I’ve always thought of myself as unable to resist temptation. As being too desperate for dopamine to not eat the cookie, not buy the gift. I always eat the cookie. But I don’t always buy the gift.
And I realized my problem isn’t with reward systems, it’s with gamifying food.
Consumer capitalism has a terrible relationship with food. It’s used as lure, camouflage, dumping ground, flag to wave, and whip to beat ourselves with. It’s a popular brand of mayonnaise declaring over a 90s grunge pastiche soundtrack that it “will not tone it down.” It’s a food that has never once in its existence contained fat declaring in block letters on the label that it’s “fat-free.” It’s thinking almond milk is virtuous without considering the operations of the almond farming industry (not pretty, if you ask a bee in California.)
Dieticians and specialists in early childhood will both tell you that using food to reward or punish children makes food a battleground and plants in them the seeds of lifelong eating disorders. So why would I do that to myself? If I eat a cookie, it’s not because I have “allowed” myself a “reward” of a “bad” food that I would ordinarily resist. It’s because I wanted a cookie, and I happened to have some. I might treat myself to a more expensive meal for a special occasion, but I don’t like tying food to performance benchmarks. I’m not a seal, bopping a ball with my nose to get a fish. I’m a person with an oven and a working knowledge of baked goods, and sometimes having a cookie is the only thing that makes me want to do my job. Let snacks be snacks, I say.
Gifts, though…I resisted building a Lego set for almost a week until I’d hit a word count goal. The unopened box sat on my desk for days, taunting me a little, but more inviting me to reach my goal.
I now have this nice reminder on my desk that I can get what I want if I stick to it. That cookie, or cake, or 700 calorie whipped cream and coffee thing? Long gone.
But don’t let me stop or shame you. Everyone is wired differently. I don’t want to attach moral significance to snacks. Excuse me, I’m going to go eat a cookie.