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Breaking the cycle of “deserving” or “earning” food

January 16, 2013

As often as I can, I try to spend some quality time with some of my favorite people in Rome. Even though Milan and Rome are only 3 hours apart on the fast train, I don’t get to Rome as often as I’d like. On a trip there during the fall, many hadn’t seen me since the summer prior, and I was happy they noticed a difference.

We stopped by a Sicilian pastry place I like; they have a delicious cassatina, a ricotta, sugar and almond paste cake from Sicily. I like them a lot (see exhibit A to the right).

A friend, probably trying to encourage me despite my weight loss progress to order one, said, “Get one. You’ve earned it!”

While she meant well, inside I was saying, No. No. I haven’t earned anything, and that’s not why I’ll get one.ย (spoiler: I did order one, and it was delicious).


I’m not immune to the feeling of “being good” and wanting to reward myself. But as I talked about in other posts about non-food rewards, it’s really important that we break the cycle of thinking that exercising is being “good” -> reward self with food -> exercising the calories “off” because you were “bad.”

Muscles also require more calories to be maintained rather than just eating a deprivation diet. But that’s not why I work out. I work out because I want to keep my mobility and strength.

Muscles help me do practical things like climb stairs instead of standing still on the escalator, walk around for hours without getting tired, and lift that suitcase over my head easily which I’ve stuffed with gifts and treats. Eating less will help you lose weight but it won’t make you strong.

So I’m working hard on breaking that cycle in myself and in friends, too. When I’m hungry or craving something, I don’t think about if I’ve just worked out that day, or if I will tomorrow. I think first about how I’m going to eat differently to balance things out. I’m working hard on keeping eating and exercising on two different mental tracks.

Exercising !=(is not) burning what I eat. Exercising == strength and health.

and Eating != a reward because of my workouts (though this is an important thing to make sure I get enough fuel pre-and-post-workout), but rather Eating == pleasure and fuel, and a continual and conscious balancing of the two.

What do you think about earning or deserving food?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2013 5:26 pm

    Great post, Sara! It can be really hard to change that mindset – it really isn’t something I’ve been working to do yet, but now that I’m at my desired weight, I need to start thinking about exercising as strength and health, rather than as a weight loss method. Thanks for helping me start to think on a better mental track!

    • January 20, 2013 9:47 pm

      @Suzie – ugh, your comment went into spam (you should bug your fiance about troubleshooting this) ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yay for reaching desired weight! Definitely check out increasing your strength a bit – muscles change your entire body composition (in a very good way) ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. January 16, 2013 6:47 pm

    I love it when you post here. All of the above is so true. I definitely have fallen into the pitfall of thinking that because I ran today or because I went for a 3 mile walk I can totally drink a bottle of wine and eat cake. So. Not. True. And so not the way to maintain a healthy way of life. I especially love that you stipulate that eating = pleasure AND food. That’s balance I can get behind. When sites and other people want me to just think of food as fuel it really doesn’t work for me. Hence, as I mentioned in the past, why that whole just eat beans (!) and microwaved eggs 4-hour body thing really turned me off. Yes, I will never get over seeing that revolting YouTube video of gummy stuff topped with flax seed oil lol ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • January 16, 2013 7:12 pm

      Thanks Erin ๐Ÿ™‚ This whole thing is about finding the balance between food for pleasure and fuel….I can’t do “only fuel” either – I wouldn’t last!

  3. January 16, 2013 11:53 pm

    I love your thoughts on this, Sara. I think a lot of people, women in particular, equate depravation with health, which is so off the mark. food is indeed fuel and best of all, pleasure! wine too:)

    • January 20, 2013 9:49 pm

      @Katie – totally. The minute I hear someone say “I *can’t* have that” I know that one day, they’re going to have that and think they’ve ruined everything or have been bad. I think wine definitely has its place in a healthy diet! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. January 21, 2013 12:54 am

    Love this message and it can’t be said enough. Food can be for fuel *and* for pleasure, no math involbed (my trouble is not veering too far onto one side or the other-usually pleasure!)

  5. January 25, 2013 12:39 am

    I agree wholeheartedly, although it is really tough to get this out of our minds. I think we have all been brainwashed! If I catch myself thinking about a “reward” I try to change the reward into something non-food, like a really good stretch, a catnap, reading stupid things online for 10 minutes, etc. It’s an ongoing process!

    • January 25, 2013 8:14 am

      Totally. How many times have you seen some sort of advertisement saying we deserve X or we’ve earned X?

  6. Aldo permalink
    January 28, 2013 6:20 pm

    I really try to get into this mindset but I find it very hard. Breaking those mindsets that have existed that last 20 years for me is so complicaated.

  7. February 21, 2013 5:59 pm

    I love this post and I absolutely agree with you. Most people forget that treating our bodies well by eating well (and yes, that means occasionally indulging in special desserts!) and exercising is a kindness that we do for ourselves. Our choices should be guided not by reward/punishment, but rather by what will best support our bodies and souls so that we can experience pleasure and fulfill our purpose while we are on this earth. It requires a bit of re-training, but it’s a much less stressful relationship with food.

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