The “treat yourself” culture has its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s great that people reward themselves for hard work and can say yes to indulgences. On the other hand, it’s all too easy to go overboard. If you begin to reward yourself with a treat for every small accomplishment, indulgences could start to become a regular part of your life. This can lead to weight gain and thwart your best efforts to be healthy, making it feel like you aren’t making any progress. How can you get out of this cycle and indulge in a way that doesn’t ruin your weight loss success? Read on to find out.
Using food as a reward can change your relationship with food in a negative way. If you’re constantly thinking about cake while dieting and you deprive yourself of it until you reach a certain marker, you are more likely to eventually go overboard. If you make it a more regular occurrence, you’ll be able to enjoy smaller amounts while still being satisfied. The regularity of “treat foods” is important because it removes the guilt associated with these foods. Food should never make you feel guilty. No matter what you’re eating, that food gives you important energy and helps your body function. Sure, the quality of cake calories doesn’t compare to the quality of broccoli calories, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have both.
Figure out a way to fit your favorite foods into your diet. There are so many specialty foods nowadays that there are infinite ways to make your favorite foods healthier. You can sneak veggies and fruit into any recipe and use alternative sweeteners to cut calories. Check out our article on health-ifying your favorite foods for some yummy ideas.
Plan your treats. When your treats are scheduled ahead of time, it can help remove the guilt, in addition to fitting less-healthy food into the bigger picture of your weight loss journey. Think about your week of meals: if you’re eating well 95% of the time, one treat meal is only 5% of your week. Limiting indulgences to a “cheat” meal instead of a cheat day is a way to prevent overeating and also helps you make sure you’re picking a food you really love that will satisfy you until the next treat meal.
Don’t give up when you feel like you’ve failed. Eating healthy is hard! A meal or two that don’t quite fit into your plan won’t reverse the progress you’ve made. You might get a little bloated, but you probably won’t gain much weight. Don’t get discouraged because you feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon. If you were on track before, you can do it again! Don’t let an unplanned treat or two make you think that all your efforts are hopeless. The only thing that truly reverses diet progress is letting a mistake defeat you and resorting back to your old ways. Don’t let one bad moment turn into a bad week or month.
Think critically about your food behaviors. It doesn’t make a huge difference what your treat is. But the behavior that results from that treat might have a larger impact. For example, does drinking lead you to eat more? Because alcohol changes your blood sugar levels, it actually causes us to crave high carb foods. While there’s nothing wrong with a little wine or a little white bread, if having wine leads you to eat more bread than you normally would, then you should be aware of that. If you’re planning on having some wine as your weekly treat, don’t keep bread nearby (or whatever food you think you might reach for). Alcohol in general also adds stress to your body that can impact your quality of sleep or your energy levels in the following days, so be cautious of that. If you think you might have some other foods that would trigger similar patterns, take that into account when having it as a treat.
Assess your downtime. Proper rest is one of the most important (and most overlooked) elements when it comes to good health. If you’re tired or stressed, you’re more likely to overeat. Additionally, sleep-deprived brains are more likely to reach for “rewarding” foods (i.e. treat foods), making it even more dangerous. The easiest solution? Create a regular sleep pattern. Put away your electronics at least 20 minutes before bed and try to fall asleep at the same time every night. This regularity makes it easier to fall asleep faster and makes you feel well-rested. Plus, you’re more likely to stay on track and reach your goals faster.
It can be difficult to be critical of yourself when you’re trying to lose weight. But once you have a clear idea of your behaviors and tendencies, it will be much easier to avoid triggers and find ways to treat yourself. The longer you keep up your good habits, the easier and more natural they become. Just keep it up and you’ll see results in no time.