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Food As A Reward: How To Break The Cycle

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What are the “secrets” of food and body freedom?

Maybe you see other women and think, “What password did she access? Has this password been case sensitive my whole life, and no one told me?”

You want to know if there are specific answers or steps that make it all make sense for you. Your weight is on your mind all the time and it’s exhausting, right?

Here’s the deal – it’s not really about any secrets. Often, those secrets are marketed and made shiny with things like “Lose 20lbs by Monday” or the “Juice Diet” but these don’t work, and you are done with dieting.

But you aren’t done with yourself. You aren’t ready to give up on you, just yet. 

That’s why I’m on a quest to dive deep into what it takes to set out on a weight loss journey, and feel good about it.

One of the places you can start is uncovering when food becomes a “reward” and how to let go of that belief system.

It’s a “must know” that’s going to be a powerful boost for your weight loss journey and your life.

So, let’s break it down…

The Kibble Theory

Food can become a reward for just about any reason, especially in North America. Whether it’s Taco Tuesday, TGIF night out, post-workout brunch, or just because you made it home from work in one piece, North American marketing has made sure you have any possible justification.

Often, this comes from our family of origin. You may remember getting ice cream after a soccer game, or getting to have a special treat if you fell and skinned your knee, or candy to celebrate a good report card.

It’s as if we have turned food into Kibble for humans. It seems as if humans have adopted Classical Conditioning (Pavlov’s Dog) – rewarding behavior with a treat.

You haven’t learned how to reward yourself or celebrate yourself without food or alcohol, and the justifications become more comfortable as you get older.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating and having those special moments but the problem is you begin to associate food as a treat instead of fuel. And if you don’t have other tools to implement, you will keep turning to food.

Recently, I interviewed Tricia Nelson, Emotional Eating Expert and author of the #1 bestselling book, Heal Your Hunger, 7 Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating Now, on The Weight Loss Code.

Tricia says, “As you get older, you use food or alcohol to soothe pain, avoid or escape, or punish yourself.” The punishing part stopped me in my tracks, and it suddenly made so much sense.

Your belief system may be rooted in rewarding yourself, but after you’ve over indulgenced, you start to feel guilty, regret your choice, and pick a part your body even more. You stop wanting to go out, and you cancel events. You hide out on life a little bit more. And so, food becomes a way to self-sabotage or hold you back in life.

This cycle is not permanent and you can get out of it. The first step is to recognize when you do it. Remember, you can’t change what you’re not aware of. You have to dissect yourself a bit.

If you think you just “naturally” go to the fridge, I encourage you to use a self magnifying glass.

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 why you do it, you can begin to create small changes.

New Rules

When you start to become aware of what’s going on in your brain – and in your heart – you will know what you’re ready to change.

You will begin to understand that foods (rightful) role is fuel. Food is nourishment.

So what else can be the reward? How can you celebrate yourself or take time for yourself without getting off track with your weight loss journey?

Invest in yourself. Do something you don’t normally do for yourself.Maybe that’s a massage, a pedicure. Maybe it’s a bath instead of a quick shower. Maybe it’s connecting with your partner.

This is something you have to begin to create even when you are feeling like you have a handle on it all because when times of high-stress hit – promotion, moving, parenting, – you will be less likely to disconnect.

You need to have a plan in place.

The plan can be taking a walk after dinner to ruminate about your day or calling a good friend at the end of the week to talk about what’s going on at work. As humans, we are constantly craving to be seen and recognized, for someone to get us. There is a nuance to the work we do, nuance in our careers and being parents, spouses, daughter, etc.

Humans are more inundated with communication than ever, and yet so lacking personal connection. This lack of connection is impacting our relationships and we, often, don’t even know it. Answer those text messages, listen to the voicemails, and call people back. Make a conscious choice to isolate less and connect more.

The Power of the (Non) Smoke Break

When I was getting my degree, I studied cardiovascular disease in-depth. One of the studies reported that smokers were the happiest and most productive employees at work.

This is because they had scheduled breaks within the workday. Each time, they would get up from their desk, connect with a co-worker, step outside, and take a few minutes for themselves. Now, obviously smokers are overwhelmingly at risk for a multitude of diseases, and smoking is the worst thing you can do for your health.

But I want you to steal the strategy. Think about it – if you aren’t a smoker, do you schedule actual breaks within your day besides lunch? (And sometimes lunch doesn’t even happen!)

We’ve created rules we think are working but we can change up the rules. Give yourself permission to take a non-smokers break, and find something that gives you a sense of pleasure.

All of these possible non-food rewards are yours to test and see what works for you. In the same way, there are no weight loss secrets, there are none here, either. A hot shower after a long hard day may not be for you. Try it out and see. You may find that tea – after a week or two – is a good replacement for a nightly glass of wine during the week.

You have to give yourself permission to create a new habit.