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chose your lunch -
your body or your self-esteem?
Do you struggle with weight problems?
Do you console yourself with food?
Are you aware of your inner food programming and
just how easily those buttons are pushed?
Read on to discover how they got there in the first
place and what you can do to "re-program" your food responses.
Firstly, how did it happen?
This goes way back to how we were "trained"
as babies, toddlers and children. The reward and punishment program
worked well to produce boys and girls that did what they were told and
got an ice-cream or who didn't and got a smack!
It is a well known fact that rewarding "good"
behaviour and punishing "bad" behaviour will quickly train
your pet to act exactly how you want it to - perform tricks, use the
litter tray, salivate in response to the food bell! This system works
because the actions are programmed behaviours in response to a particular
stimulus. And, what is mostly used for the reward is a food treat.
Even if we didn't deliberately set out to do so,
we use very similar techniques on children - "eat up all your greens
and you can have an ice-cream", "you can have a lolly only
if you're a good boy". Or maybe it's a grazed knee which prompts
"there, there, don't cry - here's a sweetie to make you better".
Growing up we learn an association between certain
foods and a reward or treat. We learn that we get these things when
we are "good" or if we're feeling unhappy in order to make
us better again.
Now in animals where you have control over the food
source, there is generally no problem. But, babies and toddlers soon
grow up to be able to reach the cookie jar for themselves, or go to
the shop with their pocket money or have their own wage and decide for
themselves when they "deserve" a treat or not.
Perhaps I didn't get a good grade in the maths
test, so I'll buy myself a bar of chocolate as a consolation prize instead.
Maybe, I'm just feeling down because it's "that time of the month"
so I'll cuddle up in front of the TV with a tub of ice-cream or chips.
Or, maybe I just cleaned out the spare room and all of it's junk and
so I feel I deserve a reward of a triple helping of chocolate fudge
cake with lashings of cream and caramel ice-cream.
In all these scenarios we use food as a reward or
substitute. And all these habits, these "buttons" are put
in place as we grow up and are "trained" with the reward and
Sales people know all about these little buttons,
which is why a lot of food adverts feature words like "treat",
"deserve", "reward", "indulge".
Well, what do we do about it?
Firstly, we can stop reinforcing these habits in
children, which will help them in future years, NOT to become a "food
addict" and to enable them to make food choices based on
their body's needs and not their self-esteem's.
- Stop using food as a reward for good behaviour
or to placate.
- Don't bribe a child to do something with the
expectation of a food treat.
- Bring sweet foods down from the pedestal - they
are just a food item, don't put special emphasis on them as "for
special occasions only". They have to be managed along with the
rest of a child's food intake, to make sure that a child gets enough
nutrients, but don't make them "special".
- Reduce children's exposure to adverts - sales
companies have a vested interest in establishing "buttons"
in order to trigger sales now and in the future.
- Feed children when they are hungry, so they get
used to recognising and responding to their own body signals rather
than external stimulus. As a baby, they cry to tell you when they
want their next feed - they are responding to their body's need. As
they grow and move to solid food, don't confuse their body signals
with snacks in order to train them to someone else's "meal times".
Now, for the hard part, what to do for those
of us who have already been "pre-programmed".
Habits that have been built up over many years
will not disappear overnight, so be prepared for a gradual process.
It will take some time and effort, but it is possible to change your
Firstly by being aware that something just pushed
your buttons and then by responding with a better choice, you can gradually
change your habits.
Here are 10 ways to help in your re-programming:
- Reduce exposure to adverts - if you don't see
it, it can't push your button.
- Don't buy foods that you find hard to resist
- if you don't see it, it can't push your button.
- Avoid shops selling those things you find hard
to resist - if you don't see it, it can't push your button.
- Stop reinforcing your old programming - avoid
using words like "treat", "reward", "indulge"
etc in the same sentence as anything related to food (the same goes
for drink too!)
- Eat a balanced meal when you are hungry - learn
to listen to your body and respond to it's signals rather than external
stimulus. Avoid snacks - if you are hungry your body is telling you
that you are ready for your next meal.
- Find a different "reward" that you
can replace "food rewards" with - be careful what you choose
though so that you don't reinforce another habit that you later want
to release - avoid shopping "treats" as well as cigarettes,
alcohol etc. How about a "time" reward - allow yourself
some time to do something you enjoy doing (not eating!)
- Start a Book of Achievements - you can record
all the things that you did well, won, achieved something from and
then in any "low" moments you can look through it again
and remind yourself. No need to bury yourself in a food indulgence
to "feel good" again.
- If you're feeling low, give someone a hug - what
you give out, you'll get back! And, there are no calories in hugs.
- A balanced diet includes all food types. Don't
deny yourself something you enjoy, but keep it in perspective of all
the rest of the food that you eat. If you are actively trying to lose
weight then planning is important to keep control over how many calories
you take in versus their nutrient value. Try not to treat any food
as special - it is all food, but you decide what is appropriate for
- Recognise patterns and associations relating
to food - such as do the snacks and ice-cream come out when you sit
down to an evening's TV viewing? or at the Cinema, do you need popcorn
in order to enjoy the movie? Try some of these activities without
the food additives for a while and see if you still enjoy them just
Being aware is the only way that we ultimately make
our best choices.
If we are responding to something with pre-programmed
behaviours then we are not making our own choices, we are acting out
So who decides for you - you or your habits?
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