Treat yourself. It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard and may have used many times. At the end of a long week, it can feel good to reward yourself with a treat like ice cream or a delicious burrito. But if eating for emotional reasons becomes a habit, there are other alternatives to consider.
“Treating ourselves to foods that bring pleasure is a normal part of eating. It’s important to be aware of patterns of using food as the primary way to treat oneself, which can negatively influence physical and mental health,” says Ursula Ridens, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor at Sharp HealthCare.
Treating yourself can be fun and rewarding, but when you feel the urge to snack your stress away, stop and think about why you are hungry and what will help you feel satisfied.
“Take a second to pause and get clarity on whether you are physically hungry or if your desire to eat is for emotional or situational reasons,” says Ridens.
If you’re not physically hungry, there are a number of non-food-related ways you can treat yourself. Ridens offers these six suggestions.
- Journal or draw.
Instead of using food to deal with feelings, try expressing yourself in a journal. Getting your thoughts out through writing, drawing or sketching can help you work through how you are feeling. Coloring and drawing can also be a fun way to relax.
- Talk to someone.
Talking to a close friend or family member about your day is a direct way to express how you feel. You can also do something fun together to get your mind off of food such as playing a game or making a craft.
“Listen to a short guided meditation or try grounding practices like breathing deeply or noticing the feeling of your feet on the ground,” says Ridens.
- Have a spa day.
Schedule a massage, manicure or pedicure. You can also create your own spa treatment at home by taking a warm bath, using essential oils or giving yourself a hand massage.
- Listen to music.
Jamming out to your favorite songs or listening to relaxing music is a quick and easy way to de-stress after a long day.
- Be active.
Try going for a walk or taking a yoga class to clear your mind. “Get outdoors to enjoy the warmth of the sun on your body and stretch your muscles,” says Ridens.
If you are physically hungry, try opting for a snack that will hit the spot and offer a punch of nutrients. Ridens offers ideas like nuts mixed with dried fruit and chocolate; popcorn; whole-grain crackers with cheese; or a banana with peanut butter and honey.
It’s important to note that treating yourself to a snack like chips or ice cream is OK.
“When we label a food that we truly enjoy as bad (‘junk food’), it creates a mindset of deprivation resulting in an increased excitement and desire to eat that food, which can lead to food cravings and overeating,” says Ridens.
If you are physically hungry and want a snack as a treat, go for it! Just know that if you feel yourself using food to manage stress, there are other options to help you feel good.
“When craving foods like chips or sweets, you know yourself best. Giving yourself permission to eat these foods in moderation, balanced with other nourishing foods throughout the day, may help you avoid overeating,” says Ridens.
So, when it comes to treating yourself, check in with your emotions and hunger level to see what you need in the moment.
Sharp HealthCare’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program provides personalized nutrition education and support to help you achieve long-lasting health improvement.