One Won’t Hurt

Lucy is driving home from a lousy day at work and a sudden urge to pull over and down a martini or three at her favorite bar overwhelms her. Now that she feels a little calmer, she also buys a bottle of wine to have with dinner. After all, anyone who suffered a ‘day from hell’ like she did would do the same, wouldn’t they? Of course they would. Besides, she can go to her 12-step meeting tomorrow and sort it all out, she reasons.

Peter stands facing the deli window lusting after the rather large chocolate éclair that beckons to him. He fantasizes indulging in the aroma and taste of this heavenly goodie. Having gained over 100 pounds over the last 15 years, he knows he shouldn’t walk into the store, but his wife and kids would really enjoy them! He reassures himself that he doesn’t have to partake. But, maybe just one little bite wouldn’t sabotage his diet, right?

Lucy and Peter had the same behavioral reaction to things they both knew would start them down a slippery slope. How does this happen and why?

It’s The Neurons. It’s Babalui.

Studies show that cravings involve a complex mix of social, cultural and psychological factors, heavily influenced by environmental cues.

Typically, people crave things they enjoy—but not always. It’s like an itch that needs scratching—it feels good in the moment, but overdoing it causes long term ongoing problems. Experts say that desires for pleasurable treats are fine on occasion—say, for pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, gingerbread at Christmas or for healthy choices year-round. But indulging too often can send some people spiraling out of control.

Some psychologists suspect that many people may be ‘self-medicating,’ because giving in to certain foods, beverages, drugs and even activities like excess shopping spur release of serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals. Reward systems in the brain, if stimulated in the right way by anything that gives temporary pleasure, will influence behavior towards the ongoing indulgence of the moment.

Addictive and compulsive behavior is what happens when the reward system is over-stimulated by drugs, sex, food, gambling, alcohol, shopping and other high-reward stimuli in susceptible people. For many folks these things may not literally be addictive, but they do often drive them to consume and participate in these habits more than they think they should, despite negative consequences to their weight and health.

‘Babalui’ is a major part of compulsive desire.

Babalui The Saboteur

‘Babalui’ is the name I have given to the part of our human nature that does not want to feel deprived. I have watched Babalui at work in my years of clinical practice and working with many hundreds of guests at destination health resorts. I have seen Babalui play havoc in my own life.

Babalui is the internal saboteur we all share to a lesser or greater extent. It’s the little voice within that says, “One won’t hurt. Go ahead and just have ONE. You can always go back on your program and recommit tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, having ‘one’ is often not the end of the story. After you eat one bowl of ice cream for example, Babalui says “Well, didn’t that taste great? Why don’t you have another scoop? Now that we are at it, why don’t we eat the whole container? After all, you’ve blown it today. Besides, you can always start again tomorrow.”

But tomorrow never comes. You know that and so does Babalui, but this scenario happens day after day and so on.

How to Deal with Babalui

Babalui is always lurking, waiting to grant your unconscious wishes: to give you pleasure when you feel down or a plausible rationalization for excesses when you have a celebratory event. Babalui has a book of 4365 excuses ready and available for you to borrow – just pick one that matches your situation.

There is always a strong desire, a key moment that occurs just before you impulsively act upon it. This moment can be a feeling of anxiety or a sense that something is missing, an emptiness in your gut. A thrilling high like when you receive a promotion or win a prize can trigger Babalui too. It’s at this point in time that you must recognize the Saboteur and deal with the potential trap. Whenever our nervous system is disturbed by emotional depression, negativity and frustration or even excitement – anything that causes the brain to deviate from homeostatic calm or balance – the door opens to the Saboteur. This is when Babalui interjects, “I can help.”

It’s at this precise moment when you must emphatically say, “No. Not today Babalui. Next week.” 

It’s at this precise moment when you must emphatically say, “No. Not today Babalui. Next week.” This particular rebuttal is phrased this way for several reasons. The first is that many studies have shown that the more people try to restrict themselves from anything, the more they want it. For example, tell children they can’t have a particular toy and they scream all the louder. So you distract them. You nudge them gently away from that moment of emotional intensity. The second reason you don’t push back hard against Babalui is that when you delay responding to a craving or desire, you weaken it. Babalui let’s go. You have ‘ridden the wave’ to calmer shores by accepting and observing your thoughts and feelings without acting upon them.

Of course, the following week Babalui shows up and says, “Let’s party!” You say again, “Next week, Babalui. Not today, next week. Remember?” Now Babalui is not that bright and responds in the affirmative. It’s a little white lie that you knowingly tell, but what the heck, Babalui has told you that ‘One won’t hurt’ for years and in many cases it does. It’s payback time.

Truth and Consequences

It all boils down to being honest with yourself when Babalui entices you with rewards of tabooed indulgence. Can I stick to my commitment to having just one drink? Or one piece of chocolate? Can I really? When you have an unhealthy relationship with anything that you can’t pursue moderately, Babalui is there waiting patiently to engage and egg you on.

Think of the momentary pleasure you get versus the long-term consequences of misleading yourself.

In the spirit of self-honesty, what would happen if you were to have ‘just one’ while under Babalui’s spell? To help answer that question, what happened in the past when you gave in? That’s a clue. What were the physical and psychological impacts you suffered when you caved in to cravings and gave up on commitments you made to yourself?

If we give in to unhealthy temptations that we promised we wouldn’t, we begin to stop trusting ourselves. And as the saying goes, if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? You lower your standards and expect less of yourself so that you don’t feel bad when you lie to the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

We must strive to develop an ability to sit in the discomfort of temporary deprivation and find healthier ways to release it. We can go for a walk or choose a healthier alternative. For example, if you have a sugar craving attack, enjoy a bowl of delicious mango with strawberries covered with almond milk and a few raw crushed nuts. Healthy, sensual pleasures are a must!

It takes stamina to stay on the right track. It’s human nature to want to minimize physical and psychological pain or emotional highs and lows, but it is also our nature to seek an inner peace and happiness that doesn’t depend on something external.

There is no better alternative for anyone seeking moderation, balance, and a better way of life.

So, screw you Babalui. See you next week. I’m ready for you.