Why Reward Ourselves with Foods that Punish our Bodies?

By Gary Salmirs

We have all heard people say it… “I just finished that hard work-out and now I’m going to reward myself,” and then they go out and eat a stack of pancakes with chocolate chips and whipped cream.

You may feel the need to celebrate after a hard effort, but celebrating with highly processed, nutrient poor food wipes out a lot of the benefits you’ve just gained. Is that really what your body needs at this point? Our bodies do need nutrients in order to recover and repair muscle, but high quality nutrients that you find in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, not sugar covered pancakes.

Americans have been conditioned to associate foods that are high in processed fat, sugar and salt as a reward for achievement.  It starts at an early age, with something I like to call the displaced reward punishment syndrome with parents stating, “If you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.” What we are really saying is, the healthy choice is the punishment and the unhealthy option the reward. And so it goes, our love affair of rewarding ourselves with foods that actually do more harm than good to our bodies.

Eating a proper, nutrition-based diet is a mindset. How we think about food and how we contemplate our choices is all part of the process. If we continue to think in terms of unhealthy rewards as it relates to our food decisions, then sustaining a healthy lifestyle will become increasingly harder.

Here are some of the tips that have worked for me to overcome the displaced reward punishment syndrome:

  • Recognize that rewarding yourself with nutrient-poor food is backward thinking and not healthful for your body.
  • Come up with a list of healthy whole foods that you enjoy and set those as your reward foods.
  • Change your mindset and realize that eating healthy whole foods after a hard effort is a reward to your body, it is going to make it function better and ultimately give you a great quality of life for a long time to come.
  • Use other healthy activities that are pleasurable as rewards, such as getting a massage, spending time with your family, giving yourself time to relax and read a good book, or buying new exercise clothes.