Not a Reward or the Boogeyman: It's Just Food
*Preface: Guys, this is really one from my heart. Because of my personal story and experience, but also because so much of what I have seen in working with my clients, friends, family, and society in general.
I love behavioral psychology and am constantly reading up on it. One of the biggest components of my training job is to coach my clients when it comes to nutrition is not just what macronutrients are, but also to encourage shifts in perspective and habitual changes when it comes to food in order to move towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
For the longest time, I found it impossible to talk about my experience with disordered eating, because I felt SO shameful and alone in my struggles- then through becoming a trainer I found empowerment in being able to help others through my experience with their relationships with their bodies and their food. I realized how so many people do not have a positive, healthy relationship with food in one way or another.
I feel like I've been seeing an influx of food posts on social media labeling things as "guilt-free" and you can eat it as a free-for-all because they don't have gluten or because something is vegan, it must be healthy. Or the opposite end of the spectrum with binge-quantity amounts of processed food because #YOLO #foodporn #drools.
This inspired me to write this post below. I'm certainly not perfect. But I think we can all do better.
Food shouldn't have to be BAD vs. GOOD or a reward vs. something to fear.
It's such a subconscious thing we do. We're taught from the very beginning that good behavior = reward, which is frquently food.
I was on a trip to visit friends in Boston back in September when we walked over to The Commons. A landmark at the park is the duckling statues, where countless kids have sat on for photos. No surprise, as we walked over, there were two young kids with their parents who were trying to get a photo. As the little boy was refusing to sit still, his mother whipped out a pack of M&Ms, and said, "if you sit still for the picture, you can have the whole bag right afterward."
My friends and I were initially stunned, bemoaning what seemed like poor, lazy parenting. Then ruminating about it afterward, the parents aren't really the ones we should be pointing the finger at (also, it's not nice to judge parenting choices!)
This is simply the way society has been conditioned.
An anti-obesity PSA campaign called "Rewind the Future" released earlier this fall takes us through a man's life in rewind to see how he ended up obese. These scenarios are startlingly familiar to us all, obese or not.
The kindergarden teacher brings out cookies after the kids behaved during storytime.
The kids dress up for Halloween to get candy.
The dog gives you a high five for a treat.
Even the act of cake being the celebratory centerpiece of a birthday signifies our equating food with rewards or celebrations.
Now, these aren't all necessarily bad things. After all, a toast would not be the same without raising a glass, and food is an integral part of culture and human interaction. The joy of cooking and dinner parties bring me is a huge component of what I love to do with loved ones.
However, it starts to slip into unhealthy territory when eating that giant cookie becomes an inherent translation to an extra gym session to "counterbalance" it. That's not balance. Conversely, the fact that you did an extra spin class this week does not "earn" you a donut bigger than your face. That is a rollercoaster of extremes.
We so often refer to things as "YOLO" foods, "Treatyoself" treats, and "Cheat" meals. They represent the occasional free-passes to indulge in foods we typically try to run away from like it's the Boogeyman chasing us.
The word, indulge, is defined by Merriam Webster as "allow oneself to enjoy the pleasure of." How many times have we told ourselves we'll indulge in that dessert just tonight, then end up feeling shameful and angry at oneself for lacking willpower? That doesn't sound like allowing oneself to enjoy the pleasure of something at all- ironically counterintuitive, no?
Food is not the enemy. It is not a reward or a punishment.
It is nourishment that enables us to roam and travel the world, our tastebuds to be thrilled, our brains to create and think, our bodies to run, jump, dance, love, and live in all expressions possible.
It can absolutely be so difficult, particularly when you have a complicated history when it comes to your relationship with food. For me and so many others, we've experienced both ends of the spectrum. For me, it took a combination of many things, including therapy for my eating disorder. It's neither simple, nor is it straightforward; but I do believe that we have the power to change things, and that YOU can do this.
When we stop giving it the power to rule us with the parallels of fear or reward, and instead treat it as the pleasurable and nourishing source it is, we can begin to feel true indulgence. The way food was meant to be.