How To Break The Cycle Of Using Food As A Reward

Food is a common reward for children and adults. Teachers give kids pizza parties for doing a good job, moms and dads reward kids with special desserts, and adults reward themselves with food after a hard day at work.

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Had a bad day? Eat some chocolate. A child falls down on the driveway while running after a ball? Here’s a lollipop to make her feel better. No matter what the scenario, using food as a reward is a bad idea when it comes to weight loss and beyond. If you struggle with wanting to have food as a reward, here are some things to consider before eating a piece of chocolate after a long, hard day.

Food is a universal need that crosses gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines. Everyone needs food to survive. Back in the ancient days before food was easy to purchase, people had to work for their food. They toiled in the fields, foraged for food, and stored food for lean times.

Now that food is readily available to us 24 hours a day and we don’t even have to leave our homes to get it–think pizza delivery–food has taken on a role beyond fuel.

Food is the center of most social events, from weddings to funerals, and serves as a companion during television and movie viewings. Chocolate always seems to make you feel better after a tough day.

I get all of that.

The problem is that using food as a reward is the absolute last thing you should be doing when you are losing weight.

Food is not a reward. Food is fuel.

Why Do You Want Food as a Reward?

That’s the question, isn’t it? What about food makes you feel good?

There is a multitude of answers to that question, but here are some of the most common reasons I’ve found for why people use food as a reward. See if any fit you.

– It reminds you of your childhood when mom took care of you and gave you food after a hard breakup or a skinned knee.

– Food doesn’t judge. That chocolate bar won’t talk back to you or judge you. It just seems to soothe you and make you feel better as you eat bite after bite.

– You like the way food makes you feel. When you eat, your body releases dopamine, which “acts on the reward circuitry” in your brain, according to an article in “Psychology Today.” 

– Food is easily found. It’s easy to stop by the corner store and pick up a candy bar or buy a few donuts from the donut store.

Once you know why you might be using food as a reward, the next step is to identify situations when you are rewarding yourself with food.

Do you reward with food when…

– Things have been hard at home or work?

– You feel physically tired?

– You’ve been sick or injured?

– You are celebrating?

– You’ve reached a goal or completed a task?

The Solution

Reversing your habit of using food as a reward is pretty simple, but does require you to really 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, stop and ask yourself what you are doing. When you are losing weight, the last thing you want to do is eat fattening food for no reason at all.

Remind yourself of your goals and how many calories are in the food you are about to eat. Then find another way to reward yourself for a job well done or a hard day. Some terrific ways to reward yourself without food are to spend a special evening with friends, get your hair or nails done, go to a ballgame, talk a walk outdoors, or spend some quality alone time.

After a while, you will break the cycle of using food as a reward and rely on food as fuel for your busy life.