A diet of treats and rewards

Why do we crave things we perceive as 'treats' or ‘rewards’?

I know that when I was growing up my mother strictly controlled what my sisters and I ate and drank – she controlled our diet. We were only allowed one 'dislike' (which meant we did not need to eat it) in the summer and one in the winter. Everything else we had to eat, and we had to finish everything on our plate. However, we did have pudding every night. It was usually a milk-based pudding as milk was very cheap in the 1950's, 60's and 70’s, and my family were very poor. Pudding was seen as a cheap way of filling up growing bodies, as meat, fish and poultry were expensive then.

I reckon now that it was my sense of 'deprivation' that led me to go for 'treat' foods such as chocolate and ice cream as soon as I started to earn my own money. In reality of course our diet then was very healthy compared to diets today – apart from the puddings – as we always had plenty of home grown vegetables and fruit, and we never had a chance to overeat! But I rebelled against the 'rules'.

Eventually having treats and rewards such as puddings, chocolate, icecream, cakes and biscuits became the ‘norm’ for me. Have you noticed that it's very hard to just have 'one piece' of chocolate or one biscuit? Maybe this is because eating only one requires willpower and, let's face it, willpower alone never works in the long run, does it?! It seems we are caught by the energy of wanting a treat or a reward, even perhaps when we are on the way to the supermarket. In our heads we might say, "I shouldn't buy that", or "I shouldn't eat that or drink that" but the thought has already got hold of us. It seems our tastebuds have been activated by the thought of the food, but really the decision to have a treat or reward starts way before that moment.

How could we break this cycle? It helps to understand what is really going on inside us. Why is it that we seek a treat or reward?

A friend shared with me that what she found to be the only way back to true and healthy eating and drinking was to know her worth, coming back to a sense of her inner beauty. So, if I could come back to who I truly am – truly feeling my worth – then I would only consume what I know would support that loveliness. Maybe it’s not that we want chocolate, cake, ice-cream, smoothies or a glass of wine . . . it’s that we don’t want to feel how lovely we actually are.

This has made me wonder if what we actually crave is to feel really good about ourselves, including our weight and our body shape – just the way we are. If that were the case there would be no need or desire to treat or reward ourselves, for this feeling would be far more delicious than any reward or treat offered by food or drink.

Is it possible to imagine living that way? Is it impossible to imagine living life without the treats or rewards?

Recently I have discovered it is possible. I was presenting a session to a group of women on body awareness, during which we took our awareness to various parts of the body, felt the movement of our breath in the body and did some gentle connective tissue stretches. At the end of the session I felt so still and so connected to my whole body that I knew there was not a treat in the world that would tempt me. I was so at ease with my body that when someone mentioned the word ‘stress’ I could not even contemplate the thought of stress. I therefore had no need to ‘medicate’ the stresses life brings, with food or drink. I understood this was a great way to let go my addiction to treats and rewards!

Letting go addiction to treats and rewards permanently may take a while. I know in my body that I am not what I eat – that I am much more than that – but my mind has had trouble catching up with this! However, I have slowly become more aware of the effect certain foods and drinks have on my body, energy levels, emotions, mood and mind and I have found this to be another key in letting them go.

It feels pretty awful when my tummy is bloated from eating too much or I feel tired, depressed or unmotivated after eating certain foods. It is becoming easier to say 'no' to foods or drinks I know will affect how I think, move and work. And yet often we don't change our eating habits until we have to – when we get sick, for example. Even then, we may make changes for a while, then go back to our old ways when we have recovered (if we recover). Or we may make it about following certain 'rules', which never works for long! Wouldn’t it be much better to live in a way that prevents illness and disease?

A key factor in this for me was to acknowledge that it was not about what I do that counts. It was all about who I am as a person – and appreciating that person and all she brings.

What if we were to ask ourselves: “What is the opening that says, ‘I need a treat/reward’?” It is not the behaviours; it's what we were thinking and or feeling before we reached for the treat or reward. This can cause us to berate ourselves. It’s possible that if we were to deepen our connection to ourselves we would not get caught up in the behaviours and our reactions to them and our compensation for those behaviours.

Until we accept this, and live it, we will always get caught by needing to have treats or rewards by the, "I deserve a treat because I have had a bad day” or, “I deserve a reward because I did a really good job today or because I worked hard all week".

Why don't we change that to: "I deserve to feel lovely, to feel vital and joyful, to have plenty of energy . . ." ? If we don’t stop at the end of the day and appreciate what we did or how we were that day, we can easily go for a treat or reward. Even if we felt amazing 99% of the time, one small thing where we do not feel as grand can lead to wanting a reward, for example how we are with our partner when we walk back into our house at the end of the day.This can become a self-abusive, punitive cycle.

Perhaps, rather than focussing on what was awful in our day or what feels awful when we return home from work, we could simply appreciate our self, and then we could feel what is next for us to do tomorrow. This would give us purpose – a treat and reward in itself – so we wouldn’t need to reach for food or drink.

Is it possible that what we really crave is that beautiful feeling of connection where we experience self appreciation and self-respect, a feeling that is far more yummy than any treat or reward?

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