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Should We Reward Ourselves with Food?


From a very young age, we learn that food is a reward. Teachers give kids pizza parties for doing a good job, coaches take their teams out for ice cream after a big win, moms and dads reward kids with special desserts for good report cards.


It’s no wonder then that many of us tend to automatically associate positive emotions like pleasure and joy with food. As adults, this can manifest itself in the belief that we ‘deserve’ dessert, a second cocktail, or fast food after a day of hard work. So, we continue to reward ourselves with food, and our choices are not usually the healthiest ones. When was the last time you rewarded a successful work project with a trip to the salad bar?


Don’t get me wrong. I love to eat and enjoy food and gathering with friends and family around a big, delicious meal. And I love to indulge in a delicious treat now and then. But, a treat is different from a reward. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it. A reward is “something given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.” We give our dogs rewards when they perform tricks, like sitting and staying.


You are not a dog. Food is not a reward.


Rewarding yourself with food can create a vicious cycle and bad habits – especially when you’re dieting or trying to eat healthily. If you’re trying to break out of that cycle, stop rewarding yourself with food. Instead, set up non-food rewards.


Reversing your habit of using food as a reward is not that hard, but does require you to pay attention to how you are using food and when food serves as a reward. The next time one of the situations occurs when you would normally reward yourself with food, take a minute to stop and ask yourself what you are doing. Remind yourself of your goals and take a look at the food you are about to eat. When you are trying to lose weight, eat healthier, or cut out added sugar, the last thing you want to do is eat unhealthy food for no reason at all. Find another way to reward yourself for a job well done or a hard day.


Instead of sabotaging your efforts toward a healthy lifestyle, consider a reward that will support your hard work. Reward yourself with a trip to a new walking destination or a few sessions with a personal trainer (I know a good one! 😉). Healthy cookbooks and kitchen gadgets that make home cooking easier are great rewards. If you just finished a 30-day yoga or walking challenge or completed your first 5k, reward yourself with some new workout gear. Another great reward - invest in a health coach to ensure that you stick with your new healthy lifestyle!

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