Saturday, December 10, 2011

Food is not a reward

It starts out when we're young.

You do a good job in school, you behave when your parents need you to, you do a good job with your potty training.

And you're rewarded. Your parents give you candy.  Or maybe a dessert. Maybe since you behaved during the time your parents shopped in the store, you're rewarded with a candy bar at the checkout stand.  You make student of the month and your parents take you out for ice cream, or to your favorite fast-food restaurant. 

We don't know it at the time, but these seemingly harmless, otherwise innocent acts are sewing the seeds for the obesity epidemic that is rampaging throughout society today.

This is the habit that creates the association in our minds from a very young age: if I do something good, my body will receive food.  Food is no longer a source of nourishment, a source of fuel for your body.  It becomes a reward.  Then what happens is this: as you get older in life, having had this reward system with food established, you begin to "treat" yourself.

You can see how this pattern continues for the rest of our lives.  Do a good job at the office? Receive a pizza party.  The company had a great quarter!  Let's wheel in the junk food parade.

This is a disaster and it should stop, even though it never will.  It's too ingrained in our psyche, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize it for what it is and seek to minimize it.

Well-meaning people have often asked me if I am going to celebrate weight-loss milestones by rewarding myself and eating something "special" or "a little extra."  This is the exact cycle of behavior that got me into trouble in the first place, so why would I keep doing it?

So how do we stop the food-as-a-reward insanity?  The solution is simple: just don't do it.  There are other ways to reward people.  How about money?  Non-food gifts?  A trip?  Anything but food. Because as long as we as human beings believe food is a reward, we are going to strive to seek it out as much as possible and the weight struggle will continue forever. 

It's time to break the association.  Food is not a reward.  Food is what we eat to survive.  Nothing more, nothing less.


  1. Thanks, Bryan! I sooooo wish more people would change their attitude toward the 'food=reward' syndrome. I grew up with it & tho some will still argue that there are genetic tendencies towards obesity, a lot is nurture, not nature oriented.

  2. I agree Hellen. I do believe in genetic tendencies toward obesity and I do think I have it. But most of mine is probably behavior-oriented.