Don’t reward yourself with food…

… you are not a dog.

I was having lunch with a girlfriend and her one-year old daughter last week. Her daughter wasn’t having a good day. They’d had a busy morning, and she’d had enough. We made faces at her, tickled her, spoke in silly voices, tried distracting her with car keys and spoons… all the regular stuff. Eventually we got her a baby-chino and some hot chips. It kept her happy long enough for us to have lunch and a gossip, and then they went home so she could have a sleep.

My friend commented at one point that she was probably setting her daughter up a dysfunctional relationship with food. I responded that I thought it would take more than one lunch. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. Plenty of kids have been feed a bowl of chips to keep them quiet without developing eating disorders.

My own certainly developed and was reinforced through a mix of circumstances and over a period of time. It is something I am still unraveling, and I still struggle with. I manage to be in control most of the time now, but I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered it. I’ve struggled the last week because I haven’t been able to workout – doctor’s orders! – so that has made me even more conscious of what I’m putting in my mouth. I wonder if I will ever be able to relax with how I eat, or whether I will always have to be uber-aware of what I consume, and how it fits with the plan.

The behaviours are so practiced that they’re almost hard-wired in. This reward one has got me thinking today. A couple of weeks ago I hit a goal and I bought a cake – a very good flourless chocolate cake – to share with my team at work to celebrate. Today I got some good news from the doctor – I’m allowed to workout again – and I was walking home, wondering what I could grab for dessert to celebrate. My automatic response to celebration is to eat something… something off-plan, with sugar, salt or fat, or all three – salted caramel and white chocolate gelato anyone?!?

Sad? Eat. Happy? Eat. Stressed? Eat. There really isn’t an emotion I haven’t stuffed down my throat, and I’ve been doing it for years.

So much of this journey is about learning new responses and behaviours. I’ve learnt to get out of bed in the mornings to workout – I now miss it when I’m not allowed! I’ve learnt to plan my meals at the beginning of the week – and I now feel disorganised if I don’t. As I walked home today, arguing with myself about rewarding myself with food – and remembering this little meme above – I realised this was just another behaviour I needed to change. So I started thinking of other ways to celebrate or reward myself. Rewards that don’t make me a dog. And that brought up some far more interesting options!

So – I’ve had my dinner, written my blog, and I’m about to have some strawberries (on special at Harris Farms this week!) and yoghurt for dessert. It fits with the plan, it isn’t a reward, it’s just part of my nutrition for the day – it’s the new normal.

And what did I do to celebrate? I put the celebration off til tomorrow… I’m off running with the Ladies Running Club in the morning – and really, that’s celebration enough.

I’m also on twitter.

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