We are taught that it is bad to use food as a reward or to stop feelings. Food is listed as the bad guy, especially if you are trying to lose weight. It is something to be avoided or to be counted, weighed, dissected and ate at the “correct” time. We have a very difficult and negative relationship with this thing called food, yet this is what we need to keep us alive.
We do not question the need for water or sunlight; these are what we need for life. We are grateful and appreciative that we have easy access. Society is trying to mess these two up as well, telling us to be careful of going out in the sun, put on sunscreen, cover up and as a consequence we have seen a massive increase in vitamin D deficiency. As we are going to discuss with food, enjoy some sun, plan time in the sun and enjoy. It is there for our good.
With water we are told to drink 2 liters per day and we do all sorts of things to make water taste better, mostly by adding other chemicals like sugar and caffeine and tell ourselves that we are drinking water. When you are really thirsty water is such a fantastic drink. If you have ever been bush walking and become hot and tired and come across a lovely bubbling brook you will know the feeling of enjoying water.
Food has been an even more complicated story. For 30 years we were told to go low fat and we did and we all got fatter and sicker. Now we are told to forget that idea .., we now need to give up sugar.
We need to eat more vegetables, but should we be eating more fruit?
What about meat, maybe just chicken and fish. But be careful of the heavy metals in fish
So just vegetables right? Well except for potato, and corn, and peas, and maybe even carrots and pumpkin. They all have lots of sugar in them too.
And bread that's bad too and surely you can not put margarine on it, or was that butter. Well certainly not jam any way and be careful of the peanut butter, it is full of fat and sugar, and vegemite is full of salt.
So why are we messing up the fun and basic things of life?
I love food. I do not like shoes, or clothes, or fancy cars or houses. I like food. When I want to reward myself I chose food. Why would walking around a noisy busy shopping center and spending lots of money be considered a reward. That is my idea of torture. But a delicious creamy chocolate éclair, now that is a reward.
The downside of this love is I put on weight.
As a young child I was well looked after, and feed well. I was plump. Well rounded. My father still looks at the photos of this chubby baby and says how cute. I did not think it was so cute when I was 10 and still chubby. I felt fat and ugly. Lucky for me as I reached my teens the weight just fell off, but I have spent all my life thinking I was fat. I look back on the few teenage photos I have and wonder what mirror was I looking in! I had a beautiful female body of bust, waist and hips. I was very lucky that I enjoyed moving and activity and did not put on weight until my sixth pregnancy at 28. Obviously on many babies for my metabolism. Once she was about 1 year old, I decided the weight had to go. I went to a company that does everything for you. Easy. You buy their food, eat what they give you and within a very short period of time, the weight was gone. I was 30 years old and looked fantastic. I was finally happy in my skin. I liked the look in the mirror. I had grown up. This weight loss stuff is easy.
This happy state lasted for the next 10 years, and then slowly I started gaining weight. At first it was not a problem. I was busy with my teenage family, a new marriage, and business. Lots of stress, but no problem- right? I had two more children at 42 and 45 and thought, that's OK. I put on a small amount of extra weight, but running around after these two will take it off. But it did not. And over the next few years I tried a number of diets and they did not work. I went back to my magic cure ten years ago, and, it did not work. I tried the meal replacement drinks, I counted calories and points. I took tablets and potions and lotions. All it did was put on more weight. Nothing I did worked. I went to the gym, I hired a personal trainer. I studied and became a personal trainer. I was getting fitter, but no skinner.
Then I hit menopause and the weight piled on. 10kgs in just a year. How did that happen? I started trying to find out why women put on weight at menopause and there is not an answer. I read things like, “you might put on a couple of kilos, but do not worry about it.” Do not worry it is natural. I had put on 10kg and that was on top of the 10kgs that I had put on in my 40's. I was now 20kgs overweight and into the obese category. How could this happen to me? I am fit. I'm a personal trainer. I teach other people how to lose weight. (well actually I do not, because how can I)
So now my battle was in ernest. This weight had to go. I tried every diet under the sun. Many of them I did not feel good about – they are full of junk and chemicals – but if they promise to lose my weight then I will do it.
Nothing worked. By 58 I am feeling defeated. Everyone around me is overweight or obese. The cute young gym instructors telling everyone, that losing weight is easy, exercise and eat right. Well I agree at 25 it is that easy. In you late 50's I am not finding it that easy. In fact it is downright depressing.
I decide to start learning more about weight loss and the current research. There is a lot about the roles of hormones, the role of sugar and the non-role of fat. Does exercise make a difference or not. I read books about women taking up marathon running and still not losing weight. It did not seem that exercise was the solution
I then started learning more about the mind body connection. The role stress plays in the balance of hormones and how this causes our body to want to be fat. Our body sees fat as good. It wants us to store up excess energy, as protection against the famine, as reserves for the danger that we face.
The problem is that the danger we face in our society, the excess protection of fat will not help us.
By now I have weird relationship with food. I have read so much, dieted so much, thought about food so much that I no longer know what to eat.
And when stress comes along, as it seems to every day, I want to eat something special. I want a reward for the effort of living.
My reward is food. I love chocolate, I love cream cakes, and I love gooey biscuits. But I love all food. And I will eat whatever is in front of me, even if I do not like it. (I have been known to eat cold chips, chocolate left lying around, or even in someone's pocket when I am doing the washing)
But food is my reward. Advice from all the gurus, find a non-food reward. But there is nothing that is as easy and accessible as food. I love massages, but I need a good hour and $ 60. I can buy a chocolate for $ 2.50 and right now. I love reading a romantic novel, but that is 8 hours by myself. That is rare. I like walking along the beach on a warm afternoon – well I do not even live at the beach.
Food works. And I deserve a reward. Life can have some serious downs. Teenage children, grocery shopping, housework, no one likes the dinner you have made. 10 o'clock at night and you finally get to sit down. You need a reward. What could I have?
Some have a glass of wine or two or three. Some have a smoke break at intervals through the day giving them lots of little rewards. Other recreational drugs can also give you high, but all of these have some big costs associated with them that I am not willing to pay.
Food can give you the same reward sensation and is legal and cheap and I like it.
The downside is the weight
What if we took away the idea that rewarding ourselves with food is bad? What if we planned to have reward food every day, just because we deserve it? What if there was not such thing as good or bad food. What if we started loving ourselves enough to reward ourselves with food in such a way that it did not damage our health?
Do I really need a family bar of chocolate as my going to bed treat, or will a frog be enough. Do I really want to have desert after a meal out, or could I share it, or maybe I can have an entrée and main and not need a desert.
What other foods can I have as treats, feel like it is a treat, but be kind to my body too.
My local café does the best salmon quiche. It is really tasty, and filling. I have it with salad and I have had a great meal, and a lovely treat. Kind to my body, and my reward center.
For a breakfast out I enjoy a FAT – fetta, avocado and tomato on toast. I find my body likes gluten free bread better so I have it on gluten free toast. That is a lovely treat.
I still love chocolate. But I have discovered that a small bar is just as good as a big one.
I tried buying a bag of chocolate frogs and keeping them in the fridge and eating one per day, but I ate them all in two days
It costs more up front, but it is cheaper to buy one when you are supermarket shopping, eat and enjoy.
I say reward yourself with food. It is a great rewarder.
Take away the guilt and plan what you really like
What are your rewards?
Hot chips? Chocolate? Cake? Cream buns?
When do you feel the need to be rewarded?
After shopping, at the end of the day, after a fight with you husband or child, or after a stressful appointment at work.
What if beats were part of the way you ate?
Most you ate, good quality food, lots of vegetables, good quality food that added nutrition to your body, that was good for you and looked after you, but as part of that you planned food that made you feel good. The special treasures that you look for.
By taking the reward foods out of the “bad” category you can now enjoy and plan for them. No need to feel deprived and pig out. As all food becomes allowed, you do not need to feel the stress to eat perfectly. Eat well most of the time. It is what you do because you love and respect your body. This is not saying go and eat junk all day. Respect yourself, love yourself and reward yourself with your special treasures.
When you have just had a fight with someone going to the fridge and eating an apple is just not going to cut it. What would you like?
No more guilty. Have your reward food and enjoy. Plan them as part of your healthy eating day.