“Don’t Reward Yourself With Food: You Aren’t a Dog.” (Or are you?)

I could point fingers any number of directions, but I most blame my tendency to reward myself with food on Pizza Hut’s early 90s BOOK IT! reading program.

My fellow Millennials know the drill: you’d read five non-homework books a month, have an adult drive you to your local Pizza Hut franchise and collect a personal pan pizza to reward your extracurricular scholarship.

Of course, this wasn’t the only place I was rewarded for good behavior with delicious, pepperoni-topped calories. From infancy through college, I was subconsciously taught food is an appropriate payment for a job well-done, and I bet you were too:

  • Finish your dinner, get dessert
  • Visit the doctor, get a lollipop
  • Win the canned food drive, get a pizza party
  • Perform a successful Christmas concert as first-chair clarinet, go out for ice cream with your dad because first-chair clarinetists tended to have very few friends

(I’m just kidding. Even nerds have friends!)

Old habits die hard, and I find I still reach for consumables as reward well into my 30s. Made it through a tough workday? That calls for take-out. Took a hard yoga class? I deserve a bagel. Raced a 10k? Let’s get softserve.

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(To be fair, this was an ice-cream themed race, so they kind of forced it on it.)

Food-based rewards make sense when you’re training, say, your Bernese mountain dog to use stairs, but they aren’t the healthiest choice for someone trying to cut calories, rein in mindless eating or — mostly importantly for me — rewire an emotional attachment to food.

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Lu’s favorite reward: coffee, two sugars.

So this summer, I tried an experiment. I’ve been trying to break my 2 p.m. dark chocolate addiction for months years ever, but after six hours at my desk, I always feel I’ve “earned” my sugary (antioxidant-filled!) treat. So I hit up the bulk food section at my office, inhale a half cup of almondy goodness and then find myself wondering the rest of the workday whether that was really the best use of my calorie deficiency.

Looking to break the chains (#redrising) of sugar addiction, I decided to see if anything could overpower the pull of food as a reward. So I went to Runners World’s website, found a cool tank top I’d been eyeing for months, and ordered it for myself. And when it arrived in the mail, I did the unthinkable: I didn’t open it.

Instead, I told myself I could have the shirt if I went all June long without touching the almonds. And you know what? I did it! And it wasn’t even that hard. Knowing I had a reward — a non-food one — waiting for me if I pulled through, I was able to beat the craving and make it through the month. (Of course, July marked a massive backslide, but baby steps.)

A running shirt worked for me, but it might be a different non-food reward that inspires you to make a change. Maybe you promise yourself a massage after a month of marathon training, or a manicure if you eat all your veggies this week, or you buy yourself a bouquet of flowers for taking the stairs, or treat yourself to a bubble bath for a day without sugar. Find what works for you, and give it a try.

Who know? You might break a habit once and for all. And if you don’t, at least you’ll have a cool new tank!

 

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Running IS a natural high! Thanks, shirt!

How do you reward yourself without reaching for a New York slice?

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