Do you turn to food as a reward when you’re stressed, overwhelmed, nervous, sad, alone, bored, lonely, or when you’re excited, happy, celebrating achievements, milestones or special occasions?
Do you turn to one, or more, of the foods you’ve intentionally included in your Exceptions Plan even when you didn’t plan for it at least 24 hours in advance?
How many times have you rationalized going off plan with the time honored justification, “I deserve this. It’s been a damn hard day.” Or, “What’s my birthday, anniversary, _______ (fill in the blank) without cake and ice cream, champagne, a cocktail?”
I read a statistic that over 85% of overweight people tend to use food as a reward.
Advertising and marketing ploys stealthily influence us with the idea that we can find happiness in a chocolate bar or in an alcohol induced buzz.
As you think about this influence, how about asking yourself if happiness really comes from rewarding yourself with food or from somewhere else.
BIG HINT: Like your thoughts and feelings about anything and EVERYTHING!
Don’t get me wrong, I love my planned exceptions and enjoy them with gusto.
But these planned-in-advance exceptions to my food protocol are not part of my daily food plan. And when I eat these exceptions, it’s with full awareness, mindfully.
I promise you, I am enjoying every bite. And there’s not one ounce of recrimination afterwards.
Food is a very enjoyable aspect of our lives. Our dopamine reward system was designed to prioritize pleasure from eating to keep us alive!
Our families of origin instill our food habits.
From birth we learn that food is an important type of reward. As a crying baby, milk brought comfort and satiety. Our parents would allow us to eat dessert only after we finished our dinner, ate our veggies.
They rewarded us with sweet treats for ‘being good,’ or as a bribe for good behavior, or for brightening our mood when we were hurt or sad.
You may remember getting a lollipop or an ice cream cone after a doctor’s visit, or getting to have a special treat if you fell and skinned your knee to stop from crying, or candy to celebrate a good report card. And what about birthday cake and ice cream extravaganzas for birthday celebrations!
No wonder so many of us associate our emotions from pleasure and joy to sadness and fear with food.
This is Classical Conditioning. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? We can create a lot of unhealthy habits by rewarding emotions and behavior with a treat.
Emotional eating can spin out of control and sabotage your health.
If you don’t have other tools you can use to shift your thinking, you will keep turning to food when your emotional life revs up.
When your belief system is rooted in rewarding yourself, after you’ve indulged, or worse even, over-indulgenced, regret grabs the reins. Guilt and shame come along for the ride. You over-analyze and harshly criticize your body. You hate the way your clothes fit. And you might even avoid socializing for fear of further temptations or criticism from others.
Before you know it, food becomes a saboteur, undermining your goals and dreams.
But you can put this cycle to bed once and for all.
Take time for honest introspection.
The first step is to recognize when you do it. Remember, you can’t change what you’re not aware of. Please take some time for honest introspection.
If you think you just “naturally” go to the fridge in times of stress or as a reason to celebrate, ask yourself:
- When do I reward myself with food? At the end of my workday? 9 pm? Post-exercise? In a certain social circle?
- What is food doing for me in this moment? Is food the hug I desperately need? Is it the love I’m looking for?
- Do I use food as companionship, friendship, fulfillment, approval, or recognition?
Once you know when and why you do it, you can begin to make change.
For your long term health and well-being, it’s important to learn how to reward yourself or celebrate yourself without food or alcohol. Begin to shift and gradually change the thoughts and beliefs about food that may be doing long term damage.
Reinforcing your thinking about food as a source of nourishment, as the source of your energy vitality and joie de vive, makes a huge difference in your overall relationship with food.
Establish new rules about what constitutes soothing and celebratory behaviors.
When you start to become aware of what’s going on in your brain, i.e. your thinking, and your heart, i.e. your emotions, you can begin to change.
You can begin to recognize and accept that food’s primary, nature-intended purpose is to provide essential nourishment so your body can function optimally. Granted, this is not always such an easy adjustment. That’s where coaching comes in and guides you onward.
But it’s the first step in reconditioning your brain to think new thoughts about food so you can protect your heath long term.
So if food is not the reward, what else can be the reward for those times you need a pick-me-up, when you’re feeling down or to celebrate that special occasion?
Do something you don’t normally do for yourself. Maybe that’s as simple as a mani-pedi with the extended leg massage. You know what constitutes something above and beyond the ordinary treat. Make a list of at least 10 “rewards” that are a 10+ on the enjoyment scale.
Create your list now, because when times of high-stress hit, work, moving, family problems, health issues, you will be less likely to turn towards food as your go-to reward.
Give yourself permission to create new habits that bring more fun, connection and novelty into your life. Research found that people are happier when they have novelty or variety in their lives.
Avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Although you may think that labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may help you to lose weight, the research doesn’t bear that out.
In fact, these ideas seep into our subconscious and keeps us stuck in guilty thoughts that we’re eating the ‘wrong’ foods. That’s when your harsh inner critic begins ranting and raving and you just want to give up.
Eat mindfully and watch your self-talk.
Slow down and really savor the food you eat. Avoid the temptation to ‘wolf down’ a meal or an indulgence.
Try to eat slowly and mindfully. This helps satisfy your cravings your body digest the food more efficiently. It can also help tell you when you’re full before you’ve overeaten. It takes around 20 minutes for your body to signal to your brain that you have eaten enough.
Be careful of language like “You only live once!” and ‘Sure you deserve a treat!’ and “Deprivation leads to disordered eating.” — either from yourself or those around you.
Change your internal dialogue to: “I can enjoy eating nourishing food with my family and friends,” and “Eating that desert or those chips doesn’t mean I’ll have a better time.” Or “Why would I go off plan just because it’s the weekend?”
List the benefits.
Remind yourself at least once a week of the amazing rewards you can enjoy by eating on plan and following your food protocol.
Losing weight helps you feel great! You’ll improve your health and gain energy, vitality and increased confidence in your own ability to have your own back.
You’ll be able to climb stairs without getting winded. You’ll enjoy playing with your grandchildren. And what about the new clothes you’ll wear?
In fact, almost everything becomes more enjoyable when you reach a healthy weight. From choosing what to wear each morning to the feeling of energy you have on a walk or at a social occasion . Remind yourself regularly of how far you’ve come and how good it feels.
I remember a Weight Watchers slogan that really struck a cord with me: “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” I have realized that to be true for me. It might be for you too.
At the end of the day, food is nourishment.
Why fight this fact?
While our bodies were designed to process food as signals for metabolic functions, society, processed food manufacturers and our upbringing has layered a whole host of other interpretations on the purpose and function of food. Many of these damage with our good health.
Attaching a whole host of emotions to foods is, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, can create misery.
What’s more, when you use food as a reward, the pleasure is often outweighed by the punishment because of how it makes us feel afterward. Bloated? Gassy? Disgusted? Remorseful? Ashamed?
Fluctuating blood sugar levels leave us wide open to reaching out for even more sugary or carby foods. Attempting to boost our flagging energy reserves with quick fix foods adds insult to injury.
When blood sugar dips, crashes even, the mid-morning or mid-afternoon munchies can throw us off our well thought out food plans.
When we become overly hungry, we physiologically are programmed to reach for higher calorie food, and often eat more than we need.
Break the habit of using food as a reward.
Freedom in your relationship with food, your body and your weight is possible. Once you recognize the habits that are undermining those relationships, you can cultivate new habits to help you allow your emotions without responding to them with food.
When you’re ready to break the habit of food as a reward, the first place to start is deep dive into your belief system and thoughts about food.
We can dissect and unwind them. Then we can create new rules and habits which provides other alternatives in response to both the stress and pleasure of using food as a reward.
Please take me up on my offer for your FREE Strategy Call.
This discussion can change the trajectory of rest of your life. I can help you reach your weight loss goals with a lot less stress and drama.
It’s totally possible to make 2022 your year to create the healthiest you.
No matter your age, stage or past disappointments, it’s Never Too Late to begin again.
Jump start your fresh start. A year from now you will thank yourself you reached out to me today.
I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.
It’s Never Too Late to make your weight loss journey easier. Let’s go!
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