Just This One Time

In session this week, my client, Tom, told me that over the weekend he’d eaten an unplanned snack in the middle of the day. Tom, like many of my clients, follows an eating schedule. This means that every time he thinks about food (and he thinks about food A LOT!), he doesn’t have to go through the struggle of asking himself, “Should I eat right now? Should I wait? Is it reasonable to eat now? Am I really hungry? Is this just a craving? Should I put it off for a little while or just have something now?” Instead, the answer is very clear cut: if it’s time to eat, he eats. If it’s not time to eat, he doesn’t eat. Every day, Tom eats breakfast, a small snack, lunch, a snack, dinner, and dessert. This past weekend, however, he ate two snacks between lunch and dinner. I asked Tom what sabotaging thought led to the extra snack, and he said it was something like, “Everyone else is having a snack right now, so it’s okay if I do, too. Just this one time won’t matter.”

Man holding ice cream cone“Just this one time won’t matter,” is a classic sabotaging thought, and it’s related to the thought, “Just this little bit won’t matter.” These thoughts are rationalizations; they falsely claim that this one experience won’t impact the next time, or the time after that. Tom and I discussed the fact that every time matters, because every time has consequences for the next time. This is because he’s either strengthening his resistance muscle or strengthening his giving-in muscle. If he gives in one time and has an extra snack, it’s not a guarantee he’ll give in the next time he’s tempted. But it is a guarantee he’ll struggle more not to give in, because he strengthened his giving-in muscle. Every time he has more food than he’d planned, even if it’s just a little bit, it becomes harder for him to resist extra food the next time he’s tempted. Giving in – just once, or just a little bit – makes the struggle greater!

Tom came up with a great analogy: giving in is not an isolated event. It’s like knocking down the first domino in a chain. Even if you don’t want to knock down all of the dominoes, knocking over that first domino will do just that. What you do one time has consequences for future decisions. With this powerful image in his head, Tom felt much more confident about his ability to respond to that pesky just this one time thought the next time it occurred.

2 replies
  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    This is a great reminder of how to talk back to sabotaging thoughts. It is just so much easier to stick to the plan!

    Reply
  2. Nicole Eid
    Nicole Eid says:

    I use eating on “time” with people who are still finding it difficult to recognize hunger. But I wonder if the domino analogy is not risky as it might strengthen the all or nothing way of thinking “if I give in this one time, then am giving up the whole diet”

    Reply

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