food choices

Mental Food Choices

“I’ve had a really hard day, “I went to all my workouts this week,” “I ate a salad for lunch,” “I’ve put up with my kids acting badly for a week and didn’t snap once,” …I deserve it.

On the surface it seems to make sense. In so many parts of life good behavior is rewarded with some kind of treat, whether it was a sticker in kindergarten or a bonus at work. It’s natural to want to apply the same logic to the food you eat, especially if you’ve ever adopted a dieter’s mindset (or trained a puppy).

Having a Hard Day

First let’s consider the assumptions made in the statement, “I had a hard day so I deserve some chocolate.” “A hard day” implies that you experienced an above average amount of stress in a single day, which of course is a bummer. Also implicit in the statement is that stress must somehow be balanced out with a positive experience.

And finally that food is an appropriate reward for enduring abnormally high stress.

Reward for “Being Good”

“I was good today so I deserve some chocolate.” The implication is that being “good” takes work and deserves a reward, and food is an appropriate reward.

“Some” correlates can also be deduced from the logic of these statements, which is where things get a bit more disturbing. One is that if you deserve chocolate on “stressful” days or “good” days, that implies that on regular days you do not deserve chocolate. Another is that indulgent foods (like chocolate) are intrinsically more rewarding than other foods.

Both of these deductions are demonstrably false, yet are consistent with the logic of moralizing your food choices.

When this is the frame you put on your food choices, your designated “bad” foods become rewards because most of the time you are using willpower to resist them. Eating bad is a respite from being good, and who doesn’t deserve a break every now and then? Especially on a hard day.

When you start asking yourself if you deserve to eat a specific food at any given moment, you are fueling the very mentality that causes you to seek that food (a reward) in response to stress. In other words, moralizing your food is kindling for emotional eating.

Do you see an issue here?!

When you find yourself asking, “Do I deserve this special food today?” Remind yourself that you deserve special food every day, and this is not the right question. If you’re in need of self-care the appropriate thing to ask is, “What will restore my peace and energy?” You’ll likely come up with very different answers.

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