- You’ve had a tough day, you’re stressed, tired and you need a ‘pick me up’….
- You want to celebrate a success, a birthday, a friendship….
- You’re sad, upset, feeling blue, anxious, even depressed….
You want a treat.
How do you reward yourself or others? How do you comfort yourself?
For almost all of us the answer to those questions involves food or drink, and it usually isn’t the healthy sort!
We’re so time poor that rewarding ourselves with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show ourselves some self-love. And it’s the same for soothing ourselves if we’ve had a bad day.
My experience, working with clients, is that so little of what we eat, or why we eat, is to do with nourishing our body. It’s got much more to do with how you feel about yourself and about life in general. Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what you really need. Particularly if what you need might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back your heels and even sleep. You may not even be aware of what you actually need.
It’s just a habit
Most of our rewards or treats are habits. They’re conditioning – e.g. if x happens, y is what I do / did / have always done. Chances are, you’ve been conditioned to reward yourself with food, often from early childhood.
Think about it – how often do we say we’re going to ‘treat’ ourselves (or our loved ones) with chocolate, crisps, takeaways, alcohol? These foods definitely don’t ‘treat’ our bodies, but it’s unlikely we’ve been conditioned to see an apple, a salad or a brisk walk as a ‘treat’, yet our bodies would thank us more for these types of treats.
The feel good factor from our ‘unhealthy’ rewards are short lived and usually followed by recriminations, so we try not to ‘treat’ ourselves often.
But it is really important to reward ourselves regularly & appropriately. Rewards create ‘feel-good’ associations in the brain and we feel better about ourselves and our situations. And if we’re making changes, rewards positively reinforces those changes.
The good news is that we can break habits and change our conditioning. We can develop a different relationship with food and also a different relationship with treats / rewards.
So how do we do this?
Regular ‘me time’ is important here as our lives are very busy and many of us have got into the habit of relying on food to give us a quick pleasure fix. But, as we know, this ‘reward’ is short lived and usually followed by disappointment plus a large serving of guilt!
If you do want lasting change, you need to find ways of regularly getting that feel good feeling from other things. We all deserve and need time to do positive things for ourselves – without feelings of guilt.
It can be a really empowering exercise to take a look at what you might normally do to reward yourself and think, are these appropriate now or do I need to replace them.
Spend some time to identify some activities that you can build into your daily life that you enjoy and can use as your reward / destressor / way of taking a break / or just to have 5 minutes of indulgence or peace! Make sure they’re things you enjoy so you feel ‘hugged’ metaphorically. After a while, you’ll prefer these rewards and benefit from them far more than food treats that simply create other problems for you later.
What would you like to spend more time doing? What would make you feel good? What would help you relax or de-stress?
Here’s a few examples my clients have thought of….
- A soak in the bath
- Listening to calming music
- A gentle walk in peaceful surroundings
- Reading a favourite magazine or a chapter of a good book
- Sitting quietly in the garden
- Phoning a good friend
- 10 minutes quiet relaxation
What would you add? Think of at least 5 things that relax you.
Start small and build on your success. Think of a few quick and easy things you can do at least 3 times every week.
Bored vs Reward?
Most people can identify with eating when they were really bored. This often leads to mindless eating just to experience that sugar rush to give you a temporary high. Or it may simply be that you need something to occupy your mind and hands as a distraction technique.
If you recognise yourself doing these things, you’re probably looking for something fun / exciting / interesting to add into your life. Use this as an opportunity to build in new ways of enjoying yourself and enriching your experience of life.
What are your personal interests? What activities do you enjoy?
Creative: eg. music, cooking, cinema, theatre, photography
Physical: e.g. gardening, sport, dancing
Social: eg. family, friends, games, volunteering
Intellectual: eg. reading, learning a language, writing poetry / stories
What would you like to try? It’s worth spending a little time writing a list (in a notepad or on a phone rather than keeping it conceptually in your head). Choose one and have it as one of your goals for this week.
Simple steps to better rewards / treats
- Identify when you are using food because you want a treat, are bored or want to make yourself feel better.
- Choose a few alternative things you can do instead to make yourself feel good (that don’t involve food) from the lists you’ve created.
- Test it: try out the new choices to start breaking the pattern – see what works well.
- Change it: if something doesn’t work, change it or add to it until you find the right solution.
- Practice! Keep practising it until it becomes automatic: a new habit.
If you’re worried about your comfort eating, why not get in touch and chat to me about how I can help.