Growing up, how often were you rewarded – or bribed – with food for good behavior?
“Clean your room and we’ll go out for ice cream.”
“You got an A? Well, that calls for a cookie!”
If you’re like most people, food – particularly sweet food – was used as a treat or reward when you behaved well or accomplished something. Maybe it was even used as a comfort mechanism when you got a scrape or cut.
Unfortunately, these seemingly benign gestures from parents or grandparents set many of us up for a lifetime of using food as a reward. “I aced my final exams, time for pizza.” “Yes, got that promotion! I feel like going out for beer and wings.” And while using food as a reward may feel innocent enough, it can lead to weight gain, health problems, and depression.
One way to tell you have a food/reward issue is to take a little test. The next time you celebrate with eating your favorite foods (perhaps your guiltiest pleasures), take notice of how you feel afterward.
Do you feel euphoric at first, but then remorseful? Do you feel physically uncomfortable or even ill from the kind or amount of food you chose to eat? Do you feel shame, regret, or self-loathing? If you feel bad after rewarding yourself with food, I encourage you to become more aware of your food choices and think of other, healthier ways to celebrate or treat yourself for a specific achievement. Think of ways you can indulge without feeling bad.
It’s natural for people to want to treat themselves to something special after a hard day or challenging experience. If you just finished a grueling 12-hour shift, maybe you and some co-workers want to hit the local greasy spoon. After a funeral, it’s traditional that loved ones gather to eat. It’s when eating becomes a daily coping mechanism for the stressors in life that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. While comfort foods may seem to offer relief and even give us a little high, eventually we end up feeling worse than we initially did.
To overcome emotional eating, it’s important to get in touch with your emotions. What are you trying to cope with or stuff down with food? Becoming comfortable with your emotions will make you less likely to avoid them with food. Also, find healthier ways to support yourself during times of stress and grief. Go for walks, take hot baths, or maybe spend a day at the spa.
A study out of Cornell University illustrates mindless eating perfectly: moviegoers were given extra-large containers of stale popcorn, yet they still ate 45% more than the moviegoers who were munching on piping-hot-fresh popcorn out of smaller containers.
For many of us, if the food is there we will eat it when our mind is distracted with something else. And this is a BIG problem in this country, where portion sizes have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. It is incredibly important to pay attention to what you eat and how much of it. Stop eating in front of the computer or television and sit down as a family. Really smell and taste each delicious bite.
Eating Too Fast
Akin to mindlessly eating, eating too fast causes many of us to eat too many calories. We don’t realize we’re full and keep stuffing it in. Some studies have even suggested eating too fast messes with our GI tract and may even lead to insulin resistance.
A simple solution? Chewing each bite fully. Go ahead, count those chews. However many times you find you normally chew your food before swallowing, double that number. You will be amazed at how much more pleasure you get from your food. You will also be amazed at how little it takes for you to become full. And when you feel full, stop eating.