Do you really “deserve” that treat?

by Camille on April 29, 2011

I had the good fortune to chat with NYC-based dietitian Laura Stadler, R.D., last week for a story I was writing. Laura said something that triggered an “aha” moment for me.

We were discussing how to stay healthy when you’re traveling, and she said, “One of the biggest mistakes is thinking that because traveling is so miserable, you deserve a treat–it’s a form of justification for ordering and eating something bigger, greasier and saltier than you normally would.”

I’m usually a smart eater, and filling my diet with nutritious food that helps my health and keeps my weight in check is important to me. BUT, after Laura mentioned “I deserve a treat” mentality, I realized that I fall victim to this line of thinking all too often. Up half the night with a fussy baby? I deserve a piece of chocolate. Four deadlines in three days? I think I’ll have pizza for dinner. In fact, just the other day, I was in the Miami airport and caught myself thinking, “This layover is taking forever–maybe I should get some ice cream.” I realized what I was doing and went to refill my water bottle instead. For me, a little awareness has already improved my tendency to treat myself too often, instead of saving sweets and other treats for what they should be: a once-in-a-while thing.

Do you struggle with this, too? If so, what helps you stay aware and eat healthy?


An addendum

One Svelte reader wisely pointed out that instead of employing self-blame, replacing less-than-healthful treats with ones that make you feel good about yourself (think yoga, getting a pedicure or taking a walk) is a more positive approach.

I think this is good advice, with the caveat that at least in my experience, it works best in especially stressful situations, rather than as a day-to-day coping tool*.

Personally, using food as a treat became a bad habit–I could never take a walk or get a massage in every situation in which I felt bad, but I could pop into the kitchen for a piece of chocolate, and so the more I did it–well, the more I did it. (The fact that I was bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, thanks to my newborn, didn’t help–try breaking a habit on four hours of shut-eye!)


*For more on healthy non-food ways to cope, I recommend checking out one of Judith Beck, Ph.D.’s books or Jean Fain’s The Self Compassion Diet.

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Eva May 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I find this post incredibly negative. Perhaps rather than saying to someone who is stressed out ‘you don’t deserve a treat’ it might be better to approach it as ‘this is a better treat that won’t leave you feeling like s**t afterwards’.

Camille May 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Eva, I’m sorry you feel this post was negative, although I respectfully disagree. I wasn’t trying to be prescriptive–I’m not a psychologist or a dietitian–but rather illustrate something I personally struggle with. I do believe in treating myself with “good” things–think a pedicure–but if I did this every time I was feeling bad, it would get a little out of hand-and I think it’s better to figure out other ways to cope. I think food becomes the default treat because it’s easy and accessible, and then it starts to be a habit. But I say to each their own–I would never purport to claim what works for me would/should work for everyone.

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