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Sweet Rewards

Posted Jun 06 2010 10:44am

When I was growing up, we were always rewarded with sweets.

“Finish your dinner and you’ll get dessert.” Sometimes only the thought of homemade brownies or bread pudding would help get me through the lima beans or the liver. We didn’t have a dog you could pass undesirable food off to in a napkin.

When we got home from school, we got a “snack.” Usually chocolate, cakey, always sweet. Apples and bananas didn’t count. And with six kids, my mother would have had a riot on her hands if she tried it.

Birthdays, graduations, weddings. What’s a celebration without cake? Without sweets? In my last job, on your birthday, everyone in the department would park goodies at your desk: brownies, cookies, cupcakes. Everyone would visit all day and enjoy the feast. But you had it at your desk all day. Let’s just say no one ever took their birthday as a vacation day there. And if you did, they’d get you when you got back.

Like most of society, I was raised with sugar as a reward for just about anything good. Not only does it taste great, it’s been burnt into my brain that sweets are a reward for being “good.” I don’t blame my parents for this. It has been standard practice in society for generations. I did it with my kids. I still do (and they are 22 and 24). Hey, if I can’t have it, I can at least live vicariously through my skinny son who can down an entire package of Oreos and lose weight. He’s a good kid. He deserves a treat.

Go into the supermarket. You never see broccoli wrapped in cellophane with a pretty bow at the front entrance. Nope. That’s where the seasonal cakes and cookies go, so our brains signal that we need that treat. Look how pretty after all.

And if you get past the display at the front door, the way my supermarket is laid out, the last department you will most likely go through is the bakery. They get you coming and going. If that’s not bad enough, there’s candy at the registers, just in case you want a reward for buying all healthy food while in the store!

I rewarded myself up to 230 pounds, higher if you want to go back to when my kids were small. And when I went on Weight Watchers a couple of years ago, while I started eating better, I didn’t cut out the rewards. I changed them to more WW-friendly rewards, but they were still made primarily of sugar. I can’t tell you how many times I went to weigh in at WW and then purchased one of their packages of 1- or 2-point candies. Yeah, you try eating just one of those things. I’d lose a half a pound and then reward myself with a half a pound of milk chocolate caramels with the WW logo on them. Even Weight Watchers. Great job on your week’s successes! Now go reward yourself with some candy!

At any rate, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been “rewarding” myself more and more, and I’m losing ground in my battle with food. Today, I’m trying not to “reward.” That’s not to say I won’t eat anything sweet. I’m sure I will. But it won’t be because I ate all my dinner and I’m conditioned to eat something sweet afterward. I’m going to try to throw off the schedule this week and see if that starts to chip away at my reward mentality. It’s been 51 years in the making; I doubt this will be easy.

I’d like to be one of those people who eats because he/she is hungry. Period. Food is fuel for our bodies, and nothing more. And the healthier grade of fuel you put in, the better performance you get out. I know this. Now I just have to figure out a way to make it stick in this brain of mine that has come to prefer sweet and sugary.

Are sweets a reward in your life? If you’ve overcome this, what new rewards have taken their place?

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