TRICK or TREAT?
When you hear the word “treat,” what comes to mind?
If you think of a food whose taste you love but who does not support your health as a “treat” or “indulgence,” you are not alone.
Not only are these labels (“treat,” “indulgence”) false, they set us up for failure.
THAT’S A TRICK, NOT A TREAT!
Is food a “treat” if it tastes delicious in the moment but causes problems later? Absolutely NOT! Often, foods we label as a “treat” cause many people to experience trouble later despite enjoying the taste of the food in the moment. Problems may include bloating, lethargy, energy surge then crash, blood sugar level rise, and in some cases, allergic reactions like inflammation, itching, and pain, not to mention chronic conditions bubbling away undetected.
Let’s think about “treats” in a different, more holistic way. Perhaps a “treat” is something that is not only delightful and gratifying in the current moment, it also supports our whole health long-term. To practice nourishing your body and making sure you really are treating yourself, the next time you have a craving or hear your mind tell you that you’d like to “indulge,” ask yourself if this is really an indulgence? Does the food you are thinking of meet the following criteria?
- Delicious and gratifying in the moment
- Feel great immediately afterward (no guilty emotion or unpleasant physical symptoms)
- Supports your long-term health goals
If any of these criteria are missing, that food is a trick, not a treat!
THE APPEAL OF REBELLION
When we set up foods in categories of “good” or “bad,” it is like asking for temptation. Most of us like freedom and choices. We do not want to be boxed in and told what we can and cannot do, especially when the “cannot” is appealing in some way. When we make food “bad,” we actually increase our
desire for that food.
Lucky for us, the “good” and “bad” labels aren’t accurate or helpful, so we don’t have to continue to use them. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food. Those judgments are just shortcuts we use to try to describe the food’s effects, but in a global, vague way. Instead of the judgments, we can think about food in terms of cause-and-effect. What do I feel when I eat X? More specifically, what do I feel in the moment? What do I feel long-term? What effect does food X have on my overall health? Do I feel a difference based on the amount of food X that I eat? Does food X increase my cravings and hunger or satiate me?
I used to love Reese’s peanut butter cups. I thought of them as a “treat” that I would only eat during certain times of the year when they seemed to be readily available for the grabbing. What I meant was that my mouth thought they were delicious. I also considered them to be a “bad” food that was “not good” for me, so subtly, I wanted them even more. The truth is, I loved the taste of the pb cups and then afterward wanted more and more, and cravings would increase for days (at least). I also felt shaky (I’m pretty sensitive to sugar and caffeine) and a kind of sick feeling in my stomach after eating them. Still, I went on for years considering these little buggers to be a “treat.”
HOW TO SATIATE
Ask yourself what will satisfy the three criteria above and don’t skimp on any of them. If instead of a chocolate-coated, ooey-gooey candy you opt for a carrot stick that doesn’t excite your taste buds, that’s also a trick, not a treat. Rather than trying to find a “good” food (remember, we’re throwing out those labels), take a moment to take some slow, deep breaths. Settle into your body and ask: What do I need to feel…
gratified in this moment?…proud of the choice I made?…comfortable in my physical body?…supported in my whole health, well-being, and to delight in this current moment?
Applying these criteria, I no longer want those peanut butter cups. Part of me did, for a while. That mouth-hunger and sugar addicted part takes some time to quiet down. The greater part of me wanted to feel proud of my choices and support my whole-being health while engaging in something delicious in the moment (which sometimes wasn’t food). Reese’s didn’t do that for me. There are delicious options that do!
THE POWER OF PHYSICAL ADDICTION
One final note: It is difficult to impossible to get a read on your body’s cues if you are physically addicted to a substance (e.g., sugar, caffeine) or if your body is experiencing a chronic reaction. Even if you don’t eat much of a particular food, different people have varying vulnerabilities. For example, my husband can drink coffee and then fall right to sleep within a few hours. I, on the other hand, am super sensitive to caffeine and function better when I minimize it in my daily life, at least for now. I have known someone to feel pain in her joints that doesn’t show up until two weeks after eating dairy. The body is a mysterious system that we don’t fully understand at this point and individual differences can be profound.
The point is that you may not be able to get an accurate read on food’s effect on your body until you step away from a particular food (or groups of food) for a while and then carefully introduce it back in. This can be tricky to do without labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” It can often be helpful to get some outside help via a functional medicine specialist or health psychologist, such as me. Groups sometimes get together to support each other (e.g., Whole 30) through the process.
THE REAL “TREAT”
Knowing what works and doesn’t work for your body at any particular time is a process. It requires a devoted practice of repeatedly tuning in, asking your body questions, and listening to the answers, even if your body tells you things you don’t want to hear. There certainly was a time I did not want to hear “Please, no more Reese’s,” from my body, and for years I ignored the resulting symptoms. Taking a break from mindlessly shoving food in your mouth to quiet hunger pains or cravings can take time and patience.
The real “treat” in learning how to satiate your needs in a holistic sense is the relationship you build with your body along the way. The act of asking your body how he/she feels and taking the time to listen is a loving practice. Think of it as good parenting toward yourself or treating a team member (i.e., your body) with respect and care. When you continue to develop this dialogue, you also develop a keen sense of your desires and needs, how to meet them, and are able to course-correct more quickly when off track.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE…
My guided meditations and practices are available in audio form – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, click here!