Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 Jan

Entitled to Sabotage

Treat or Cheat?Last week’s post on emotional eating got people talking – about the personal struggles they’ve had and the mental games they’ve learned to avoid in their quest for health. One such game, I think, is what we call treating ourselves. How many people justify bad eating habits because they tell themselves they deserve the treat? “Can’t I just enjoy a little pleasure in life?” “Aren’t I entitled?” Sometimes it takes on context. “With all I put up with…” “Why can’t I just have this one thing?” “This is the one thing I do for myself.”

Treating ourselves. When the noun morphs into the verb, there’s a subtle but significant distinction. Treating ourselves invites us to step outside our normal life for the promise of something of sweeter – and “better.” On occasion, it can be a lighthearted dalliance. For too many people, however, it becomes a continual path of self-sabotage. We all want to believe we deserve more, deserve better than what we come to feel is the mundane. Advertisers leap on this low hanging psychological fruit. Our culture as a whole promotes the immediate gratification of it. There are days when the most resolute among us might at least consider the question. Maybe it’s been one of those days…or years. We’re going through a tough time. We might feel like this momentary extravagance really is all we have to salvage the day.

We can feel like we’re justifiably soothing ourselves or we’re valiantly snubbing our noses at the world that abused us so heinously, but the truth is we’re only robbing ourselves of our own health and wellbeing. Sure, a “treat” distracts us in the moment. The taste, texture, and concept numb us for a short time to whatever emotion, issue, or task we’re hoping to escape. In and of itself as an occasional choice, it doesn’t seem like any real harm. Usually, it isn’t.

The problem is, the concept can take on a life of its own. We treat ourselves enough, and it becomes more than a momentary indulgence but an ongoing excuse to delude ourselves into living – and eating – in an alternative reality. As reader Chica put it last week, the treating/cheating concept places the possibility of making healthy choices outside ourselves and onto an invented “authority.” We give up our own authority and sell out our own intention in doing so. A treat in this context can convince us on some level we’ve “freed” ourselves from that imposition for a few minutes. It might make x, y, or z situation feel comfortably remote for a time, but sooner or later that same vexation comes back into focus again. By eating out of avoidance or entitlement, we’re not fixing the original problem. To boot, we eventually find we’ve created new issues. We put on weight. Our health markers take a downturn. Money we’d budgeted for healthy food has now been spent on junk food. The literal and figurative cost can add up quickly.

Sure, there are conscious, legitimate reasons for choosing to eat a piece of holiday pie, a friend’s birthday cupcake, or other non-Primal food. Telling yourself you “deserve” it, I’d suggest, isn’t one of those. As the 80/20 guide explains, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with pleasure for pleasure’s sake – no strangled mental justification required. An excuse, I would argue, is nothing but a game.

What do you deserve then? It’s a question I think we all need to ask ourselves at some point. What do you feel you deserve, and how does your answer genuinely serve your wellbeing? Do our indulgences (food and otherwise) mollify us or nourish us, numb us or fulfill us? Do we even regularly give ourselves those things that we feel we deserve? If not, why not? Do we accept other, lesser things in their place? What does this denial (full or partial) do to our life satisfaction, and how does it perhaps influence less healthy choices we make in a day – whether it be food or something else?

Ultimately, we decide what role pleasures and rewards will play in our lives and what they will be. The best indulgences I would argue, aren’t those that remove us from our healthy intentions but those that leave us with a broader, more expansive vision of what they could be.

Thanks for reading. Share your views on treating yourself to what you deserve. Have a good end to the week, everyone.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’ve only really gone primal from October 2012 and before that I was Primal on and off, with a lot of it being off. The main reason I don’t crave the non-primal foods anymore is because everytime I do eat them I get a backlash. Feeling tired, groggy, having a blocked nose, stomach ache, and just not able to function. If I feel like anything, I spend my money on nice Primal purchases, because I know I will benefit from this in the long run.

    It is defintily tough at times to resist those lovely bakes goods at the local bakery, and you start salivating as soon as the smell of freshly baked bread hits your nose. However after also having read the wheat belly, I’ve discovered this is most likely to do with a certain protein in the bread, that is addictive to humans. I know this doesn’t make any difference when you crave it, but even so, when we think of this consciously and realise that a lot of these smells and food products have addictive substances in them, which again reverting back to Mark’s work/books, triggers the feel good happy hormones and thus “allows” us to go of the band waggon. Don’t do it! Instead splurge on that book you really wanted to read or the latest vibram five shoes, I know that makes me very very happy!

    Eva wrote on February 1st, 2013
  2. Charles poliquin”Dr. Tom O’Bryan DC, who lectures the World over on the ill effects of gluten, showed in a recent BioSignature class, that the single intake of 1 mg of Gluten, which is case came a quarter of a Catholic host, would set inflammatory responses that could be seen in the blood for at least 12 weeks after that single ingestion.” I am in doubt,help me!

    Germano Yoneda wrote on February 1st, 2013
  3. I agree 100%. If I’m going to eat a cookie with all the conventional goods in it I don’t need to have an excuse like “I deserve it.” I’ve found myself doing that before. I will internally say, “you’ve done so good eating clean lately, why don’t you just eat one.” Then, before I know it I’ve had about 4 or 5 cookies (typically little ones). They seem to be a trigger food for me, and the opposite of rewarding. Thanks Mark for this post.

    jostreet wrote on February 1st, 2013
  4. Funny, I used to feel the same way about smoking. I viewed it as a treat. My smoking breaks were “treats”. Been 7 years smoke free. Now time to redefine my food.

    Cheryl wrote on February 1st, 2013
  5. So…my daughter is turning one and I was going to cave in and buy a big sheet cake and huge burrito for guests…but this post is making me re-think these not so grand plans. Any suggestions on feeding lots of people with a main meat dish that won’t break my budget? Perhaps Paleo cupcakes with fresh fruit, sigh, fresh fruit in AK is super expensive! What would you all do if you were throwing a party? What would you serve?

    Megan @ The Ipps wrote on February 1st, 2013
    • Meghan – I might feed guests a sheet cake and burritos (well, in my house it would be home-made flour cake, because I like to do this, and pizza). I just don’t eat any myself, so I have fruit, crudités, and maybe some sliced meat, which none of the guests (if they’re kids) eat. It depends on how you feel about leaving others to their regular habits, and how you feel about your daughter’s eating habits. Amy made a good suggestion to think of the non-primal left-overs from this as ‘non-food’ and throw it away after the guests leave.

      Doing primal, but non-primal-friendly food is a great idea, but sometimes it might be more trouble in time or money than it’s worth.

      Violet wrote on February 1st, 2013
      • (sorry I misspelled your name, Megan)

        Violet wrote on February 1st, 2013
      • Violet, I think you are right. My husband suggested a potluck to celebrate. The only problem is my other daughter gets out of control emotionally and physically with too much grains and dairy. My other sons are ok, but behavior problems actually become an issue for the 3rd child. I’ll link an article in regards to that in the next comment. So that means watching what my daughter consumes and knowing the next week could be hectic.

        Megan @ The Ipps wrote on February 1st, 2013
      • Here is an article about upset behavior in connection with gluten our family was interviewed for:

        Megan wrote on February 1st, 2013
        • Megan – This is a very moving article about your daughter. Thanks for sharing it.

          I am non-coeliac gluten intolerant, and eating gluten gives me distinct gastro-intestinal symptoms and somewhat more subtle emotional ones. That’s why I can stay away from cake and pizza, even if they are in my house. (My husband and 15-year-old daughter do eat that stuff, though they eat a bit more primally with my influence.) So my own advice works for me, and perhaps it might for some others.

          I can see, though, that in your situation, you might need to be much more careful for your daughter’s sake! Good luck. I see there are some concrete suggestions below for primal alternatives that don’t break the bank.

          You could also try things like fairy cakes (cup cakes) where most are gluten-full (for guests and gluten tolerant) with equivalent gluten free ones for the sensitive, so you need to splash out on the expensive alternatives in small numbers. In summer, we will have friends for a bbq. Before primal, I would have a gluten-free bun for my burger. (Now I eat it on a plate with knife and fork.)

          Violet wrote on February 2nd, 2013
    • You could do some sort of make-your-own burrito thing, so that you and your family can partake of the lovely innards and stay primal while the guests use tortillas. Chili’s a crowd-pleaser, and easy to make in bulk for a crowd. You could just go way easy on the spice for the kids.

      Birthdays are one time when I do tend to “cheat.” I’ll make something decadent and homemade and sugary – but I do keep it grain-free. Pies with nut-based crusts are good for this (lemon merengue is very easy, and you can stick candles in the merengue), as are dense, dark, flourless chocolate things. Creme brûlées are good as well, but maybe not for a 1-year-old. The sugar is definitely suboptimal, but it’s way better than the sugar + gluten + artificial sketchiness you’d get in a store-bought sheet cake. If my family ever ASKS for fresh fruit for their birthday, then well…sure. But I’m not holding my breath. 😉

      Sasha_the_Cat wrote on February 1st, 2013
  6. My indulgence? Getting new running shoes! Just completed my 1st month eating primal and am down 12 lbs and 12 inches! Thought about getting a chocolate bar to ‘celebrate’ but decided.. new running shoes is such a better deal instead!

    Amanda Hoffman wrote on February 1st, 2013
    • Good for you, keep up the great work! Just wait, as the weeks go on, you are going to feel more and more awesome!

      CavemanDan wrote on February 1st, 2013
  7. A very good post, and unfortunately true for so many people. I am to the point where my “treat” is to stay Primal. I do not have to give in; rather than view this as deprivation, the act of not giving in is strongly positive. For example, my all time favorite non Primal comfort food is pecan pie, which I have always had at Thanksgiving and Christmas-it is also comfort food, a lot of family memoires especially mom. I live near a slices-available bakery. So what did I do?

    I passed. And felt great about it.

    Mitch wrote on February 1st, 2013
  8. “I’m Beavis, and I DESERVE nachos^H^H^H^H^H^H^H BACON! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! And a steak too. And And And some shrimp.. No! And Some LOBSTER! I Deserve it”

    Now there’s a cheat I can eat every day.
    See, even Beavis knows what’s a good treat! If he can do it, we can too!

    raydawg wrote on February 1st, 2013
  9. THIS post came at just the right time. I have started to view treats this way and have worked to modify this by taking that money and saving it for something that will give me pleasure for a longer duration. Like the new set of kettle bells I just ordered.

    Also understanding that there are primal sweets I can eat when I want something like that. However I’m finding that when I crave these things that sometimes I really need a more nutritious meal or my vitamins. Other times I find holding out is the best option.

    Tree Bee wrote on February 1st, 2013
  10. My two treats are completely primal:

    1. Instead of just using some coconut milk in my coffee, every couple of weeks I might whip the coconut cream with a little honey and cinnamon. Suddenly I have a latte with whipped cream. Yum.

    2. I get a massage every couple of months. I’ve always been bored during massages and hated the ones I had received as gifts over the years. But I’m dealing with illness and detoxing now, so a massage is a real treat that makes me feel better for days.

    Decaf Debi wrote on February 1st, 2013
  11. Awesome article; my cheats are a spoonful of honey or pork rinds :-)

    CavemanDan wrote on February 1st, 2013
  12. Thank you all for your posts. I’m transitioning to the primal lifestyle and really struggling with wanting sugar; I used to eat a protein bar daily and a bowl of granola cereal before bed. Now I’m eating dark chocolate like its going out of style…I can’t seem to stop eating it and I know I need to just use that as an indulgence. Having a tough time, just ate a bunch of chocolate covered blueberries and its 9pm and I need to be sleeping…

    LisaL wrote on February 1st, 2013
  13. In short I think I “deserve” better than crap. A treat? How about steamed organic brocolli drizzled with grass-fed butter….maybe a pinch of sea-salt, now that’s a “treat”!!! As far as the raised eye brows…Chive on!!!

    Dean wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  14. @ Lisa… try beef jerky, it takes a lot of chewing which it probably what you are missing. I use to be a peanut butter addict and beef jerky worked for me, haven’t touched the stuff, PB that is in over a year. good luck and Grok on!!

    Dean wrote on February 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks for your reply Dean. I will try the jerky!

      LisaL wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  15. We used to have Friday Night was “Junk Food Night” that used to mean going to one of the burger shops and indulging in C…P, then it got so we used to have beer, crisps and chocolate sta in front of the telly.
    We enjoyed this, and ate well all the rest of the week, but it used to make me feel hungry for a couple of days. Also I was not loosing weight like I should have been.
    We have just had our first “Paleo Indulgence Night”.
    All week Ive been on %0 carbs and lost weight for the first time in months, so I didn’t want to screw it up this week. I suggested I made a Paleo Treat and we didn’t buy the crisps and chocolate. I bought the Paleo Indulgences book and made some coconut treats.
    It took my daily carbs up to just 80g and I can go back on the wagon today with out feeling like Iv’e blown it. I out on 1lb, which I can easilly loose again before next Friday.
    So, Treats can mean a paleo treat, as I would normally not have anything sweet at all.
    We’re going to stick to this now, we have seen the benefits. In fact I’m seeing it as an opportunity to find and try new recipes.

    jane wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  16. Fantastic post and commentary here.

    I think that another issue involved in treating ourselves with something harmful would be giving a boost to our personal fight (war?) of pursuiting health, that is, to give us reasons to worry for, forever.

    It’s like an utopia permanently postponed.
    The concretization of the utopia brings responsability – we, the ones who didn’t achieve it yet, say. It’s LIVING IN THE FUTURE, escaping from all we really have: the present.

    Patrícia wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  17. I deserve to eat in such a way that I feel good and have energy. I deserve to get massages more often!

    bamabelle wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  18. My “healthy indulgence” to get me through the winter rough spot is to get art supplies and learn some new technique. I’ve always loved to sew, and three years ago I bought supplies for batik, which I hadn’t done since high school. It kept me so happily occupied that I barely missed my outdoor sports. So the year after that I bought a whole bunch more stuff for fabric dying and resists. This year I went really big and got a basic manual screen printing press and am teaching myself silk screening. (This last venture should occupy me several more winters, as there’s a lot to it!

    Danielle Thalman wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  19. “Punishment is inherent in our culture. And self-punishment is a pre-emptive strike against others punishing us.”

    @Mazzy. This stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t treat myself with food; I know damn well I abuse myself with it. Questioning, “Is this good for me?” doesn’t stop me, because I want it to hurt me instead.

    Can any oft recommend any resources that help with this ‘I’m worthless’ mentality? Ones you can use at home, as opposed to finding practitioners outside?

    SFJL wrote on February 3rd, 2013
  20. I have been doing well until last year summer when this whole thing came crashing down. I had consumed 8 quarts of raw milk every week through the summer and into fall and gained about 15 lbs. My boobs are HUGE…I am miserable. I stopped the milk and then went on a carb binge…so sick of meat and vegetables.
    I ate pastries through the entire fall season and part of January.
    On my last period I passed out in pain. THIS has not happened in the last 3 years of eating primally…I passed out ALL the time BEFORE eating primally but thought I was cured and I can ‘treat’ myself.

    I didn’t treat myself at all. What happened is i completely ditched the primal diet last fall and went onto a junk food diet instead and this is the result…THAT fast!

    I also know that I use raw milk as my ‘drug of choice’ for instant gratification because it has natural opioids in it.

    Also, I don’t understand why my brain keeps screaming at me when carbs fall low…I can’t take the ‘voices’.
    Everytime I hit day 12 and ovulate I turn completely insane! What can I use in its place to shut the boogeyman up?

    I have no idea, I’m at a loss.
    I took 50 steps backwards…but being woken up after my feint episode I’m now taking small steps forward in hopes to regain my focus and strength I once had while 100% on primal.

    To me it feels like I’ve been hiding a dark secret and I’m bugging out in my house until this ‘evil presence’ leaves.
    I’ve also avoided coming here and reading/posting about anything because I felt like such a failure.

    Ah, it feels good to finally come out :)

    Issabeau wrote on February 3rd, 2013
    • Lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity and too much sugar/sweetener are a few things that can trigger what you’re describing. Soy products can do a great job of screwing up the hormones.

      Please don’t think of yourself as a failure. Guilt is so self-destructive. Just start taking a good look at what you’ve been eating and drinking, maybe via a journal or diary. You should be able to pinpoint and eliminate the items that bother you within a week or so.

      Also, going seriously primal might not be the answer for you. It doesn’t work for everybody. Some people do better with less animal protein, higher glycemic veggies, and a little rice in their diet. Try replacing the raw milk (which does contain lactose) with unsweetened coconut milk. Good luck.

      Shary wrote on February 3rd, 2013
  21. How good is life when you live out of harmony with yourself – fighting yourself over something as simple and natural as eating and food? Food is just food.

    Low carb and almost any sort of overly restrictive eating leads to bingeing not because humans evolved to overeat perse, but because it denies the body something necessary for high metabolic functioning. Almost everyone reading this grew up eating carbs, their ancestors for many generations ate carbs and by and large are well adapted to eating carbs such that the body is going to be unhappy and complain about not having enough carbs. Anyone who denies this will find little evidence to the contrary. Primal eating is dumb and ineffective.

    In wrote on February 3rd, 2013
  22. This is a great post. I decided to start paleo and give my self an off day on Saturdays, like I deserved a treat once a week. I ate cake and felt awful, even after 5 days of paleo, my favourite cake tasted of nothing but sugar, it was meant to be chocolate. Really glad I didn’t just go cold turkey or I’d still be craving it and not know better. From now on my treats are 85% chocolate. The time of day I feel I deserve a treat most is right after kids are in bed and I sit down. Its a habbit/addiction. Reading posts like this and the comments are helping me so much.

    sally wrote on February 3rd, 2013
  23. Thanks for this post. I need it. I could and want to be doing better.

    Debra Dylan wrote on February 4th, 2013
  24. I avoid the idea of “deserve” and just tell myself I’m blessed or lucky to have these choices.

    Joy Beer wrote on February 4th, 2013
  25. I do play this mental game all the time, with myself. I AM entitled, and I DO deserve something. With everything I put up with, I think I am worthy of health and well-being. This is my treat to myself, and for my body. I don’t need to sabotage myself further, I deserve better than that.

    ppk wrote on February 7th, 2013
  26. Just now read this post and it is one of the best ones I’ve ever read on this site, because of how much it speaks to me. I’m really taking it to heart and thinking about those feelings of “deserving” and what they really mean. I think for me, when I feel that way it is because I’ve become very overwhelmed in life. I’ve not gotten help from others where I needed it. I’ve not taken time out for myself. So it isn’t a matter of deserving the unhealthy food that makes me feel terrible, it is more of a matter of waiting too long to take care of myself. Hmmm… I just have a lot to think about here. Thanks for the great post!

    Casey wrote on February 14th, 2013
  27. Sometimes the search engine is faulty and comments don’t go through here, in what seems like very inconvenient ways. “Adjustment Bureau” or something trying to sabotage some grass-roots efforts?
    It’s like there’s some rascally ghost in the machine, an intelligent computer virus, dastardly wizards.. I don’t know what the cause is but something is trying to get in the way.
    Another reason to stay primal and feed your head with natural nutrients. If some seemingly omnipotent, unnatural force is trying to mess up your plans, you’re doing something right.

    Animanarchy wrote on February 15th, 2013
  28. Emotional eating is often really stress eating. Stress eating is caused by an excess of cortisol. The hormone imbalance makes you genuinely hungry and craving carbs, because the stress hormone cortisol spiked your insulin, which promoted fat storage, shut down fat burning and leads to carbohydrate cravings.

    If you think about it, you can tell the difference between a carb craving caused by a stressful day at work, versus a self-indulgent decision to eat an extra piece of cake just because it’s there. The first feels unavoidable and out-of-control, the second feels like an indulgence.

    Stress-eating caused by cortisol can’t be combatted by willpower. Hormones will override willpower every time. You need to combat it with something that reduces the cortisol. Deep breathing apps, meditation, gadgets like the EmWave are all highly effective at doing this.

    Indulgent habits can be combatted with willpower. If there’s no hormone imbalance involved, then using self-discipline is an effective way of tackling the problem.

    If we want to succeed, we need to learn the difference between the two and use an appropriate tactic for each.

    Helen wrote on April 28th, 2014

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!