Rewarding Yourself Without Food

As I’ve thought about my own struggle with weight it’s become clear that I have an unhealthy relationship with food. One could reasonably say an addiction to junk food. This shouldn’t be too surprising, it’s well known now that food companies use flavors to hit the pleasure center of our brain, filling us with empty calories and leaving us a craving more. Our broken food system is only part of the problem for me and many others though.

For me, and I’m sure some of you and others you know as well, our unhealthy relationship with food also started in childhood when junk food was used as rewards or for special occasions. Our parents, rightly, didn’t let us have these foods often, but when they did it was always a treat. We got to go out for dinner on the last day of school. We got candy for holidays. We’d get a gumball at the grocery store if we behaved well. We got cake or cupcakes for our birthdays. We got soda at big family events, like the Fourth of July picnic, or on those rare special occasions when we went out to eat. The circumstances of our treats added extra ties to the pleasure centers in our brains, above and beyond what was being created by the junk food alone. For me at least, later on in life, as I was able to make more and more of my own food choices, when I am stressed out I crave those “good feeling” foods like cupcakes, cookies, brownies, chips, fast food and soda, all the more because I’ve treated them my whole life as a reward. So if I’ve had a really rough day I’ve “earned” that cupcake, or two.

In addition to serving “real food” to ourselves and our children, avoiding processed grains, sugars and industrial fats, I propose that we also need to re-think the mentality of junk food as a “special” treat. It is okay to have such things as a once in a rare while food – but I have come to believe that tying it to the idea of a “treat” may be as unhealthy for us as the food itself.

It is harder to re-train those of us who are already adults, though not impossible. Our brains are fairly plastic, and if you stop allowing a reward loop to continue it will eventually go away – but it will take much more will power as an adult than what is needed for children. Because they are still laying down their neural pathways, it’s especially important that we come up with some non-food rewards for special occasions. for children. Here are some ideas I have come up with that are good rewards for kids (and adults) that don’t involve food. (Note that most of these are experiential, practical or educational – because we don’t want to replace gluttony for food with gluttony for “stuff” either).

  • A trip to the local amusement park
  • A family camping trip
  • A backyard camp out
  • A movie night with healthy snacks
  • Sleepover with friends
  • Trip to the local zoo
  • Trip to the museum
  • Going out to the movies
  • Hiking
  • A new book
  • A new educational toy
  • An extra half hour of internet or TV time
  • A trip to the library
  • New sports equipment
  • New article of clothing
  • A new cosmetic item like lip balm or body spray
  • New water bottle
  • Extra allowance into a savings account
  • A big hug
  • Words of praise
  • A card
  • A potted plant
  • A new journal
  • New crayons, colored pencils or markers
  • New supplies for a favorite hobby or craft
  • Music, dance or sports lessons

What would you add to the list? What non-food rewards do you find most meaningful?

Health Affirmations

On my crunchy journey I have discovered that a big issue I have is mindset. While I was anxiously going to doctors seeking a diagnosis I was convinced every pain was cancer and that I was going to die before 35. Once I got a diagnosis a lot of that anxiety went away, but there are still scary moments and anxieties, like when a new pain crops up, or lingers longer than it has before. Yet, while I want to track my symptoms, when I focus too much on my pain it feels much worse. On the other hand, when I decide that I am going to be healthy and happy I feel better, even if the baseline pain is essentially the same. Changing your frame of mind can make such a difference in your health! I am now working on making a habit of positive visualization.

Sometimes I repeat one image or mantra over and over again using mala beads or a rosary to help me keep track. Other times I read through a list or affirmations written out on index cards. Still other times I will listen to a guided imagery or meditation. Whatever method(s) you choose, I hope you will make time to for focused healing thoughts. Here are some general healthy affirmations to get you started.

  • My body is able to heal itself
  • My body knows how to work properly
  • I eat foods that nourish my body
  • I am able to move my body in ways that strengthen it
  • My body can do whatever I ask of it given the right tools
  • My body knows when to rest and digest
  • My immune system knows how to attack infections
  • My immune system knows not to attack myself
  • My body is whole and nourished
  • I sleep well and my body is restored each night
  • My muscles are strong and supple
  • My joints are able to move freely but safely
  • My liver and kidneys are able to cleanse my body
  • My digestive system can absorb all the nutrients my body needs
  • My lungs are clear and I can breathe easily
  • My heart is strong and efficient
  • My nervous system is clear and functions smoothly
  • I know my body is able to heal whatever illness I struggle with
  • My biome is healthy and in balance with friendly microbes who support my well-being
  • My emotions are balanced and healthy
  • I am not afraid of my emotions, nor am I controlled by them
  • My whole body, mind, emotions, environment and soul are healthy and work together for my well-being

For more information on how mindset can help heal and maintain wellness, check out these books.

Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin

Self-Healing with Guided Imagery by Dr. Andrew Weil