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The Path To The Holy Grail-Reprogramming The Reward Center.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

The human heart needs sense of purpose and accomplishment. The energizing why behind the what. Obesity is a destroyer of lives, not only physically, but emotionally as well. When I was 385 pounds, my entire existence was defined by what I can't do. From clothes that I can't fit into to stairs I can't climb, my world revolved around can't. The bigger I got, the smaller my reward system became until few things were left to stimulate or satisfy....except food. It was always there.  I was slowly robbed of my life as the weight crept on. With each pound I put on, my mind adjusted to the new normal until I saw the world through rose colored glasses. Everything was normal so long as no one took my picture.  Stupid cameras, they never catch my good side.

Things are different now.  I operate off of a totally different system. What I unwittingly did was start the process of reprogramming my brains reward center.  The human brain is the most complex computer system known and mankind has yet to tap even a small percentage of its capability.  With my disordered eating, there have been associations and behavioral patterns deeply ingrained into my system so that when certain stimuli are present, I would almost automatically "execute" the script.. See food-eat it.

Like any other addict, I had to replace one addiction with its rewards with another set of rewards. You cannot just take away a treasured reward system and replace it with nothing. For the exchange to take place and addictions to be surrendered voluntarily, the addiction has to be surrendered for something perceived to be of equal or greater value. This is why deprivation diets do not work. You are trying to exchange something of perceived value for something worse than nothing. Who in their right mind wants to exchange pleasure for lack and suffering? So long as there is nothing of greater value, addictions will always have power. In other words, when the addiction is the greatest source of comfort and validation, it will always rule until something that has greater regarded value takes its place.

This is one reason I have spent so much time hammering out the different avenues that my quest for emotional stability has taken me. It was the path to calm the storm within. To get me to realize that I too have worth and value. That I am worthy to be loved, respected, and that I am a worthwhile person. I don't need food to sedate me anymore. I am no longer a slave who needs the approval of others in order to feel validated.  I now stand on my own two feet.  Without this realization, it is impossible to let go of an addiction.

Running and endurance sports has been a game changer for me. While this is not a cure all for everyone, there is a point to be made here. The basic point is that I was able to derive a sense of accomplishment from challenging myself and training until I cross the finish line of successively more difficult events.  The "feel good" associations in my brain were being created, linking self worth, empowerment, and a sense of accomplishment to something other than food.  

Recreating new response pathways in the brain is key to overcoming old behavior patterns.  That is why emphasis is placed on creating a competing behavior. When you are feeling down, instead of eating this, make yourself do XXXX instead. Over time, new response pathways will begin to be created and will eventually take hold if they are nurtured.

My trainer understood this principle when she encouraged me to train for my first 5k. She knew that if I went after a seemingly out of reach goal and managed to do it, the sense of accomplishment would be a powerful motivator for me. She was right.  I dropped the 5k days before the event and signed up for the 10k instead because while training for the 5k, i had found that i got a real sense of accomplishment when i was able to go further and was doing about 5 miles once a week or so. I felt so empowered in running longer distances that i just kept coming back for more. While doing an extra 1.2 miles isn't a big deal, it was a leap into the unknown for me. I left the safety of the 5k, where I knew could do it, and moved to the 10k because I started to have this glimmer of a notion that I could do it and that people actually WONT laugh at me...like they did all my life in gym class. Aaaaahhhh gym class, the scene of every negative reinforcement that associated physical exercise with public humiliation. Why did the chubby kid (ie...me ) always get picked to be on the "skins" team? I was so relieved when they finally started using jerseys to mark the opposing team members opposed to taking off our shirts. Gym, the class paid for by public funds to ensure I would grow up HATING sports because it validated the notion that no one liked me because I was usually picked last and because every class always highlighted my obesity in some VERY public way. So much for my formative years.

That finishers ribbon became a treasured possession, equal in value to my first marathon medal. That floppy 10 cent ribbon became the first thing I ever earned in my life that embodied the courage that I have and now hold in my hand tangible proof that I can do it. That I am not a quitter. A new addiction was born.

Courage is courage no matter the distance.

That day I found that I not only had the courage to start but I had the will to finish.  That day, I earned my own self respect.  That day, I looked myself in the eye and saw a champion staring back in the mirror. That day, at 330 lbs, I became a runner and never looked back.

That day I exchanged one addiction for another. The feelings of accomplishing a goal or simply being true to my principles has grown into a driving force to the point that my desire to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line, going longer distances, of taking on greater challenges has become greater than the cheap thrill that food abuse delivers.  Overeating is seen as a threat to that reward much in the same way that you don't want to be the one standing between a junkie and his fix. I crave the reward to the point that nothing else will do. Food can't touch it any more unless I allow it too.

The point of a dedicated commitment to daily goals, even just 10 min a day, goes far beyond simply burning a few calories. This is reprogramming the habit and reward center of the brain. Don't just shrug off a short session simply because you don't have the time to create a significant calorie burn.  There is a sense of reward generated every time we honor a commitment. Over time, the desire for the positive reward will become stronger and more influential in the daily decisions. This desire is what is oft termed as motivation. Basically you are creating a new reward system that, over time, will be able to compete with the old one. The rewards of accomplishing your goals will never grow to a competitive strength unless it is fed daily.

It takes time to find what empowers you but it is worth the effort to find it. Finding it puts you one step closer to finding your Holy Grail.

Next In Series- Recovering From Food Addiction
www.sparkpeople.c
om/mypage_public_journal_i
ndividual.asp?blog_id=4915755







Previous In The "Path To The Holy Grail" Series

Intoduction to the Holy Grail
www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
ge_public_journal_individu
al.asp?blog_id=4862929


Emotional balance part 1 - journey to the center of the problem
www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
ge_public_journal_individu
al.asp?blog_id=4867588


Emotional balance part 2 - Relationship with the scale
www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
ge_public_journal_individu
al.asp?blog_id=4883555


Emotional balance part 3 - Self talk
www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
ge_public_journal_individu
al.asp?blog_id=4886607


Emotional balance part 4 - Realistic weight loss goals
www.sparkpeople.c
om/mypage_public_journal_i
ndividual.asp?blog_id=4897677


Emotional balance part 5 - Independence And Passion.
www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
ge_public_journal_individu
al.asp?blog_id=4905207


Reprogramming The Reward Center
www.sparkpeople.c
om/mypage_public_journal_i
ndividual.asp?blog_id=4910896
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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ALIDOSHA 10/17/2012 5:24PM

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KEEPMESPARKED 7/7/2012 2:16AM

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ROJAKHAN 6/29/2012 11:32AM

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GINIEMIE 6/23/2012 11:03AM

    I've read some of your other blogs but this one is inspiring me to seek what I can do to reprogram my motivation.
Thanks.
emoticon emoticon

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WHITEANGEL4 6/15/2012 9:00PM

    Well said. We all have something that is holding us back, but your success shows that we all can do it in our own way. Thanks

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ZENSTEPH 6/12/2012 2:43AM

    Thank you! emoticon

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KRITTYGIRL67 6/9/2012 8:21AM

    Well said, thanks for sharing. Yesterday I ran 10 minutes of my 80 min. walking work out===and couldn't believe I could ever DO that!

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COOKIE_AT_51 6/8/2012 6:30AM

    Thank you so much for taking the time to record and share your thoughts and discoveries ... I keep re-reading. So important to find out the "why" and change it for the better.

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EVER-HOPEFUL 6/8/2012 2:09AM

    emoticon

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JUSTYNA7 6/7/2012 5:53PM

    Thankyou for putting into words what has happened to me. As a recovering compulsive eater I have not really understood it. But I accomplished my goal. I walked the seemingly (for me) impossible Rideau trail end to end. Sure others may do it in 2 weeks and it took me 5 years, but I did it. It filled me with pride and purpose and that sense of accomplishment and yes, it meant putting one more foot in front of the other. I am not, never will be a runner because I physically cannot. However that trail was my Holy Grail. It meant I had to meet smaller goals and now those smaller goals are becoming goals in themselves, to live consistently healthy. Thank you again. Justyna

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HIKETOHEIGHTS 6/7/2012 4:47PM

    I enjoyed your blog emoticon

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OTCHHC 6/7/2012 11:56AM

  This is one of the most awesome things I have ever read. You so echo my own experiences (including the gym class!!!!). And you mention so many things that I have been slowly learning about over the last 10 years, and you put it all together. This may be the last link I have been missing to get me to finally commit. Thank you SO, SO much for sharing. You are an angel that came along at the right time.

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KMMR87 6/7/2012 10:08AM

    Thank you for your courage.

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BLUEJEAN99 6/7/2012 1:56AM

    emoticon

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NIMAWEYGH 6/6/2012 11:36PM

    Robert what a difference this has made in me just the past few days that I have been reading. I am sharing with some of my SP teams and SP friends because I think this is just life changing.

Thank you so much for caring enough to want to help those of us you do not even know.

Amazing.

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FLDEEZ 6/6/2012 10:47PM

    I have been thinking of this blog post since I read it last night. Thank you for taking the time and effort to write. I have been doing so good with eating healthy, but was craving a "reward" for getting through tough days - drinks at night, fast food breakfast on the way to work, sweets at the office. Ugh. Why do I consider those as rewards?? Thank you for helping me to reframe - I hope you realize what a huge deal that is - thank you!!

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GRANNYQUINN 6/6/2012 10:00PM

    Wow , such a powerful message. I began to hate climbing the rope in gym. But, today I rode 26 mile after two legs down for a year and a half , there is nothing that I would not do to walk again. Thank-you for the inspiration. Kudos to you!

Comment edited on: 6/6/2012 10:01:52 PM

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KENIKE08 6/6/2012 7:27PM

    Your story is encouraging. Replacing something for nothing does do more damage to the overall goal. Sometimes I felt that the replacement wasn't as good as what I replaced, but with time I learned to pick things that motivated me enough to make the change. Congratulations on all the progress you have made

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RUTHEY01 6/6/2012 2:26PM

    emoticon Thank you for sharing your story. I was a chubby pre-teen and got made fun of in school also. It was a very uncomfortable time for me, 5'2" and 195 pounds at 13 years old. I fought weight gain/loss syndrome until I discovered SP last August. When I discovered it isn't a diet but a lifestyle, I felt renewed.

Keep up the great work.

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PATRICIAANN46 6/6/2012 2:16PM

  emoticon !!! You have such a gift of expression.

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ROSEMAMIE 6/6/2012 1:03PM

    I was actually brought to tears by this post. I needed to know that this is possible, that I just need to find that one thing that will flip the reward switch for me. Thank you for sharing, you need to know you made a HUGE difference in someone's journey today.

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ELLENSANGEL 6/6/2012 12:46PM

    Love this. You are an inspiration


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MARIO432 6/6/2012 10:57AM

    So well written - & it applies to all of us. Thanks.

Comment edited on: 6/6/2012 11:00:18 AM

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JMMACKIE 6/6/2012 10:51AM

    This is awesome. You make an excellent point (in an entire series of excellent points). Thanks for sharing!

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EFFRAYECHILDE 6/6/2012 8:25AM

    emoticon

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BELIEVING-N-ME 6/6/2012 8:07AM

    Thanks for sharing! You made some great points, that I needed to hear. Thanks again!

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LEANMEAN2 6/6/2012 6:46AM

    Thanks for sharing

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DUSTYPRAIRIE 6/6/2012 5:53AM

    Great points!

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WENDENANNIE 6/6/2012 12:39AM

    Amen! Amen! Amen!!!!!

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RYANB1982 6/6/2012 12:33AM

    emoticon

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REENIE131 6/5/2012 11:49PM

    Great blog!

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BLOOMING52 6/5/2012 11:33PM

    Awesome.

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CHOOSE2BELIEVE 6/5/2012 10:50PM

    Great Blog! Thanks for sharing

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KOKITTY 6/5/2012 10:42PM

    Wonderful point of view, thanks so much for sharing! I'm already wondering if thats a big portion of why I haven't succeeded in the past - spending time 'relaxing' has always been my reward, and my excuse for not getting out and being active. Time to take another look at things and work on finding a better way to 'relax'!

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SUSANK16 6/5/2012 10:41PM

  good series

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WHITEROCKMOM1 6/5/2012 9:51PM

    WOW. Great blog. I, too, hated gym and exercising in public as a kid and in my youth. I wasn't really heavy but terribly uncoordinated. This prevented me from getting into a regular exercise habit. I always shied away from activities that would have been so good for me, and became more and more sedentary. The point is, we are doing it now. Woo Hoo to you!

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CM_GARDNER78 6/5/2012 9:42PM

    Ahh. So I have to find some other reward. Ugh. You mean this has to be...difficult?! AAHH! But I don't wanna! :-( Ha. I guess anything worth having is worth working hard for. Now to start figuring out where the heck to start................

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PMFISH 6/5/2012 9:09PM

    Great Blog! Thanks for sharing.


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CHOUBROU 6/5/2012 7:50PM

    "Don't just shrug off a short session simply because you don't have the time to create a significant calorie burn. There is a sense of reward generated every time we honor a commitment."

The principle above is what's driven my exercise habit and led to a cross-over effect in other areas of my life.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! for explaining this so clearly! You put the words to something I also think is true but never reasoned out. Congrats on findingyour new motivation :)


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FITWITHIN 6/5/2012 7:01PM

    Instance flashback on the gym class. Hated it! A fat kids nightmare and a popular kids prank field. I totally agree with challenging yourself. It's the best feeling of self worth and confident booster. I'm absolutely loving the blog series. emoticon

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SANDYLH1 6/5/2012 6:45PM

  emoticon

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SLIMTONES 6/5/2012 6:18PM

    Excellent points, thank you for sharing.

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ILOVEJIM851991 6/5/2012 5:22PM

    Great story awesome journey

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BIRDLSLAURIE 6/5/2012 5:22PM

    I started having some flashbacks when you mentioned gym class **shudder**. I appreciate your point of view because it translates so well to my personal experience.

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KISAKATT 6/5/2012 5:10PM

    mind=blown! Thanks for putting these thoughts about changing a reward from food to a sense of accomplishment into words. I have been trying to figure out how to make my motivation and commitment to a healthier lifestyle last more than a few weeks and this post really put it into perspective for me. Thanks!

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HUNGRYWOMAN2 6/5/2012 5:06PM

    emoticon Your characterization of addiction and insight into the use of food is Spark on. emoticon

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WORLDSERIES11 6/5/2012 4:35PM

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts...they are very inspirational!

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JUST4ME71 6/5/2012 4:27PM

    emoticon Blog!! Thanks so much!

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BARBARASDIET 6/5/2012 4:16PM

    Great point--I don't think I ever thought of it like that, but food definitely has been my reward for any achievement!

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TERRYT55 6/5/2012 4:02PM

    WOW........I am blown away by your blog, especially the paragraph about gym class. It never occurred to me that it was even worse for boys.......shirts v skins....YIKES. That must have been awful.

Thanks for giving me so much to think about. I can't wait to read your whole grail series.

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