In my grade school years, I remember when my teachers or coaches would offer up candy as an assentive to get their students to work harder or preform better at an activity. As a child I absolutely loved this system. I was extremely competitive and I loved candy, so I would do anything I needed to, to get my hands on the prize. But, researchers have recently began to discover that using food as a reward can have potentially harmful effects on the way people view their food, and possibly lead to over eating and obesity.
How does this habit develop?
Using food as a reward usually begins with children at a young age. I have heard parents say things like “if you finish all your broccoli, you can have your desert”, or “if you win that soccer game, I will buy you an ice-cream”. Whether it is parents using food to bribe their children, or teachers in schools handing out candy to children who are well behaved during class, using food as a reward has become a common aspect of going up. This habit is not just specific to the grade-school ages, but continues on throughout various other aspects of life. In university, I remember friends saying that after exams they would go out and grab their favourite sweet from the bakery, or grab some salty snack on the way home. As a nutrition coach, I even see this first hand when a client loses weight, sometimes they reward themselves with some sweets or unhealthy foods, which in turn can impede their continually success of losing weight.
The problem with food as a reward:
Although offering the winning team candy to try to encourage participation in an activity may seem harmless, it could actually have detrimental effects on how the way we view foods, and consequently on our eating habits and patterns. Think about this – if you consumed a sweet treat every time you did something well, you would
The problem about using food as a reward, is that it becomes something that you feel you deserve, rather then something your body fundamentally needs to survive. Instead of eating using the bodies natural cues for hunger, using food as a reward teaches the body that it is ok to eat when you do something well or achieve something. You do not need to deserve food, because food is something that you body needs to grow. In so many ways, we have trained ourselves to see food as a reward and a source of pleasure rather than something to fulfill hunger and the sustain the needs of the body.
The tricky balance of it all:
Now, here is the hard part about all of this – naturally, many of us do find reward and pleasure in food, and this is not completely a bad thing. Food can be something that brings people together and creates great memories. And let’s not kid ourselves here, some foods taste great, and therefore will bring pleasure, but there is a tricky balance between finding enjoyment through food versus finding complete enjoyment in food. There is a balance in-between being satisfied with the foods you are eating and finding all your pleasure in the food you eat. Its is not good to see food purely as just nutritions, but then finding complete pleasure in food can lead to food addictions and over-eating. This balance will look different to each individual. Its important to be aware of this balance and
1. Pay attention to the reasons why you eat your food? Are you hungry, bored, do you feel that you deserve the food?
2. Use other activities as a reward instead of food. For example, read a book, take a walk, sit in the sun, take a nap, or watch some TV instead of grabbing a snack when you feel you have done something well.
3. Instead of using food as a reward, pay attention to your body’s needs, such as hunger.
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