how to delay that gratification. Here’s the hard part though . . . it sucks! Not a really mind-blowing statement. It’s not like you get text messages from your friends confirming how gratifying it is to hold-off on momentary pleasures, “Great morning so far! I just loooove not having an extra yummy latte and chocolate-filled croissant before heading to the office.” or “Awesome weekend! I didn’t buy a new pair of shoes and I didn’t have a glass of wine.” Everyone knows that it’s really difficult not to have that latte and croissant and it can feel oppressive in the moments when you’re resisting that glass of wine. Plus, sometimes there are factors (hint: it’s stress) that can prevent us from being able to delay the reward. Literally the dopamine release from buying that pair of shoes (instead of waiting and feeling even better when we buy them with cash we saved) feels necessary because we are living with such an extreme level of stress. Wrapping our minds around the future pay-off isn’t easy.

So, how do we unlearn the expectation of instant gratification and honor our body’s time line? After I cruised around the web researching this, I noticed a recurring theme in the answers and the more I thought about it, I realized in hindsight they were pretty true of my own experience. I didn’t start out serenely awaiting the reward of wellness. My desires were more like, “Now! Dang it!” However, as time went on I started to take some of the following recommended steps and it really did help me learn to delay gratification:

  1. Choose what you want most. This involves two things, determining what you value (define) and assigning it a position relative to the other things you value (prioritize). For instance, if you’ve defined “good health” as something you value highly, it might mean it gets priority over “hard work, “ even if “hard work” gets you the more immediate reward of the boss’s praise. Knowing what you want most helps you stay focused, especially when it means choosing between what might be worthy but competing values (like the above example).
  2. Have a plan. Healing doesn’t just materialize (this isn’t Amazon delivery!). Start at what you want most and figure out what it will take to get there. If you want to have good health and you know AIP-compliant home cooked meals will help, plan a menu and dedicate time to prep. Having a plan helps you stay focused, especially when it feels like your time could be spent on something more fun or easy.
  3. Manage stress. If your stress is high enough, your system will tirelessly seek relief. We need pressure valves in life. If we don’t find positive outlets, we will be powerless when presented with negative ones. Keeping your stress low, keeps your will power high.
  4. Celebrate. Too often we delay gratification, work hard, reach a goal and then . . . just keep going. Ignoring all those lattes and then realizing three months later that for the first time in years your joints no longer hurt is reason to celebrate. Taking the time to acknowledge your efforts helps you see the value in that big long-term pay-off.

Basically, it comes down to the old saying, “Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now.”

BTW, want to learn something REALLY interesting about how much more successful people are when they are able to delay gratification? Click here to read about the 40-year “Marshmallow Experiment.”

About Angie Alt

Angie Alt is a co-founder here at Autoimmune Wellness. She helps others take charge of their health the same way she took charge of her own after suffering with celiac disease, endometriosis, and lichen sclerosis; one nutritious step at a time. Her special focus is on mixing “data with soul” by looking at the honest heart of the autoimmune journey (which sometimes includes curse words). She is a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Nutritional Therapy Consultant through The Nutritional Therapy Association and author of The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook: Eating for All Phases of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol and The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook. You can also find her on Instagram.


  • […] Learning to delay gratification. Patience and […]

  • Going AIP requires a willingness to be weird for your health’s sake! Being grain free was pretty easy for me, but it does make breakfasts a challenge. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished for something quick, easy and comforting like a bowl of cereal! Preparing and cooking each meal is can feel overwhelming, especially when my autoimmune disorder is kicking my butt, but it’s worth the sustained effort! Thank you Angie for writing with such bold transparency and humor!

    • Angie Alt says

      Melissa, you are welcome!! Thank you for reading!

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  • Olive says

    I am struggling to go plastic-free, toxin-free (as in body and home products, even the mattress), and now adding AIP this week with a one-month old baby on top of it all. I have been transitioning to natural body products for quite a few years and have toyed with paleo in the past, but I have gotten way more serious about everything and gotten on the all organic bandwagon since we moved when I was pregnant last fall to WA from our nomadic seasonal lives in AK. We figured that the organic food here costs what conventional food did in Alaska, so it was do-able, especially for the benefit to our baby.

    But I have had Celiac (GF since 2012) and Hashimoto’s (Naturethroid since 2010) and panic and anxiety for well over a decade and a half and eczema my whole life, and I began to worry my gut health (despite copious kombucha drinking) might be a limiting factor for my baby’s health while we are breastfeeding and beyond. I felt SO great while pregnant, and now I’m starting to feel not so great, though it might just be the sleep deprivation & etc from having a newborn, it has gotten me thinking more about my health conditions.

    I started to think about it in greater detail since he was born for another reason. I had eaten dairy my whole pregnancy, mainly goat milk and goat’s milk kefir with a fair bit of cow’s cheese, since it was the easiest protein and our living situation at the time was not conducive to cooking, but baby has shown signs (gas & gas pain, excessive bloating, mucus-y poops, colicky symptoms) that dairy is not agreeing with his system. So I cut it out which lead me to consider GAPS for gut healing which led me to AIP when one website said not to do GAPS while breastfeeding. I had heard others did AIP while bfeeding, and they were fine. I don’t eat a SAD anyway, so I figured transitioning to AIP would be not so extreme. I am only on day two-threeish as I make the transition to AIP (aka while my partner learns what I can and cannot have on the AIP and realizes that I am serious about it.)

    Sorry for writing all of that, but I guess I needed to get it off my chest! I guess my point is, that often this journey to health (both personal and planetary) through real food and natural products is so overwhelming, but there is no way I can stop now, which makes me very tired and stressed and anxious. I find it hard to decide what to pursue when it all seems so important! How can I store food in ziploc bags when I’m supposed to be making sure that food is the most nutritious it can be? And when can I stop worrying and enjoy life? I feel like I’m trying to do a four year degree in four months.

    • Angie Alt says

      Olive, slow down & take one step at at time. Most of us that have done this, did so over years & years. There is no switch that you flip & suddenly it is all in place. Especially w/ a new little one at home, choose one thing a month to focus on & transition. In a year things will be much different & in three you’ll be living a completely new life. It is okay to take things slowly.

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