I do it – we all have. We use food as a positive and negative reinforcer. It starts when we are children and continues throughout life, unless we stop it on purpose. Do any of these examples sound familiar? Be good in the grocery store and you can get a candy bar when we check out. We won the soccer tournament – let’s all go out for ice cream! How about this: Read a book and get a free pizza, we all remember that one, right? Negative situations get a food reward too: Oh, it’s been a bad day, milk and cookies will help! Let’s go get Mexican, tacos and queso can fix any problem. What about taking away food for negative behavior? No dessert for you little Johnny.
All of these examples are familiar, but I don’t think we stop and really think about what we are doing when we live out these examples in our everyday lives. In fact, some of these examples are just habits that were passed down to us, and we have continued to pass them onto the next generation without really considering the underlying messages we are sending.
Food should not be a reward. We are not animals. Food should be viewed as fuel for our bodies. Yes, some food taste really good and can be considered a treat. I think this is fine in moderation; however, our society has lost the appreciation for moderation in recent decades. Obesity and diabetes are more prevalent in the US than ever before, and about 10% of children suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – 10%! Scientific evidence indicates sugar is at the root of these problems.
Here are 3 considerations that could change perspectives on nutrition for coming generations if embraced and put into practice:
Change the perception of food from a pleasurable reward to fuel for health. We have to stop rewarding ourselves with food, and we have to stop passing this bad habit onto our children. Use healthier rewards for behavior modification like allowing oneself extra time doing a desired activity, a date with friends, a small purchase of something we have been wanting (as long as this doesn’t become a different bad habit – ladies, we are the worst at this or some other form of self pampering. Changing the perspective of food being the most pleasurable reward can change small habits that end up amounting to big problems.
Educate ourselves and our children on the importance of making wise decisions when it comes to snacks and meals. I was at a hotel recently when I overheard a child ask his mom for a donut for breakfast. She said no explaining to him that it was too sugary, but then she gave him a big cup of orange juice. The orange juice is full of sugar as well. Educating yourself on nutrition is not a luxury, in my opinion. It is as important to health as brushing your teeth. If you need help keeping up with current research and learning about nutrition, email us at email@example.com to learn more.
Focus on people and activities over food. Why is it that holidays and gatherings all tend to center on food? What if we made a conscience decision to focus our gatherings on an activity, or on the people that we want to be with, instead of what we are eating? Let’s take the upcoming holidays for examples. Halloween – instead of it being mostly about the candy for the kids, purposely change the focus to the costumes and the games at parties. Consider with your children the possibility of donating part of the candy to a local agency or using it to give to others. Yes, of course allow the kids to enjoy SOME of the candy they get, but they get so much/too much. Teach them the fun of giving to others by giving some of it away! They could give a piece of candy to their teacher or coach with a nice note, for example. Thanksgiving – we all think of turkey and dressing. You know you are going to have the meal, but instead of making the meal the focus, make a family activity be where the focus lies. Try decorating for Christmas together, or doing a service project, or having a big family game day instead of everything being about the meal and snacks. If we can get the focus off of food and onto other things we can start to change the perspective that food is such a consuming entity.