Just as some people become nurses because they were sick as a child, or firefighters because their home burned down when they were young, I got into exercise and nutrition because for all of my life I’ve struggled with my own food issues.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve found deep joy from food. I LOVE food. I like talking about it, I like planning for it, I like cooking it, and of course I especially love eating it. I know that everyone isn’t like this. Sometimes I hang out with people who truly have no interest in food. Ask me what I want for lunch and I’ll have 10 ideas ready to go. Ask other people and they’ll say “Oh, whatever, it doesn’t matter,” as if eating is a chore! And most shocking of all are those people who get so busy they “forget to eat.” I can guarantee you no matter how busy I’ve been, I’ve never, ever, forgotten to eat.
If this resonates, then this post is made for you. If you’re more on the “forget to eat” side of the fence, still keep reading because you’ll find this helpful for those people in your life who live to eat.
Life is hard. Everyone finds ways of coping with the challenges and stresses of life. The problem with really loving food is that it’s easy to start using food as a soother. You get back from a tough day and dive into your favorite dish, and with each bite you feel the tension melting away. Research shows that the brain eating a delicious food experiences similar chemistry to a brain on opiates. Just as some people are more susceptible to opiates than others, food has a more powerful effect for some of us. I’m definitely in that category.
But with every bite of a rich, delicious food, you take on a load of energy, bound up in all those scrumptious sugar, fat, and protein molecules. Unless you're exercising for hours a day, that energy will end up being stored in fat pockets around your body. Your love of food will start to show itself as year by year you put on layer after layer of new adipose tissue. This is what happened to me in my youth, as I went from husky to chubby to tubby. It took 10 years to dig out of that hole with the power of clean eating and smart exercise — experiences which formed the bedrock of what became Kenzai.
One of the things I notice when I’m in a bad place with eating is that I start using rich food as a reward. It will look something like this:
- “When I finish this paperwork, I’ll let myself have that pastry.”
- “If I go on a run, I can eat pizza tonight.”
- “We had a great month of sales, I’d say I’ve earned a take-out order.”
- “I’m feeling sad today, a cookie would be a nice treat to brighten up the afternoon.”
There’s nothing wrong with having a treat once in a while. But when you start to do it every day, or multiple times a day, you’ll soon enter an energetic imbalance and the body fat stores will begin filling out.
There are times each year when I feel myself slip into overusing food as a reward and stress-reliever. If I know I’m overdoing it, I’ve found it useful to take some time to write down specific, non-food-related rewards that will make the day more pleasurable — without a caloric load.
For example, you could modify the rewards above like this.
“When I finish this paperwork, I’ll give myself a half hour to browse the latest gossip on Reddit.”
“If I go on a run, I’ll binge-watch an extra episode of a show tonight.”
“We had a great month of sales, I’d say I’ve earned a back massage.”
“I’m feeling sad today, this afternoon I’ll head to my favorite cafe, order a coffee, and start that book I’ve been looking forward to.”
The key to this working is that you don’t try to sub in goody-two-shoes activities for your usual food treats. Don’t say something like “I’ll take a nice walk” unless taking a walk truly is a treat for you. The rewards should be true guilty-pleasures, just ones that don’t involve food.
The more formal you make these rewards, the more juice they give you. The human mind absolutely loves having a goal, hitting that goal, then getting the promised reward for it. Say your reward out loud. Write it down in a place you can see it during the day. Milk it for all its worth.
When you get this right, you realize that more than half the fun of those food treats was the reward itself, and that you can get just as much pleasure from other small pleasures in life which don’t show up around your waistline.
What non-food treats and rewards do you give to yourself?
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder