‘Treat Yourself’ – Self-Care Or Self-Destruction In Disguise?


We’ve all done it before. It’s been a long day, you’ve ticked off so many to-dos, so you pick up your favourite block of chocolate on your way home as a reward. Or maybe you’ve been on track with your healthy eating for a while, but while you’re out at a restaurant, your girlfriend encourages you to ‘treat yourself’.

Looking after your well-being in any way, shape or form is self-care. But are these sorts of ‘treats’ a form of self-care? Or are they really a way for you to self-sabotage?

Why are you really treating yourself?

You might just want to shrug it off, and not look too closely at it. But if you want to get to the root of why you eat what and how you eat, you want to look at the reasons underneath.

It’s rare that someone wants to treat themselves because the treat looks enjoyable, and it will be a pleasurable experience. If you truly want a treat for that reason, go for it!

But if you’ve clicked on this article, there’s a good chance that you realise your excuse of ‘treat yourself’ is a cover for something deeper. You might enjoy the treat for a  short period of time – but then you feel guilty or ashamed. You might even start restricting yourself or exercising to ‘make up for it’.

So what is underneath?

Usually, it’s one of two things. There might be an unpleasant emotion that you’re trying to avoid – stress, fear, anxiety, loneliness. Or it might be that you haven’t had any other form of pleasure or enjoyment throughout your day, so the treat is your pleasure ‘fix’.

How your unconscious mind pushes you towards rewards

Your unconscious mind has two main goals: to protect you from things that cause you pain, and encourage you towards things that bring you pleasure.

One of the easiest ways that these goals can be achieved is by eating something that gives us a rush of energy and feel-good endorphins – foods that are usually high in sugar, fat and/or salt.

If you’re ‘treating yourself’ on a regular basis there’s a good chance your unconscious mind is at play. It is either distracting you from those negative feelings, injecting a little bit of pleasure into your life, or even both.

Unfortunately, your unconscious mind doesn’t realise that those treats can cause you to feel guilt and shame in the long run. It just wants you to feel better at that exact moment.

How to treat yourself in a way that is actually self-care

So now that you understand why you use the excuse of ‘treat yourself’, let’s look at how you can do it in a healthier way. There are two main steps to take:

 Learn to deal with your unpleasant emotions in a different way.

If you don’t want to stuff your face, you have to face your stuff. Yes, unpleasant emotions aren’t fun, but eating away your feelings is only temporary.

Start by naming and acknowledging how you feel when you do reach for a treat. For example, ‘I’m reaching for this treat because I feel sad, I worked so hard and my boss still yelled at me’.

Then think about ways that you might be able to address that emotion, rather than suppressing it. Could you journal about it? Could you call a friend and rant about it? Maybe you could put on your favourite sad movie and have a little cry?

Find ways to add pleasure into your day

Pleasurable activities are something that seemed to have vanished from the average person’s day. It’s no wonder why so many of us turn to food as the sole source of pleasure. But you can start to add it back in with little tweaks.

What you find pleasurable is 100% unique to you. What you find enjoyable, someone else will see as torture! So feel free to come up with your own ideas about how to go about this. In case you are stuck, here are some ideas of potentially pleasurable activities:

  • Slowly sipping your tea or coffee in silence first thing in the morning
  • Taking time to stretch and move your body after working for a while
  • Hugging your kids, your partner and even your pets
  • Putting on some essential oils to make your space smell lovely
  • Taking a long, luxurious bath or shower
  • Having someone massage your shoulder or feet, or even scratch your back gently

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