Delaying Instant Gratification

Last week, I had a session with my client Sarah, who told me about an experience she had the previous day overcoming a big craving. It was late afternoon, and she was feeling tired and stressed about an important work project. She started to have a strong craving for something sweet, specifically the cookies that she had bought at the grocery store the previous day. Although Sarah and I have been working on the guideline of “no dessert before dinner,” her sabotaging thoughts tried to convince her that, “just this one time was okay,” and that she “would have dessert before dinner but not have it again later.” (Both of these are clear sabotaging thoughts because every time has consequences for the next time. Even if she didn’t go on to have dessert after dinner, she would still be strengthening her giving-in muscle and reinforcing the notion that if she didn’t feel like sticking to her plan, she didn’t have to.)

Sarah got up from her desk and started walking to the kitchen when something lucky happened. A coworker called her with a question, and it took Sarah about 10 minutes to finish her phone call. Once it was over, she realized that the urgency of the craving had gone away. While she still wanted to have a cookie in that moment, she recognized that doing so would sabotage her goals, and it wasn’t worth it. She ended up making herself a cup of tea and got back to work.

Sarah and I discussed this in session, and we realized that the delay between wanting to eat a cookie and being able to allowed her rational mind to intervene and recognize the consequences of giving in before she did so. This is hard to do – like most people who struggle with their eating, Sarah focuses on how much she wants the food and not why it’s worth it to her to resist a craving. Especially for most people currently working from home with their kitchens only steps away, having a craving and giving in to the instant gratification of fulfilling it is way woman writing notestoo easy.

We decided that whenever Sarah had a craving, she had to set a timer on her phone for 10 minutes and find something distracting to do in the interim (call someone, take a short walk, play a game or do a puzzle on her phone, organize a drawer, do a meditation, read Response Cards, etc.). Once the timer went off, she could decide whether to eat the food. Doing it this way meant she couldn’t rely on instant gratification to make decisions for her. By taking some time before acting, it would allow her rational mind to be more deliberate.

When I met with Sarah this week, she told me the timer strategy had been enormously effective. While it was hard to get herself to set the timer and not give in immediately, she found that it almost always did the trick in terms of allowing her enough time to make a choice that supported her goals.

If you’re struggling with having the kitchen available to you all day, consider this strategy! When you have a craving, remind yourself that you can have that food, you just have to wait 10 minutes to decide. In those 10 minutes, find something distracting to do so your brain stops thinking about eating and starts thinking about something else. Chances are by the time your timer goes off, the urgency of the craving will have passed and you can think more clearly about what you want to do.

2 replies
  1. Janet O
    Janet O says:

    I cannot tell you how much this helps me! I have recently found myself wanting to eat healthy portion sizes which has been very challenging considering my work-from-home environment. Thank you so much for these insights. It helps to know I’m not alone, and that others make meaningful changes to their mindset to help them eat better.

    Reply
  2. Rosemarie
    Rosemarie says:

    What a GREAT idea! I am going to do this every time I have a craving or even when I’ve already decided I’m allowed to have a dessert. Thanks so much! I am going to share this with my friends.

    Reply

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