Using Food As a Reward

  • “You did a good job on the yard, son. Would you like a cookie?”
  • “You fell down and hurt your knee, poor thing. Here’s a piece of candy to make it feel better.”
  • “I had a hard day at work – let’s go get some ice cream.”
  • “I’ve got a big test tomorrow – I’m going to run by the store and pick up some chips and chocolate.”
  • “Whoever gets an A on the test will earn two pieces of candy from the jar.”

It happens all the time, all over the world. We use food as a reward, and as a soother of hurt feelings, and hurt knees. It happened to me as I grew up. In school, the teacher would have a candy jar on her desk, filled to the brim as a reward for good behavior or good grades. At home, my family offered food as a reward for a good job completing a chore. Even at work, people brought in various desserts, and yummy savory snacks to help us through a difficult time. Using food as a reward is a time honored tradition, and one not easily broken.

I’ve done it too. If my son hurts himself, a little M&M  and a band aid quickly made the hurt go away. It’s easy to use food as a reward or a soother for hurt feelings. As an overweight person, I used food to reward myself for all sorts of things from completing a project at work, to making a pan of brownies because I actually got all the laundry finished. I rewarded myself with a McDonald’s Super Sized Quarter Pounder with Cheese (times two) after grocery shopping, and I wasn’t above rewarding myself with a chocolate treat when I didn’t eat too many rolls at dinner. Even when I was a member of Weight Watchers, I’d reward myself for the perceived deprivation of the week by swinging through the closest drive thru restaurant for 3 hash browns, 2 sausage biscuits, a coffee and an orange juice.

This habit was actually one of the easier ones for me to break. Whereas stopping the mindless snacking, or eating too big a portions were harder to conquer, changing the rewards I gave myself from food to something healthier was relatively easy. Here are some rewards I used along my weight loss journey:

  • Haircut at a good salon – before, I hated looking in those big mirrors (yuck!)
  • New glasses – and if you’ve looked at the pictures, you know I needed them!
  • Contact lenses – I wore these more and more as I lost weight, and saved the glasses for bedtime reading.
  • New pair of jeans for each size lost – I started out at above a 28, so I needed a lot of new sizes!
  • Frequent dates with John – definitely fun
  • At 100 pounds lost, bought a bathing suit – I hadn’t had one in about 8 years
  • Bought new cookbooks frequently
  • Got a new Walkman – Now I’m dating myself, these days it would have been a new MP3 or iPod
  • Scheduled alone time – good for me, good for my family

You see, it’s easy to find things that you will enjoy having or doing, that aren’t food. I no longer always offer my little guys a piece of candy if they hurt themselves. Now, if it’s a super dooper whooper bad boo-boo, they might get a little M&M to get them to calm down enough for me to bandage it, but fortunately that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t want to teach the children that hurt knees and hurt feelings are best solved with sweets. I want to teach them that using their intelligence, and talking through their feelings are much healthier ways of dealing with stress. When one of my kids does a bang-up job at their assignments, I reward them with stickers on a chart, or a trip to the museum.

 My desire for food as a reward was begun in school, and continued into adulthood. I used it often, and wrongly. Learning to put that behavior aside was good for my health, and for my emotions. Taking food out of the equation when feelings are hurt forces me to examine the feelings without food getting in the way. I’ve learned to deal with my emotions in a healthy, productive way and it feels good.

As you lose weight, decide in advance what kinds of rewards you will give yourself when you reach certain goals. And remember, the goals aren’t always on the scale. They can be with size of clothes, energy level, exercise minutes completed, healthy choices made, etc. By rewarding yourself along the way you will feel that sense of accomplishment acknowledged and celebrated, but without adding unnecessary calories to your hips. Changing this habit was important to me, and I believe it was important for my children. Take time today to jot down a few ideas of non-food rewards.

What’s your idea of some good non-food rewards? Diane

25 thoughts on “Using Food As a Reward

  1. blackhuff says:

    I so agree with you. Wherever one goes, there is food for reward. At the doctor, he will give your child a sweet to make him/her feel better. At the dentist, the school teacher, yourself. Everywhere.
    I also rewarded myself with food after a stressed time but these days are over. I now reward myself with encouraging words, haircuts, doing my nails ect.
    We as parents also don’t give the children candy when they hurt themselves these days. We just pick them up and comfort them.

  2. Miz says:

    it has SHOCKED ME (and truly those are the only words) that I never do it for myself and have found myself ALMOST doing it for my daughter (!).
    The “oh look at XYZ success! lets go for ice cream!” type of reaction in the form of celebrating.

    Im so grateful that im finally aware enough at the age of 41 NOT to start those habits for her…10 or 20 years ago it never would have occurred to me.

  3. Desert Agave says:

    It is so easy to use food as a reward. I’ve had to really train myself to stop doing so. My favorite kind of rewards lately have been fitness related. New running shoes, exercise capris, or a new fitness gadget, all of these things help to keep me motivated. Recently I bought myself a new waterproof sports watch so that I can time myself while I swim.

  4. Thetreadmilldiaries says:

    A few rewards I use for hitting short term goals are: facials, massages, manis/pedis and books. When I hit the 100 lb lost mark. I went big – a trip to Italy and a new summer wardrobe. But it was also my birthday.

  5. Jody - Fit at 53 says:

    Diane, great subject! I just saw a guy talking about this yesterday & how we tell the kids if you are good, you can have a treat but if you are bad not… so it gets ingrained & then as an adult instead of a bowl of ice cream, you say to yourself, I can have the whole dang carton….

    I don’t have money right now for rewards nut I love new workout clothes or a pedicure or a massage would be nice! 🙂

  6. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    Great post! It’s so easy to turn to food for a reward…

    I love rewarding myself with yoga/Pilates classes. It’s good for my body and soul, and it’s my “me time.” It don’t do it very often, but I think it’s time for a reward soon…:)

  7. Babbalou says:

    With a kid in college, I go for the inexpensive treats – a quiet hour reading magazines in the library, a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble while I look over a few of the newest books, or a trip to a more distance mall than my local mall for my mall-walk followed by a quick browse of a store or two (without buying anything.) I also treat myself to a trip to an ethnic grocery store for more exotic fruits and vegetables than I can buy nearer my home. It helps keep my produce-based meals more interesting.

  8. Lisa says:

    Using food as celebration was one of my downfalls. It took some time to realize that instead of celebrating with dessert or dinner out, I can reward myself and celebrate in other ways…pedicure, massage, new running clothes, etc.

  9. fd says:

    i find it hard to deprive the family of food as a reward when it is the vehicle for spending time over a meal or an icecream together. but yes, i agree that mostly other, better, things can be found as a reward.

  10. BlessedMama says:

    Great post – I’ve also learned to create new rewards for myself that don’t involve food. Many of mine are similar to yours. Others might be new exercise clothes, new shoes, new nailpolish, etc.

  11. Lisa says:

    Using food as a reward for kids is a grey issue for me. Everyone in my family uses food as a reward, celebrations etc. (we are Italian) lol Anyway, I am the ONLY ONE who is fat. I gather from that I didn’t get this way because of those kinds of things and don’t worry about it with my kids much either. What I do care about is not making them finish all their food if they are not hungry or letting their internal instinct tell them if they are hungry etc.

  12. fittingbackin says:

    LOVE these – mine usually revolve around dresses, shoes, coats, electronics or spa appointments. My problem is that i’m so impatient I don’t wait to reward thus defeating the purpose. eek!

  13. Taryl says:

    Mine tend to be beauty related – I’ll buy myself a new hair stick or makeup as milestone rewards. A new book or cd is also a great reward for me.

  14. Leah says:

    Good post!
    Something I haven’t done, but I think is a good idea is to reward $1.00 for every pound lost and then buy something nice with the money when you get to goal.

    I think the only real reward I’ve given myself along the way is purchasing new clothes and the satisfaction of feeling in control.

  15. Tami says:

    Non food related rewards are shoes, purses and clothes! I also have to say since I love to cook other rewards are healthy cook books, pretty dishes and kitchen gadgets – I just love them!

  16. The Chubby Girl Diaries says:

    Sadly, I think it’s pretty common. We all sort of grew up with parents who bargained with us by using our favorite foods (ice cream, cookies, candy, etc.).

    I try not to bargain with my kids using food. And I try not to cheer them up with food. Two methods could backfire and cause a problem later on for sure!


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