“I fell into a bit of a rut there, interestingly because I was ‘rewarding’ myself for getting a new job. And I was like ‘fuck it, I’ll have one pizza.’ One turned into a 4 day binge on JustEat.”
A few months ago, I got this message from a very dear friend of mine (hi honey, love you) and I wanted to share this with you guys because I know fine well that my friend is not alone in their struggle with the whole concept of “treating” yourself.
My friend came to me to confess what they had been eating, and to ask me to help them get back on track, or “shout at them” I think was the terminology.
I want to tell you all the same thing that I told my friend, because this is important:
What you’re doing is normal and natural, and it’s not actually your fault.
LET’S GET SCIENCY… ISH
When you eat certain foods, it causes a release of dopamine. Now, dopamine is a chemical of many functions, and one of these is that it triggers a “feel-good” response in the bloodstream. Dopamine is essential to experiencing emotional responses in a variety of situations, including eating. So yes, while we all joke about it, you really do have an emotional response when you eat.
*Oh my god is this why I cry every time I eat peanut butter*
While all foods can cause a moderate release of dopamine in the body, it is the “good stuff” that causes a very large spike in dopamine production. You know what I mean: the tasty stuff. The fast food, the ice cream, the cookies, the donuts. But this spike leads to a huge crash soon afterwards, and thus to another craving for a dopamine hit. This is why you find it so hard to have just one scoop, one slice, one packet: your brain tells you to eat more because it wants to get that dopamine hit it first experienced.
*whole world stops and gasps*
You are actually being neurologically conditioned to feel good when you eat this stuff. Your brain knows what’s coming. It knows it’s going to get the dopamine high. This is why it’s painfully tempting to buy it, and why it’s so hard to stop once you’ve started.
“I’m addicted, i knew it!”
Now, I’m not telling you this so you can use it as an excuse. I don’t want you walking around like “I’m actually emotionally attached to French fries and chocolate. Bon said so in her blog. That’s why I can’t stop eating it.”
It is a conditioned response, an acquired habit, and, like all habits, it is not out of your control. You must simply overcome it.
“I think it’s easy if not even temptingly delicious to fall back on food as a reward for something, and you can decide what is ‘reward’ worthy. Because literally sometimes I’m like I GOT UP TODAY TREAT FOR ME.”
I used to do this all the time.
Finished uni work? Go buy a bar of chocolate.
Went for a run this afternoon? Hell yeah babe, order a pizza.
Had a shower? Go get yourself a tub of ice cream Bon, you earned it.
But, what happened to me after I ate this stuff? What happens to my friend, and to almost all of us when we “treat” ourselves?
“The reward ends up making me regret eating it, which dampens on the thing that I did to “deserve” the reward.”
We eat the whole tub of ice cream to “treat” ourselves, because our brain knows it’s going to make us feel good. *hiya dopamine*
But it’s not a real feeling.
It is a chemically generated reaction.
And as soon as the dopamine levels go down, you sit there and think “fuck. Why did I do that?”. You then regret what you ate, which creates a negative feeling around whatever it was that you did in the first place that earned the reward.
It’s okay to eat these “treat” foods, of course it is.
You just need to detach the idea in your mind that they’re a “treat”.
The problem that I see is not that we “reward” ourselves with food, but that we only see certain foods as a reward.
Think about this.
I know very few people who would think “oooh I’ve got a big bowl of fresh fruit waiting in my fridge, what a TREAT.”
No, we glamourise the pizzas and the cookies and the chips while other “normal” foods are seen as boring and become something of a chore.
Of course, this is largely down to the taste. We all know chocolate tastes better than cauliflower.
But what we must realise is, all food is a reward. Every meal. Every slice of apple, every juicy cheeseburger, every raw carrot. It is all a gift and something we should enjoy and be grateful for. But we’re not.
And this is exactly the problem.
so what did i do?
The biggest thing that helped me was to be more mindful about eating.
Being more aware of the stuff you are putting into your body makes you realise that every meal and snack and bite of food is a gift, and so the big hype around the “treat” food disappears.
If you have a beautiful homemade meal waiting for you, which you took your time to cook, to eat, you let it fill you up, and enjoyed every bite, you’re less likely to want to go and purge the freezer when you’re finished. Start consciously telling yourself: “this is delicious, what a treat”.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“I’m not going to come home from a long, stressful day of work and go ‘God you know what? I deserve a treat tonight. PASS ME THE BROCCOLI.”
I get that.
But I do encourage you to change how you think.
Stop categorising foods.
Stop assigning emotional association to certain food groups.
Stop thinking that anything unhealthy is a “treat” and anything that is actually wholesome and good for you is boring or a chore.
Make sure that the majority of your diet comes from nutritious and whole sources, and the rest of it isn’t a “cheat” or a “treat” or a “reward”. It’s just more food, with a slightly lower micro-nutrient count.
Food is one of the five senses and should be enjoyed and indulged in and appreciated every single day. Every piece of fruit, every leaf of salad, every handful of nuts. Every meal is a blessing and a reward.
Try to start seeing it like that.
Thank you so much for reading this. If you liked this, please check out my Instagram page where I post fitness, lifestyle and nutrition tips every day.