My son and father-in-law came home from skiing yesterday all damp, chilled, and tired. My daughter and her friend just finished baking chocolate chip cookies, so our house was all warm and smelled of freshly baked goodness. My husband handed the plate of cookies to my father-in-law and said, “Hey Dad! Have a cookie. You deserve it.”
“No,” I said. “We don’t earn cookies. Have a cookie because they smell amazing, and you’re probably hungry after a long day of skiing and driving.”
My husband smiled and gave me a soft, knowing chuckle. “Yes. You’re right. Dad, you want a freshly baked cookie? They just came out of the oven.”
My father-in-law partook, of course! As did my hungry son.
There’s a message in our culture that you have to earn your food, especially foods that are deemed “special,” “guilty pleasures,” or “bad for you.”
And you believe that message. You wait for special occasions to have that “sinful” chocolate cake; you wait until you’ve eaten your grilled chicken salad with balsamic vinaigrette to enjoy the mint chip ice cream in the freezer (but only a bite because you already indulged in a brownie earlier today); you eat the plate of fettuccine Alfredo because you earned it on the hike this afternoon; you reward yourself with dessert this time since you’ve been “so good lately.”
The opposite is also true. You punish yourself when you’ve “been bad” and ate the extra cookie or two or the whole plate. Working out has become both the reward and punishment for how you earn or eat your food– burning off the doughnuts Joe brought into work today (dang you, Joe!); or burning an extra few hundred calories in preps for the family dinner tonight, because mom is making her dutch apple pie, and you know you won’t be able to control yourself to just one slice.
You don’t have to earn your food. You don’t have to “be good” to enjoy the foods you love, especially the sweet stuff. You also don’t need to punish yourself for eating, enjoying, and even craving certain foods…you know, the foods with all the rules and regulations about sugar, fat and calories.
When you try to earn your food by being good enough to deserve it (whether through restriction or avoidance of fun foods, or burning off calories in exercise) you are defining your value based on food: “I was bad today; I ate the brownie. I need to run two hours to work that off.” OR “I was so good because I didn’t eat the brownie.” You may think you’re being healthy by controlling yourself through reward and punishment, but what you’re doing on a deeper level is attaching or diminishing your self-value based on your behavior with food. And that, my dear friend, is not healthy. Nor is it kind to you.
Your body has no rules about food. Your body doesn’t value foods as “good” or “bad”; your body doesn’t define you as good or bad. Culture does, but your body doesn’t. Listen to your body, sweet friend.
Your body doesn’t judge you if you feed it mint chocolate chip ice cream before or with your chicken salad (or a bacon cheeseburger for that matter); your body loved the doughnuts Joe brought today because that maple bar sounded delicious to your brain, and your body was able to use that energy to get you through the 10:00 meeting; Mom’s dutch apple pie is both delicious and nostalgic because she would make it for your dad when he returned home from long business trips and your family was together again. Dutch apple pie literally makes your heart happy and your body thanks you for feeding it something you enjoy.
Eat what sounds good, when it sounds good. You don’t deserve it because you don’t have to earn it. And you don’t have to work it off because you didn’t eat anything wrong.
May you find joy in your food and peace in your body.