How would you describe your relationship with food? Complicated?
I don’t like to generalize, but I think most of us have an at least somewhat complicated relationship with food.
What do I mean by complicated? Let me explain.
Let’s start by asking what food is meant to be for us?
The answer is nourishment for our body. That is food’s role, to deliver the nutrition that our body needs for growth & health. I also believe that we should enjoy the food that is nourishing our body, but the bottom line is that is that nourishment is the key role for food. That part is simple right?
Here’s where the complicated part comes in. Many of us eat food for many other reasons, and to try to nourish many things other than our body. Think about it. The last time you had a rough day and ate a pint of ice cream, were you thinking about nourishing your body or where you trying to nourish your emotions?
Our relationship with food is multifaceted. I think most of us eat for reasons other than nourishing our bodies. Emotional eating, sugar addictions, and junk food addictions are all part of our complicated relationship with food, and a very big subject I could never cover in one blog post.
My intention in writing this today is to get you thinking about the subject, and to talk about one small facet of this complicated relationship. What I’d like to focus in on today is how habitual it is for most of us to ‘reward’ ourselves with food that’s not good for our body.
This is a backwards concept, and one that many of us learned as kids.
Do any of the following sound familiar?
"Finish your homework then you can have a cookie."
"Behave in the store, and you can get some candy."
"Be good in your appointment today, and we’ll go get fast food."
"If your team wins the tournament, we’ll have a pizza party."
How does this translate into adulthood?
"I worked an extra long day, so I’m going to treat myself to ordering pizza tonight, sitting on the couch and eating it all."
"I’ve had a rough, emotional day, and I totally deserve a brownie sunday."
"I’ve been so good with eating healthy this week, so I’m going to go to the bakery for pastries after my morning walk."
"I’ve gotten so many errands done today and haven’t eaten yet, so I’m treating myself to fast food."
"Congrats, You’ve been with the company for a year. To celebrate, we brought donuts."
Maybe these examples don’t sound exactly like you, but you get the picture.
Many of us have been trained to reward ourselves with food that isn’t good for us, and generally doesn't make us feel good. Really, When's the last time you rewarded yourself with broccoli? Besides many growing up with this influence, think about the food marketing that you take in. How many commercials for junk food send a message that sounds similar to this….."go ahead! You are worth it! You deserve it! You can find decadence & happiness in food!"
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a purist about this by any means. I’m fully guilty of indulging myself with wine & desserts, and I’m aware that for me, totally denying myself of these things is usually not a good idea. I personally tend to do better with a little balance of ‘naughty’ in my diet every now & then. However, when I indulge, I try to just call it what it is: Indulging. I try not to consider these things rewards for good behavior on my part because it simply doesn't make sense to 'reward' my body with something not very good for it. My point in this writing is to bring awareness to this complicated part of our relationship with food, so that we can work on it.
Do you ‘treat’ or ‘reward’ yourself with food that isn’t nourishing for your body?
When do you tend to do this? How often? How do you feel after?
Now that we’ve brought awareness to it, what can you do about it? How can you work towards a healthier relationship with food?
Here's what I would suggest:
First, pinpoint the times that you really tend to reward yourself with food. What comes up for you? Is it after you’ve been eating healthy, or after stressful days, or after workouts?
Now that you’ve got some of those times in mind, ask yourself what else you could reward yourself with that doesn't involve unhealthy food? Perhaps at the end of an extra long day you could treat yourself by stopping to get a massage on the way home, or taking the time for a walk around the lake. Perhaps after eating really healthy all week, you could treat yourself to a new summer dress, or stop by the bookstore and get yourself that new book you’ve been wanting. Maybe after sticking to your exercise routine all week you can treat yourself to a relaxing afternoon on the couch watching movies, a night out with your girlfriends, or a pedicure appointment. Sometimes a great reward is just allowing ourselves some quiet down time in our busy schedule doing something we love.
There are a lot of other things in life that we can ‘treat’ ourselves to or ‘reward’ ourselves with, it's just that we’ve been programmed through life experience and marketing that a good reward for ourselves is decadent food, that's not beneficial for our body. This is a really backwards way of thinking about rewards, isn't it?
The good news is, new habits around this are possible to form, and being aware of where to make changes is the first step.
If you are someone that rewards yourself with sweets or junk food, how can you work to transform this habit? What are other things you can begin to reward yourself with?
I'm not suggesting that you never treat yourself to food that you love and feel indulgent. I'm suggesting that we start fixing our relationship with food by tackling this complicated facet of it. Let's start thinking of food as nourishment, rather than something we treat ourselves with for emotional reasons. And let's start rewarding ourselves with things that are actually a reward to our body, mind, or spirit.
Our relationship with food is very much complex, and for many it can be very much a struggle. Remember that sustainable change is created through baby steps. Trying to change everything overnight generally ends up in failure and disappointment. Focusing on making one small change at a time is how we create new habits that stick around and that serve our body & mind in a healthy way.
If you’d like to work on your relationship with food towards a less complicated, healthier status, I invite you to work with this one small change and see what a big difference it can make for you.
Wishing you wellness!