It’s no secret that many of us have a favourite treat that always makes the weekly shopping list. Whether it’s red wine, chocolate, salty chips or even a specialty coffee, people use all kinds of food to reward themselves for anything from a long workout, all the way through to a highly productive work day. Although it’s good to treat ourselves from time to time, when food becomes a regular reward for good behaviour, we head into slightly dangerous territory. When this happens, it might end up having a hold over us that leads to overeating. Even the most gruelling of workouts should never be an excuse to overeat, as it can affect our holistic ways in a variety of ways.
So how do we begin to create a personal practice for good health and wellbeing that works even in the middle of a pandemic? The following guide should help you get started when you’re ready.
The Food-Reward Cycle
When we start to reward ourselves with food, we inadvertently create a cycle that masks itself as one that “helps us to meet our needs”. It creates an unhealthy relationship with food that grows over time. It also gives power to the addictive quality of sugary treats with empty calories, which in turn can lead to body image, self esteem and other mental health issues. It certainly doesn’t help that fast food is literally available to us at all times. The pandemic has compounded the issue because everyone is delivering now. Being able to hit the “repeat order” button on a whim also makes it easier to fall into a vicious cycle of using food as part of a reward system. Setting our own restrictions and managing how often we do so helps us to create healthier habits over time.
The Physical Effects on the Body
When we overindulge in sugar and carb-heavy treats, our bodies will respond accordingly. Although short-term euphoric feelings might be nice, there is something bigger happening in the body at the same time. The hormones that trigger our brains to let us know if we are hungry or full get switched off with a binge, and the result is more cravings. This could lead to more overeating, which affects greater holistic health. Food has the power to nourish our bodies, but it also has the potential to leave us stuck in a loop, especially when used as part of a reward system. As soon as you realise this, it’s possible to make some changes.
Detaching From Rewarding Achievements
If you’ve used food as a reward in the past, acknowledging this is a good starting point. Drawing a line in the sand will be difficult, but detaching from this behaviour can be a gamechanger for good health and wellbeing. You’ll not only start a process of retraining your brain to stop craving food as a mechanism for validation, but you’ll soon start to feel the positive effects on your physical and mental health too. I love when this happens to one of my clients. In my work as a holistic health coach, I really enjoy seeing someone learn how to positively reinforce their daily achievements without mindlessly turning to the food delivery app. The effects are always astonishing.
Striking The Right Balance
As a parting thought, I want to reiterate that moving away from rewarding achievements with food doesn’t mean that you have to give up your indulgences altogether. It just means that the way you interact with them changes. Your intention becomes to enjoy the treat for what it is, rather than what it can do for you. Getting into this space takes time and effort. Over time, it will get easier to strike a better balance between the food you consume, and how it acts as a tool to nourish your body. When this happens, food starts to play an entirely new role in your life. A world of incredible cuisine opens up to you, without any kind of dependence or attachment that may take away from the joy of the experience.