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When You Don't Have a Stop Button

It is Friday night and the accumulation of a week's worth of stress is starting to feel heavy. The stop-and-go traffic, your boss' last minute request, the note from your son's teacher, and a nasty exchange between your mother. Finally you have a moment to yourself, and you sure could use some relief.

A bowl of ice cream sounds good. There is a $10 jar of Belgian chocolate hot fudge in the fridge. The good stuff you splurged on last week at the store. You know where the pint of sea salt caramel Talenti is stashed. Same place you left it a few days ago. In the back of the freezer door under the bag of peas. Where your husband wouldn't find it.

The question is no longer if you should have it, it is how you can get to it fast enough. It is urgent, and nothing will stand in the way between you and that first bite.

30 seconds later the microwave beeps and you spoon the dark molten sauce like lava over the mound of cold ice cream. The scoops soften under the warmth of the chocolate blanket and begin to melt. This is how you like it. You don't waste time carrying your bowl to the table, you simply stand at the counter and dip in your spoon. Heaven.

One bite follows another quickly as your mind still processes the drama of the day. Before you know it, all that's left is a milky liquid coating the sides of the bowl, and you eagerly scrape that up, too. Restlessness is still there, so now you need more. Something else. A couple of cookies from the pantry, a few chocolate-covered almonds, a stray half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pretty soon you are doing the familiar dance of scouring the kitchen for everything and anything you can put in your mouth.

So many of us feel like we don't have an off button when it comes to eating. A primitve urge drives us to that first bite and we feel powerless after that. There is a problem we think only food can solve, but then the food never feels like enough.

The good news is this is completely normal. Our brains are hard-wired to seek comfort from food, and the dopamine hit we get from it propels even more desire. Especially when we eat refined or processed foods, and ingredients with a lot of sugar. The more we react to these primitve desires by overeating, the more we perpetuate the habit until it becomes unconscious. Pretty soon we feel like we don't even have a choice. It feels beyond our control.

But you always have a choice. The same way you unknowingly trained your brain to respond to stress and discomfort with food, you can teach it to be aware and deliberate around what you eat. You can pay attention to hunger, learn what it feels like to be satisfied, and manage urges to overeat without reacting with food. Those tools are available to you, they just take some practice.

When I lost 30 pounds for the last time, I realized I did have a stop button and could access it at any time. The truth is, I always stopped eating at some point. Whether it was after the fifth piece of chocolate cake, or after a tiny taste.

Being aware of your authority over what you put in your mouth, and taking ownership of it, is the first step to weight loss. Instead of believing you are at the mercy of food, realize you are fully capable of changing your relationship with eating. Your brain is the most powerful assest you have, and when you train your thoughts to work for you, rather than against, weight loss is no longer an unattainable fantasy. It is an entirely possible reality.

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