I've noticed something about the human brain--mine, at least. In matters of self-control, the brain is binary. It's either on or off. It's either yes or no. There's no such thing as middle ground.
We have a tendency to think our controls are analog, from too many years spent turning the volume knob on the radio up or down. Smokers think they can cut back. Alcoholics think they can handle just one drink. People who struggle with weight think they can have an extra snack "just this once."
It's as though we picture our mental control board as being covered by dials. When we go on a diet, we turn down the Junk Food Dial all the way to OFF, and there it stays, and as long as we keep it there, the weight comes off.
But then we start feeling in control as we reach our target, and we give ourselves permission to have a tiny, harmless indulgence. We turn the dial to the first position up from OFF, secure in the knowledge that we'll be fine.
What we don't understand, however, is that the brain is not analog. Behind what we think is the control board, lie the real controls: toggle switches. Back when we started the diet and turned the dial all the way down, it flipped the switch to the OFF position. We no longer had permission to cheat with our eating.
But when we turned that dial to the '1' position, the toggle switched ON. Permission granted. All systems GO. If you've fought the fat battle before, you know what happened next.
When my mom and I were on our trip, we did a great job of eating right and keeping our weight from getting out of hand, the way weight can when you travel. But sometime after I got back home, I turned up the dial a tiny bit, and--because I was mostly careful--very, very slowly, I gained weight. Enough that some of my clothes didn't fit right anymore.
So about six weeks ago, I embarked on a diet program with supplements (nothing dangerous) and an eating-right plan and a workout plan (that I usually ignore). I turned the Eating switch to OFF (aka, Diet Mode) and began obediently following the food part of the plan.
About a week into it, my daughter brought me one of those tiny squares of dark chocolate, about three-quarters of an inch across. She prefers milk chocolate, and dark is my favorite, so that's why she gave it to me. But I left it on the counter, unwilling to eat it, and not even tempted to break my diet for it, except that she was disappointed that I didn't eat her gift right away. What to do?
After giving it some thought, I told my daughter that the chocolate would be my reward for losing ten pounds. It's been sitting on the counter, next to my supplements and food plan/recipe book, ever since.
Yes, today I finally hit -10 lbs., and tonight I had that piece of chocolate in four leisurely bites with a cup of tea.
I think my decision to use the chocolate as a reward for a finite event is enough to keep my brain from flipping ON the Chocolate Permission switch. At least, I certainly hope it is. And it helps that there's no other chocolate in the house.
So tomorrow I should be back with the program, obediently OFF for all the edible perils that lurk in the world around me. But only time will tell...