You remember being a kid and hearing your Mom say, "If you be good while we're at the store you'll get a treat afterwards" or "If you finish your dinner you can have some ice cream with chocolate syrup and jimmies for dessert!" You may have even told yourself if you're good on your diet all week you can have your favorite dessert and a glass of wine on Saturday.
Any of this sound familiar?
Honestly, I don't think I've ever put these ideas together until after I was free from bulimia and emotional eating. During those hard times I couldn't wait for a treat after being such a good girl—in the meantime I was feeling starved and miserable all week long. It's no wonder I would feel like a ravenous animal being let loose into the wild and devouring everything it encountered on its path for far too long.
We're so programed to be rewarded with pleasurable things for good behavior, which is usually food, that we link those euphoric and comforting feelings of warm, cheesy, salty, sweet, crunchy, sugary deliciousness to a sense of accomplishment—of being good or doing the right thing.
When we're emotional eaters we can relate that feeling of fulfillment and soothing nature to when we are "bad" or are feeling bad and yearn to have the comfort of washing it all away and reliving that experience of being rewarded and praised for good behavior.
We're not wrong to feel this way, especially since it's all we know and it's been ingrained in us most likely since childhood. As children we relate feeling happy and satisfied with getting a sugary treat.
These regular occurrences leave an imprint towards the way we'll behave in the future. You had a fight with your husband or boyfriend and run home to the freezer where a pint of cookies and cream ice cream will melt away all your feelings of hurt and anger. Or you had a stressful day at work and stop at the store on the way home for king-sized Reese's peanut butter cups and a chocolate milk. Even overcoming an obstacle such as writers blog, winning a big case at work, or nailing that little tweak on your golf swing that totally changed your game can lead to the "I deserve this" reward. There is a pattern of celebrating and rewarding with sugary or carb loaded treats for a job well done or a mood that's down in the dumps.
The celebratory treat is a reward we repeat from childhood that relates feeling happy and uplifted to indulging in your favorite foods for comfort and relief. This isn't to say you shouldn't ever be able to indulge in your favorite treats (because we all know that's crazy talk,) but the association between emotions and gratifying foods needs to be separated.
If you're ready to break the links between rewards, emotions and food then download my free 5-step guide to breaking out of emotional eating. You'll learn how to address and accept your emotions instead of eating them, stop allowing food and feelings to be trapped together, and get to what's actually keeping you stuck repeating the same emotional eating-dieting cycle so you can stop putting a Band-Aid on the superficial reasons you haven't found a way out yet and start taking the practical steps needed to break the vicious cycle—for good.