A Question of Motivation and Rewards

So, here’s the thing.  I read a lot of stuff that talks about rewarding yourself for challenges met and goals accomplished.  WW was big on that stuff, too.  And there seems to be a general consensus that you should not reward yourself with food, which, ok, I understand.  It sort of defeats the purpose of exercising (for weight loss, anyway) if you follow a 400-calorie burning exercise with a 2,000-calorie “reward” milkshake.  I get it. 

(Note: I don’t frankly think it defeats the whole purpose of exercise, though.  You’ll get the benefit of the exercise from a health standpoint whether or not you drink that milkshake afterward.  Drinking a milkshake does not cancel out the exercise.)

(I also have issues with the idea of thinking of food as something you have to “earn,” but that’s a post for a different day.  Probably a day when I’m feeling particularly ranty and cranky.)

(Ok, I’m coming back from my tangent, now.  I swear.  Whew!  That was close!)

And (back to “food as reward”) I also understand the idea that if you’re a binge eater or a compulsive overeater, or hell, just someone who eats when feeling ANY uncomfortable emotion, that it might not be such a good idea to encourage the mental patterns that are already part of a dysfunctional relationship with food by rewarding yourself with more food.

But.  (Oh, you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

I’ve been working on the Beck stuff (again, and still), and I’m working on setting small goals: 5 pounds at a time.  (That seems simultaneously like a HUGE number and an number that’s WAY too small.  Weird, I know.)  I’m supposed to be thinking of things I can reward myself with, but honestly I’m having a hard time coming up wth anything that I’m really interested in, other than – you guessed it – the occasional bowl of pasta for dinner.  I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I’m not going to drop a bunch of money every time I lose 5 pounds.  (Maybe 10 or 15, but 5? Not so much.) 

But I like to cook and I like to eat.  So I’m seriously thinking of having a pasta alfredo night (or something similar) every time I lose 5 pounds.  Not bingeing or “cheating.”  I’ll still add the calories in, and count them and weigh out the pasta.  Because see, here’s what I’m thinking.  Julie pointed out to me that if I eat 1200 calories every day, and then rebel and have a “fuck you” binge for say, 6000 calories, that gives me a total of 14,400 calories for the week.  Whereas if I ate 1800 calories every day, allowing myself some of the “bad” foods that I love so much, that gives me a total of 12,600.  Overall, I still come up 1800 calories LOWER than if I’d restricted and binged. 

Plus with the cooking aspect, there’s something I find soothing in the process.  Stirring cream so it doesn’t burn, melting the cheese in a little at a time, smelling the starch in the pasta start to soften as it cooks – it’s like drug-free Prozac for me.  And for that reason, I wouldn’t order out – pasta night would definitely be a make-it-myself night, on a night when I have an hour (or two, depending on what I’m cooking) to putter around in the kitchen, chopping, smelling, measuring, tasting, seasoning and re-seasoning, immersing myself in my senses. 

So, while I don’t necessarily want to eat that much food every day, I can’t help thinking that if I eat pasta alfredo (for instance), in a normal quantity, made traditionally (with butter and cream and cheese), and maybe a glass of wine – well, that’s going to add 1000 calories or so to my month (if I figure on losing 5 pounds a month), which calorically speaking, isn’t that much.  But PSYCHOLOGICALLY it makes a huge difference to me to be able to have those nights.  It makes the food less “forbidden” and makes me less likely to binge in the long term.    It’s kind of like the Intuitive Eating thing: knowing that I can have something when I want it actually makes me want it less often, because it’s not “off-limits.”  Does that make sense?  Does it sound like I’m just fooling myself?  I’m not sure.  Intuitively I think it’s an ok thing to do – and I might still think that even if every comment tells me it’s a bad idea, but at least I’d know to examine it pretty closely.


In other news, my Beck assignment for tomorrow is to monitor my hunger closely, in order to learn to distinguish between hunger, desire and cravings.  That will be a pain in the ass, but I’ll do it.  I’m not sure I NEED to, but then again, my own judgement has landed me in my current situation, and this can’t hurt.  But the day after that is supposed to be skip-a-meal day (so you can learn that Hunger is Not an Emergency and that it can be tolerated), which I’m – well, skipping.  I’ve skipped meals before: I know that I can do it, but I also know that when my blood sugar gets low it either triggers a binge when I DO eat, or it triggers a period of starvation.  I’ve been really committed to doing all the steps in the Beck book, and I’ll do the rest of them, but this one is definitely playing with fire – at least for me.  (Then again, this is one I know well: I already know that I can go for long periods of time without food.  Hunger is not something I’m afraid of.  Being seduced by hunger?  That’s a WHOLE ‘nother story.)


8 responses to “A Question of Motivation and Rewards

  1. makes TOTAL SENSE TO ME (the knowing you can have).
    before I was intuitive I had no candy in the house ever.
    now there is always candy around—and I rarely eat it.

  2. oh and yeah. it took ages of trial and error (for me at least) to get there…that comment looked as though it happened one day in the candy aisle at Walgreens 🙂

  3. Dang! I liked the idea of it just happening one day in the candy aisle at Walgreens. Another fantasy bites the dust. 😦

    It would be so nice if this process were that easy… but you’re getting there!

  4. I think this sounds really healthy. One of the things I had to ‘accept’ was that I absolutely love food and that’s not going to change. But you know, lots of thin people love love love food and love to eat – they just have strategies (often unconscious) that allow them to enjoy food in a healthier way.

    So now I don’t rely on food to be one of my greatest pleasures in the world, it’s just one of many. And wait, this post was all about me, right? :p

    It is hard to find your own path through all this stuff, isn’t it?

    Hey, the Beck book, is it sort of cognitive behavioral stuff? I found a book that was basically a CBT workbook for dealing with food issues and I wondered if it was similar to Beck’s approach.

  5. This sounds very mentally healthy. And it also sounds like it would work, since you know you get to have that fun stuff and you don’t have to stress over NEVER GETTING IT AGAIN. And what a great reward for a foodie. *grins*


  6. Yay! I’m not crazy! Well, not about this, anyway! 😀 No, really, I was kind of afraid that all the comments coming in were going to be like, “Um, you’re TOTALLY FOOLING YOURSELF.” So I’m glad that maybe I’m starting to “get it.” Woo-hoo!

    Miz, I totally just had an image of you standing in the candy aisle saying, “Hey! I need to buy ONE OF EVERYTHING, and then I will NEVER NEED TO EAT IT!” It’s actually kind of cracking me up. 😉

    Wait Merry, are you sure she was kidding? I thought it was just a cover.

    But you know, lots of thin people love love love food and love to eat – they just have strategies (often unconscious) that allow them to enjoy food in a healthier way.
    Attrice, that’s actually pretty much what the Beck book is about: learning those strategies that allow you to do that. And yes, it’s all CBT. I really like it, I have to say.

    LOL, J, I never think of myself as a “foodie,” but I guess it fits, huh?

  7. How did I miss this one? Hell yes, I think psychology is the most important part of this whole weight loss thingystuff. I accept that I like salty fat, and it makes me happy, but that doesn’t mean I have to eat nothing but that, or eat it often, until I’m stuffed. A little goes a long way. I suspect that 500 cals of 30% fat would keep me full much longer than 500 cals of 15% fat. I think this may work for me since I don’t eat again until I get hungry, for the most part. Funny, too, I think of pasta as health food, maybe because I don’t love it, there’s no way I’d ever overeat it.

  8. LOL, Julie I’m glad someone else goes back and plays “catch up” on old posts sometimes. I do that more than I’d like. 😉

    And I think it’s HILARIOUS that you think of pasta as health food and don’t love it. I could personally put away a pound of pasta without blinking an eye. (Um. Not that I’ve ever DONE that. Nahhhhhhh.) So it’s not so much of a health food for me! 😀

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