Reward ≠ Food

rewardnotfood

Patient and client conversations can be a rich source of writing inspiration to address common concerns. As we discuss new changes, cravings, accomplishments and challenges, ideas start to percolate as we work together to find the best solution for the individual. If the same issue is mentioned by different individuals more than three times in relatively short succession, we can almost *feel* the universe tapping on our shoulder.

The latest recurrent theme among us all seems to be regarding emotional eating, over-eating, and reward-eating.

Let’s break this last one down. Why would we associate certain foods with a reward?

    • With thousands of years of evolution working for (or against) us, humans naturally crave sweet flavor. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would get a little *ping* of dopamine by eating berries and other naturally sweet substances. The brain would reward eating this food, which some argue helped our ancestors survive by promoting fat storage to see them through the leaner times. This survival mechanism is all but unnecessary during the times in which we live, with plentiful food stores and sedentary lifestyles (when was the last time we burnt 2000+ calories a day hunting down buffalo?).
    • An ostensible lack of other options or ideas for rewarding ourselves. We’ve leaned on food to give ourselves a pat on the back after a hard day in the office, for finishing a big project, or to relax after a full day with the kids finally in bed. After many years of this, we may have forgotten how to celebrate our accomplishments without cake, doughnuts, french fries, or chips.

After the sleeve of cookies is finished, there can be a poignant anxiety that settles in. Guilt and shame follow soon after and we feel terrible about ourselves. Then we say “what the Hades, I’m probably never going to lose the weight anyway” and keep going or we decide with firmness and determination, “starting tomorrow, no cookies ever again!” However, we all know how this plays out; the deprivation leads to cravings and the whole cycle begins anew.

When you eat, try eating to nourish your body and experience pleasure. Tying food to your reward-system will unravel advances in your health goals and, here’s the kicker, it doesn’t even work. By the time we are done with the chocolate chip cookie party, we only temporarily feel sated before we either look for more sugar (during the ‘down’ of our blood sugar rollercoaster) or we feel guilty…..which drowns out what ephemeral feeling of pleasure we got from the food in the first place.

By having some non-food rewards instead, or at least sprinkling them into your current routine, you can start to challenge the ‘need’ for something sweet and, instead, ‘treat’ yourself ‘sweetly’ (double puns, couldn’t resist :D). Here are a few ideas to get your started on non-food rewards:

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Minimalism as Maximalism

minimalism

In our city and throughout the nation, people are showing an increased interest in minimalism as way of downsizing from the McMansions while addressing debt, stress and overwhelm, and feeling of isolation.

The Minimalists movie, which came out about a week ago, is a documentary about minimalism as a way of focusing on the important aspects of life. Early in the film, we learn of two friends, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, and their discovery that climbing the corporate ladder, having a 6-figure income and lots of stuff wasn’t fulfilling them. Joshua had some heart-breaking transitions in his life (divorce and the death of his mother in the same month), but Ryan saw that he still seemed to have a greater sense of peace and calm in life. So Ryan took Joshua out to lunch and asked why. Minimalism. Through the conversation, Joshua explained the concept and Ryan became radically inspired. How do I do this and quickly, he asked. They came up with the idea of a packing party. Ryan drastically reduced his possessions and they both went on to create The Minimalists blog and to share the message of living a more meaningful life.

Minimalism is slightly counter-culture to the consumerist society we live in. It causes us to examine and challenge the beliefs we hold to be true – some inculcated early in life by marketing; and it is all based on fear. How could you possibly attract the love of your life with that breakout on your nose? Use our face wash or concealer. We’ve defined success and it’s driving in this car, the commercial will say. Who cares if you go into debt for any of your acquisitions? Everyone else has debt too, so take comfort that you are still part of the in-group. Besides, here is a bank with low-interest rates so you can ‘save’ enough money to take your family on a fabulous vacation. All of these messages sell us on the idea that we are not enough, but that we can spend our money on things that will makes us better, happier, successful people. And we’ve had a strong history of falling for it.

In our view, minimalism causes all of us to critically think about our lives – the choices, job, items, and relationships – and to remove the layers that stand between us and maximizing the freedom and joy in our lives. This could take the form of removing physical items from the environment – clearing out clothes, old shoes, picture frames, or miscellany – and it can also take the form of reducing the activities or social ties we have which don’t bring a sense of growth or joy. By doing this, we create SPACE. Space not for more stuff, but for the dreams bubbling beneath the surface of depression or malaise. Space for new people who inspire and share similar values to come into our lives. We provide space for ourselves to relax for an afternoon reading Truman Capote by the pool.

One does not need to pare down to 175 items or renounce all pleasures in life that require gear or tools. To start exploring minimalism as an idea that may benefit you, start with this inquiry:

“What is one item or activity you could minimize today that will help maximize growth or joy?”tweet this

Spring Cleaning: Konmari Method

It’s difficult to label recent Midwestern weather as “spring” but so it is. Time to switch out the flannel sheets and warm, comfy throws for t-shirts and flip-flops. This is also the perfect opportunity for a bit of spring cleaning. We’ve chosen to utilize the Marie Kondo, also known as Konmari, method to see how using the metric of ‘sparking joy’ helps to decide what stay and what goes. As per her recommendation, we started with creating a pile of all clothing:

clothes pile obw

It’s always a bit shocking to see the sheer volume of one’s garments…and this is the second round since last year!

 

Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, describes how she helps her clients sort through categories of household items. If an item brings joy, they keep it; if not, it is removed from the residence. She says the focus is not so much on decluttering as much as it is creating a curated closet and home environment wherein everything there brings a sense of lightness and peace. It’s a simple but transformative idea. For those who’ve struggled, wanting to use pure data (i.e. “how many pairs of jeans does the average person have?”), in their decluttering attempts, this is a different style and it just may work for you too.

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Notice the employment of two techniques – Marie Kondo’s and the forward-facing hanger technique to see which clothes are not worn during the next 6 months.

Keeping items “just because” or out of guilt hampers your ability to enjoy your possessions. The gifts, family heirlooms, the pants you spent way too much money on (but still have the store tag)….consider letting them go if they aren’t bringing a smile to your face.

The main points in Kondo’s book are:

1. Declutter and then organize (no need to buy more “smart storage” strategies)
2. Tidying is meant to be a one-and-done marathon – go through everything in your house once and then maintain (you’re not meant to be tidying for the rest of your life)
3. The question to ask as you encounter each object: “does this spark joy?”
4. Tidy by category, not location (i.e. go through all the clothes in your house at once, not waiting to get to the downstairs hall closet to remove unwanted coats, etc)
5. Store your items in an appealing way (she has a method of folding designed for this)

As for order of categories to tidy, Kondo suggests starting with clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany), and sentimental items. The reason for this is clothes have relatively low sentimental value and you can exercise your decision-making muscle before getting to the harder categories. See what it can do for you!