Many dysregulated eaters crave and overeat “treats.” But, guess what: If you’re eating them all the time, they are no longer treats. That’s because a treat is something pleasurable, out of the ordinary, and not in your daily routine. It’s meant to be an occasional pleasure to the palate or boost to the spirit, but many dysregulated eaters ruin their purpose by seeking and consuming them excessively.
From my own bingeing history and 30-plus years of working with troubled eaters, my take is that they often don’t enjoy life very much and seek food to increase its pleasure. That’s just plain sad. You cannot have a healthy relationship with food if you’re overly reliant on it and it’s your singular go-to for pleasure and a bounce in your step.
I’ve had clients who use vacations the same way. They’re anywhere from unhappy to miserable in their lives and seek travel to liven their spirits. Travel or vacations should be viewed with pleasure, but they should not be the sole upbeat note in an otherwise dreary life—because then you end up living from vacation to vacation.
We make life more bearable and, dare I say, downright enjoyable, in three ways. The first is to surround ourselves with people whom we love and who love us. Without these connections, it is hard to feel enough ongoing pleasure. When someone laughs at your silly joke, puts their arm around you and gives you a squeeze, or says “I love you,” that makes you feel good all over. The second way is to build into our lives activities that we enjoy. The third way is through feeling proud of taking care of our physical and mental health because pride is a total lift to the spirit.
If you don’t have sufficient people in your life to keep you feeling happy and content, the goal is to find them. Yes, it’s harder than reaching into the freezer for ice cream. But you will never end your eating disorder unless you replace food treats with people treats. If you consider your life and recognize that you don’t have enough going on most days that you look forward to, then that becomes your goal: to find activities you love. As I’ve said a gazillion times, food is not meant to be fun.
Consider what foods you wish to assign treat status. Maybe it’s the key lime pie at your favorite restaurant, Uncle Joe’s marzipan, or a square or two of dark chocolate with almonds. I like lollipops, candied ginger, dark chocolate, and a mochi frozen ice-cream-like dessert. They are all special and I want them to remain treats and not become ordinary. That way they can serve the purpose they were meant for.