- “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 do it too. If my son hurts himself, a little M&M and a band aid quickly make 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. If you have some good ones, I’d love for you to share them with us. Diane