As today is the final day of National Nutrition Month, I'm highlighting the concept of using "Non-Food Rewards" as a reward for reaching health or wellness goals or milestones. This simple practice moves the focus away from food and specifically away from classifying food even subconsciously as "good" or "bad". Meanwhile, you will foster the experience of celebration and comfort through other means aside from food. Does this resonate with you? Do you often feel "guilty" about your eating? Do you feel that you "do really well" while at work with your eating and then have no "willpower" when all of your favorite foods are in front of you at the restaurant, party, or pantry? If this is you, don't stress or judge yourself, but instead, do consider taking this small step of using non-food rewards to pamper or treat yourself.
What might this look like in practice?
When you reach your goal weight, treat yourself to a foot massage or a new piece of jewelry or a wardrobe staple you've been wanting. Or, when you meet your goal of sticking to an exercise routine, splurge on a new pair of shoes or fitness tracker, rather than naming your prize as your "cheat meal" (a term that leaves most dietitians cringing). By treating yourself in ways other than the pizza outing or ice cream sundae night, you are developing healthy coping tools and outlets to manage your emotions outside of food.
So what's the big deal?
Why shouldn't you reward yourself with food? For individuals who have struggled with weight management or yo-yo dieting, working on "normalizing your relationship" with food can be a powerful strategy to stop the cycle of dieting for good, ultimately adopting a more intuitive way of eating where all foods fit. This concept is especially pertinent for individuals with a history of dieting or with weight-related goals who have not received doctor's orders to follow a therapeutic diet for the treatment of disease. So start examining how you think about and talk about food. If you follow a restrictive way of eating that doesn't allow you to eat foods that you enjoy (in appropriate portions), for many people, that places the "off-limits" food on a pedestal and gives it more power, making it most coveted.
Can I use this with my kids?
Finally, this is an important concept for parents of young children to consider as well, as they lay the foundation for their children's relationship with food. If you have a complicated relationship with food, you'll likely want to break that cycle for your children. If you are constantly rewarding the cookie for after-meal time or for good behavior, it sends the message that the cookie is superior to the rest of the meal or has some inherent value. Instead, try including it in appropriate portions at meal times on a more regular basis and this exposure makes it less alluring. You can instead make the treat or reward an extra book at bedtime, a special play date, or an outing of their choosing, etc.
By ALLOWING ourselves to eat all foods that we enjoy, while also largely emphasizing healthful foods that energize our bodies in amounts appropriate for our needs, we can stop struggling with the cycle of restricting and overindulging or binging.
What ways do you reward yourself outside of food? If you'd like some help, you can work with your health advisor on developing non-food rewards for your goals. Or, if you need assistance incorporating all of your favorite foods while keeping health goals in mind, our team of Registered Dietitians can help! Remember, food is meant to be enjoyable and nourishing both emotionally and physically.
When you get the inside right, the outside tends to follow.
Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!
– Keeley Mezzancello, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC
Health Advisor, Registered Dietitian | Email Keeley