A reader asked a good question this morning: How do you eat just one cookie?

In other words, how do you not finish off the entire batch? How do you stop at just one?

This is a loaded question. Because the truth is, I’ve taken a multifaceted approach and gone through a good deal of trial and error to get to where I am today.

It's All About Balance

To begin, let me tell you what it does not entail: My ability to eat just one cookie has nothing to do with the fact that I am more disciplined than the next person. That’s a huge misconception that I’d like to take the time to clarify.

I don’t consider myself to have unusually high levels of discipline. When it comes to nutrition, I actually hardly ever tap into my willpower at all to make the food decisions that I do.

How can this be? Because, for the most part, I eat what I want. I don’t have to rely on my self-control to abstain from any of my favorite treats because I figure out a way to work them into my day.

In the morning, all I’m thinking about is a hot cup of coffee with some Stevia and cream.

For breakfast, I’ll typically eat whatever suits my fancy plus a heaping serving of protein. That may mean a quesadilla and a mound of chicken breast; that can also mean a grilled cheese sandwich and some scrambled eggs.

Later in the afternoon, I’ll treat myself to a cookie and a protein shake after a training session.

I balance everything out, you see. If I have a sweet, I pair it with a protein. If I know I’m going to eat greasy food and imbibe in the evening, I’ll rein it in a little more during the day.

I think beyond just what I want right at this very moment and also take into consideration what the rest of the week is looking like for me. Do I have a date planned with my fiancé this upcoming Saturday night? There will likely be wine involved. If I know I get to have some wine this weekend, then can I afford to wait a few days for it? Most of the time, the answer will be yes.

This is delayed gratification, the ability to put off an immediate reward (in this case, some sort of treat) so you can enjoy it at a later time.

I do this daily.

For example, I know that I can have those cookies any time I want. I normally keep those kinds of indulgences to my post-workout meal, though—and that includes things like sugary cereal. I may be a flexible dieter, but I still care about the quality of the food that I’m eating, and I’ll be the last person to recommend a steady diet of sugar and grease.

A Cookie's Just a Cookie

Note that there’s a difference between delayed gratification and caving in to a pile of junk food. The first is planned and calculated; you’ve weighed your options and, though you know that you can have a food at any time you please, you make the conscientious decision to have it at a time when you can enjoy it more thoroughly. The second is accidental, sloppy, and unplanned.

For those of you who struggle to eat just one cookie and move on with your life, consider the following questions:

  • How restrictive am I with my food choices?
  • Do I ever put cookies off-limits? If so, how often?
  • How do I feel when I see cookies? Do I feel anxious, nervous, stressed?
  • What am I doing when I eat cookies? Am I sitting down focusing on the treat, or am I standing up and scrolling through my phone while I stuff my face?
  • What were to happen if I ate a cookie every single day?
  • I say this all the time: Never place a food off limits—especially food that you really love. If cookies are your jam, then why in the world would you turn them down?

Nobody ever got fat from eating one cookie.

Remember, just because you eat one doesn’t mean you have to clean off the entire plate. The sense of urgency you feel may come from old behavior patterns. Maybe you’re used to only enjoying cookies during a cheat meal and you’re going through Last Chance Syndrome (i.e. eating all the cookies that you can right now because tomorrow you won’t be able to eat them again).

Listen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what to eat. And conversely, don’t let anyone tell you what you shouldn’t eat.

You’re allowed to have a cookie.

You’re allowed to have a cookie.

You’re allowed to have a cookie.

This much I’ll admit: Making this mental transition is not going to happen overnight.

Surround Yourself With "Cheat" Foods

Do you want to know something that may seem wild and crazy? I keep cookies around all the time. My cabinets are full of Cheetos, sugary cereal, and gummy bears. In my freezer, you’ll always find frozen Kit Kat bars (I swear they taste better that way!) and ice cream.

Why? Because if I know the food is around and always available, its urgency goes away. Consider it a form of exposure therapy, if you will.

The funny thing is, ever since I started keeping those treats around my home, I’ve craved them less and less. If I can have them any time I want, then why should I have to finish off the entire box right at this instant? I don’t.

If the prospect of keeping cookies around at home terrifies you, know that you’re not alone. I thought for the longest time that the best way to get rid of my food fears was to stay away from said foods as much as possible. Throw out anything with sugar, avoid the ice cream shop, never walk down the cookies and chips aisle at the grocery store.

But wow, that was exhausting.

And guess what? It didn’t work! I became even more afraid of sugar and would pretty much have a breakdown if I got anywhere near sugar.

No more.

Ban no foods. Otherwise, it doesn’t end well. The point is to not obsess over what you’re eating.

To summarize, here’s how you stop at just one cookie:

  • Never keep cookies off-limits.
  • Work them into your everyday eats if you have to in order to realize that 1) there’s nothing to be afraid of and 2) one cookie never hurt anybody.
  • Only eat a cookie that’s really, really delicious. What’s the point of a mediocre, stale cookie?
  • Be mindful, be present, be focused.

This post was was written by Sohee Lee and was originally published on SoheeFit. Sohee is an NSCA-CSCS-certified trainer and a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor.

READ THIS NEXT: How Eating More and Moving Less Helped Me Lose Weight and Change My Life Target Sugar Promo