The Dangers Of Using Food As A Reward, According To A Psychotherapist

I'm the type of person who derives a lot of enjoyment from food.

I once got teary-eyed when I bit into an unusually delicious muffin, for example, and I consider it blasphemy to not get popcorn at a movie theater.

Part of me believes a broken heart is mended only with small, ravioli-shaped sutures, and it's basically science that a well-blended, almond butter-based berry smoothie can turn a frown... you know. Into something else.

Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case for me.

There were times in my life when I strictly over-controlled my weight and diet. I would allow myself only certain types of food, and only after I exercised.

At the height of this unpleasantness, we're talking copious amounts of diet Dr. Pepper (what up, aspartame!?) and dry salad with almonds, after a solid six miles of running.

If you couldn't already tell, this wasn't a particularly sensual time for my palette.

I'll be the first to admit there are times I still use food as a coping mechanism for tricky emotions, frustrations, or even boredom, too.

But I've come to learn that my emotional ties to food aren't a totally “bad” thing, and that they're actually the basis of having a pleasurable, nurturing relationship with eating.

While those rather disordered behaviors changed long ago, it still took me a pretty long time to stop looking at food as something that innately has a tit-for-tat relationship with exercise, or as a means of literally consuming my stress.

Elite Daily spoke with psychotherapist Tabitha Limotte, LMFT, CEDS, who says these ties to food are quite normal to some extent.

The trick, she says, is being mindful of when the relationship begins to include more unhealthy patterns.

Limotte tells us,

Food is a source of pleasure, and it is natural that it plays some role as a reward in our lives. We can do little to change this fact. The danger comes when we take extreme views toward food. For example, saying to yourself that you have to 'earn' the right to eat by finishing tasks, exercising, dieting heavily, or by relying on food as the only source of relief from emotions.

Even though eating is technically a necessity in our lives, it's important to connect to a sense of joy when it comes to food.

At the same time, Limotte says, it can be just as problematic to look at food as something that's strictly a functional part of your life.

She continues,

Food is emotional and pleasurable. It evokes memories, connects us to each other, and it soothes. It is also the fuel that operates our bodies and minds. A mindful approach toward eating has to operate within this tension.

So, if you find yourself thinking about what food you've "earned" versus what you've "burned," consider letting go of the notion that meals and snacks are a prize for restraint.

Trust me. It makes eating so, so, so much better.