Treat vs. habit: where’s the line?

by Kim on March 12, 2013

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post talking about habituation, or the concept of making certain foods readily available 24/7 with the goal that they will eventually lose power over you. The topic came out of an article in Fitness magazine, in which a woman stuffed her freezer with ice cream for months in an attempt to kill its “sparkle.”

anti diet

As a weight loss method, this is pretty controversial, and I can’t say I condone the extremity of it. (How many months of binging do you have to get through before the sparkle starts fizzling??)

Obviously, the ideal end result is that you stop thinking of the food as a treat, and it loses some of its appeal. But what if, instead, you just get into the habit of eating it—and, possibly worse—your body gets into the habit of receiving it? You might find yourself barely paying attention as you’re eating it and battling true physical cravings from your addicted body. A less-than-awesome combination.

The modern healthy living dialogue is all about the message that diets are bad, and the occasional indulgence is healthy. Treat yourself so you don’t feel deprived. I get it.

treat yo self (You know I had to link this.)

For awhile, before I cut out dairy, Brent and I were on a kick of ordering Papa Murphy’s pizza every Sunday. At first, it was a huge treat, but the more we did it, the less thrilling it felt.

Then, it was chocolate chips. We went from grabbing a handful now and then to buying multiple bags of them on each grocery shopping trip. (Wow, that’s pretty embarrassing to admit.) My inner dialogue of “I’m allowed to have a little something sweet everyday,” had somehow turned into, “I NEED to have a little something sweet everyday.” I’ve actually caught myself grabbing some chocolate chips, looking down at them, and thinking “I don’t even really want these.” It had just become a habit.

So my question is: when does a treat become a habit?

If it’s a “big” treat (like the pizza was to us), how often is it appropriate to indulge without creating a habit? Once a week? Once a month?

Or is it the scheduling process itself that’s the root problem? Instead of once a month, should it be “whenever we want it, within reason?” (And then, of course, how do you define “within reason” without subconsciously scheduling it?)

Are the rules different for “smaller” treats like chocolate chips?

wine The elephant in the room: what about alcohol?

And if a treat does become a habit, is that bad? Is it better to eat 10 cookies in one day, or one cookie every day for 10 days?

What do you think?

Do you have food habits?

How rarely do you have to eat a food (or drink a drink) for it to be a true “treat”? (Or is it not about frequency at all?)

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley April 2, 2013 at 11:46 am

Awesome post, I just started realizing that eating “one treat a day” was getting really out of hand and I need to cut back and realize the source the my cravings.
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sarah @ sarah learns March 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

ohhhhh girl. i am totally struggling with this one right now. my dessert after dinner “treat” has exploded into a raging dessert after every meal habit/CRAVING. i’m working to get it in check, but it is tough.
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Jessica @ Prayers and Apples March 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm

haha i love that ‘treat yo self’ episode :) ..your title really pulled me in! i tend to slip from treat to habit so subtly that i don’t even realize it’s happening until all of a sudden i look in the mirror and i’m like ‘wow! you’re a lil puffy! where’d that come from?’ hmmm.. maybe the hagan daas coffee ice cream that has gone from treat to habit? yeppp that’s probably it lol it’s really tricky! i try to look at it like ‘i generally eat clean’… if i can’t say that sentence anymore (‘generally’ is my test) then i try to switch things up!
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Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome March 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

A true treat to me would be indulging in a cupcake, a cookie or getting frozen yogurt every so often. These are foods I rarely eat so I consider them treats.
However, almost nightly, I crave something sweet after dinner. What used to be a small piece of dark chocolate or fruit has turned into a bowl of Greek yogurt and nut butter with apple slices or healthy frozen yogurt made from bananas, cocoa powder and stevia. Sure these things are healthy but I was just thinking the other day that what used to be a small amount of something sweet to satisfy my craving has turned into a larger, un-needed snack. Part of me blames the blogs I read and Instagram feeds I follow with all the photos of delicious bed time snacks that call to me! The other part of me blames myself for making it okay to eat nightly snacks because they are healthified. I’ve been making a goal to cut back since I don’t really need the extra calories every night :-) Plus, these “treats” that I enjoy albeit healthy, will be enjoyed even more if I don’t eat them all the time!
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Kim March 12, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I hear you! Especially about those darn Instagram photos, haha. :)

Great point about feeling we can eat more because something is “healthy”–that’s a whole separate blog post!!

I think the fact that you’re aware of your habits is what’s really important. As long as you know you’re in control (and not the food), which I know you are, then I don’t think you have a thing to worry about. :)

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Jen March 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I try to limit myself to one small treat a day, it helps me stay healthy most of the other time :)
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Kim March 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Sounds like a good plan! :)

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PickyRunner March 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm

This is really something to think about. It’s something I’ve been pondering a lot lately, actually. In recovery, the foods I grew up eating as “treats” became something I got to have every single day (and was supposed to have!). Back then, it was still pretty exciting to be able to drink a milkshake and have some chips ahoy every night for dessert, but now, my usual dark chocolate caramel squares or reasonable cups, not bowls, of ice cream have lost that excitement even though they’re still treats. I don’t know what point it becomes a habit but I know it is for me now. I wonder how we are supposed to get back to that “treat” mindset.
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Kim March 12, 2013 at 3:04 pm

That brings up my last question…ARE habits bad? A little treat every night is totally fine and healthy in my book. Some red flags that it might be turning INTO a bad thing could be if your little treat slowly swelled into a big treat without you really noticing, or if you were eating out of habit when you didn’t necessarily even want the food.
But I’m just thinking out loud here! I obviously don’t have it figured out myself.

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