It’s been a long day.
You didn’t sleep well.
Your kids were fighting all morning.
Work was rough.
Dinner didn’t turn out very well.
And, you still have to sit down and pay bills once the kids are in bed.
So, you grab the ice cream out of the freezer, and put a big old scoop into a bowl. Then another scoop, and you tell yourself, “It’s OK. I’ve earned this after today.”
Been there? I’d say there’s a really good chance you have.
There are two problems with this thinking.
First, we don’t earn food. We need food. It’s not something we have to work for, or only get if we “deserve” it.
Thinking it terms of whether or not you have or haven’t earned food is a good sign that your relationship with food might need some work.
Sure, there is some real value to taking a moment to think about if eating a certain food will move you closer to, or further away from your goals, and doing a quick cost-to-benefit ratio to see if you want to eat it. But that is totally different than feeling like you’ve earned certain foods.
That difference in mindset and how we mentally approach food matters.
Second, when we feel like we’ve earned certain foods after long and stressful days, it’s not really about whether or not we’ve earned it. What’s most likely happening is that we’re stressed, and we want something to make us feel better. We want comfort, and food is an easy and common way to find it.
We tell ourselves that we’ve earned it, because if it’s something we’ve earned and deserve, then it’s pretty easy to justify.
(Side note: I could care less is you have ice cream every single night. What I do care about is WHY you have ice cream every single night. I have a bowl of cereal most nights. It’s never because I feel like I’ve earned it. It’s because I like cereal, so I make it fit into my daily nutrition while still being able to pursue my goals. There’s a big difference between eating something to deal with stress or emotions, and making a conscious choice to eat something simply because it brings you pleasure.)
Following my last point, before my side note, if you find yourself justifying anything you’re eating, that’s also a red flag. You don’t need to justify your food choices to anyone. Certainly not yourself.
Using food to cope with feelings is very common. I’d argue it’s one of the most common things my clients struggle with.
The best approach is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. Are you tired? Are you stressed? Are you bored? Are you lonely? Ask yourself those questions, and answer honestly.
This alone can be very helpful. Recognizing that your “hunger” is really just a cue to an action that helps deal with emotions can sometimes shut the whole thing down.
If it doesn’t, deal with what you’re feeling.
Stessed? Go workout. Call a friend to vent. Make a plan to deal with that specific stressor.
Tired? Go to bed.
You might be surprised at how often this will nip that “I’ve earned this” mindset in the bud. And taking back control of your eating habits will go a very long way in regards to meeting your goals.