Sunday, January 24, 2010

From Dr Denise, Emotional Eating Expert -- Food: Reward or Punishment?

Food can be a reward or a punishment! When we were children we were most likely both rewarded and punished with food. Desserts were likely withheld until all of the vegetables had disappeared and you may have been given candy if you behaved. You may have been sent to bed without supper as a punishment or not allowed the ice cream or candy others received because you had been “bad.” For most, if not all of us, there are memories of food being used in these ways. Food is a powerful motivator. Behavior modification programs use candies, for example, to change difficult behaviors in children or in people who are learning impaired. Once the child or adult learns that he or she will receive a candy when they perform a specific behavior, they become motivated to perform that behavior again to receive another treat. It is extremely effective.

We have all been conditioned in this same way to some extent. If we learned as children that food is a reward, we may continue to use it in that way and the deprivation we experience on any diet plan may translate to us as punishment. If food was withheld from us when we were little to keep us in line, we may feel angry now when we experience any hunger. We may rebel against those who punished us then by eating even more now than we really want or need. Begin to notice how often you give yourself a “treat” as a reward. Notice how often you feel deprived and punished at times when you are restricting food.

Taking responsibility for what we put into our mouths means, in part, releasing some of our old beliefs about food. If we can appreciate food as neutral – not good or bad – we can begin making more thoughtful choices. Food is a powerful force in each of our lives. It is hard to untangle our present eating behaviors from the ways we viewed and experienced eating in our childhood years. It is helpful to recognize this and to begin paying attention to the ways you may be using food to reward yourself or how you may be experiencing even mild hunger as a punishment. If you realize your tendencies to do this, you will be less compelled to act on impulse, eat for emotional reasons and you can give yourself time to decide whether you really want to eat or not.

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