It’s kind of like when you’re walking through the toy section at Target; you know – there’re those toys that have the buttons that say “push me”. Now, it’s likely that you aren’t even remotely interested in buying that troll looking doll that sings AND dances; but not pushing the button is completely out of the question. It’s like a magnetic force that draws your finger directly to it – Can. Not. Resist. Force. You did it, pushed that button, and now the toy is singing (extremely loudly) and doing something that sort of looks like convulsing (think Elaine dancing on Seinfeld – “the full body heave”). Needless to say, people are turning your direction to see what all the commotion is about. Frantically, you search for the off button and find that THERE ISN’T ONE! There is no way to turn this thing off, and just your luck, the song of choice just happens to be endless and annoying. (Sort of like this introduction…) You think to yourself, “why did I push that damn button”, even though you say that EVERY single time you do it.
If you haven’t figured out where this is going yet, let me help you. Let’s consider that bag of chips, can of nuts, or bowl of candy. You don’t really ‘want’ the stale Dorito, cashew, or piece of candy corn, but it’s there and just one won’t hurt, right? It’s like that magnetic force is drawing your hand to the food and putting it in your mouth, and now it’s too late. The button has been pushed and there is NO STOPPING until the entire bag, can, or bowl is empty and maybe not even until the entire day, weekend, week or month is over. The button is stuck and the off switch is nowhere to be found.
What is it with this phenomenon? Why is it SO impossible to stop once we start? And why the heck do we start in the first place? First, let’s identify the trigger – are you having a bad day, are you happy, bored, or did the food just ‘appear’ (think complimentary tortilla chips or bread at a restaurant). Any of these reasons, along with a laundry list of others, can drive us to push the ‘on’ button and give into our cravings, emotions, or even peer pressure. There are also all of these crazy chemicals and hormones in our brains that drive us to keep pushing the ‘on’ button even when we know we shouldn’t, don’t want to, and aren’t even going to enjoy it. It’s exactly like the toy and the song – at first it’s cute and catchy, after awhile, yeah, it’s still cute but the song is starting to get a little old. By the time the toy FINALLY stops singing you swear that if you EVER hear that song again, someone is going to get hurt. In the case of, let’s say M&M’s, the first ten or so taste great, the next ten are still pretty good but not quite as good as the first. The ‘on’ button has been pushed, you keep going and there’s no turning back until you’ve reached the bottom of the bag. By the time you get to the end of the ginormous sack of sweet you feel like you’re going to be sick and swear that you’ll never eat another M&M ever again.
Let’s go back to the toy aisle for a minute – you push one of those ‘on’ buttons, but instead of singing and convulsing like usual, the toy does nothing. So what do you do? Push the button again, of course – but the follow-up attempts are proving as unsuccessful as the first. Finally, you give up, set the toy down and search for your next victim. I know what you’re thinking – “yeah Amy, but my ‘on’ button NEVER malfunctions like that.” Am I right? Think about this scenario for a second: You walk into the break room at work and are greeted with a beautiful tray of fresh vegetables. You grab a carrot, a piece of cauliflower, and a cherry tomato, calling it good. Whoa!! Well, I’ll be damned – no ‘on’ button… Craziness! Replace that veggie tray with a bowl of candy or chips, plate of mini-brownies, or box of donuts, and the ‘on’ button suddenly starts working again. What’s up with that? Why is it that only certain foods push our ‘on’ buttons, and others do absolutely nothing?
There are several reasons that trail mix can do what a tomato cannot. Here comes the brain again (that reminds me of a song – hey, if I have to suffer – so do you…). Yep, all those crazy circuits and neurotransmitters hard at work. There are underlying genetic and individual factors that play into all of this and how our brain responds to different ‘addictive’ substances. This is why some of us can control our ‘on’ buttons better than others. It all has to do with the value that the ‘reward’ brings to us, or how much pleasure we get from the M&M’s or chips. Unfortunately, the sneaky food industry is in on this little secret and has concocted ‘hyper-palatable’ foods to bait and hook us. Just take some high fructose corn syrup (also known as street legal crack), combine it with some refined white flour, tasty hydrogenated fat, and a plethora of artificial flavors. Finally add the ‘piece de resistance’ and finish that bad boy off with a sprinkle of salt – or better yet – MSG. Yep, that right there folks is the stuff that dreams are made of… Those test kitchen wizards know our weak spots. DO NOT let them bamboozle you and push your ‘on’ button! You’re smarter than that! You don’t have SUCKER tattooed across your forehead, do you?
I know, in a ‘perfect’ world (the one where unicorns and fairies exist and there are no taxes) we would all vow to NEVER let our ‘on’ buttons be pushed again. Unfortunately the temptations are everywhere, and unlike alcohol and cigarettes, we can’t avoid food all together. So, the whole eat until its gone scenario is one that plays out often for some of us. The key is to stop it before it starts. Like the toy in the store, once the button has been pushed – you’re committed, no going back and no getting out alive. But stop! Yes, I know it’s easier said than done. Let’s say you’re munching on some trail mix (right out of the really big bag you bought at Costco…) and you get to the point where it still tastes good, but it’s not ‘great’. This is when you need to stop. Pick up an almond (or raisin, chocolate chip, etc.) look at it and ask yourself, what is eating this nut going to do for me, and am I truly enjoying this, or just eating it because it’s here and I started? Is this piece going to taste as good as the first piece did? Answer these questions honestly, and really think about how further handfuls of this stuff are going to make you feel. That pause maybe all the time it takes for the ‘song’ to reach its end; saving you from another three cups of the mix, followed by guilt and a stomachache.
If you’ve discovered that like the toy you don’t have a ‘pause’ or ‘off’ button, remember this simple mantra – tape it to the fridge, cabinets, pantry; tattoo it to your forehead; put it wherever you need it – but whatever you do – don’t forget it! Are you ready? This is profound stuff people… Here it is: “If you can’t turn it off, don’t turn it on.” Yep, I told you – GROUNDBREAKING!!! Don’t push that button – why start what you already know will not end well? Avoid temptation. If the toy aisle at Target is problematic – just don’t even go there in the first place. If there are no buttons to push, you and your fellow shoppers are ‘safe’. The same is true with food – if the chip or bread basket is a problem don’t even let them bring it to the table. If nuts, candy, ice cream, etc, are your gig then they probably shouldn’t be guests in your house. No buttons – no temptation – no regrets. An occasional indulgence is totally okay – but know your limits, and no matter what you do remember –
“If you can’t turn it off, don’t it turn on.”