Let exercise and health be your “reward”

You get back from a run (insert gympool, ride, yoga class, etc. if it’s more appropriate) and you generally experience one of the two following scenarios:

The “I can’t even look at food yet/Get it away from me” look.

OR

You turn into Shaggy and Scooby-Doo and eat everything in sight.

Both feelings are common especially after a particularly period of hard exertion such as a speed-workout, a race of any distance, a hilly ride, or even just a long, drawn-out activity. Sometimes it takes a while for your brain to figure out that your body needs replenishing and other times it takes a while for the brain to get the STOP message. I definitely fall into the latter category. When I get back from a run, I’m instantly ravenous. Race; 4 mile run; 3 hour long run; hill-workout…It doesn’t matter!

So, now the main reason for this post:

I recently read a post on Facebook (or Twitter..or Instagram…or all three. Who can remember anymore?) that was published by a particular professional athlete that I admire. The post ended with the following paraphrased question: “How do you reward yourself after a run?” I was stunned. Not that people reward themselves after an accomplishment, but that a professional athlete was advocating such a relationship with running.

Why and what am I taking issue with exactly? 

I get that people reward themselves. Such a reward is often synonymous with “celebrating” in such cases. Val and I do it all the time in many circumstances. Anniversary? Celebrate with dinner and gifts. Birthday? Dinner and gifts. New job? Dinner. And, finish a race? Yes, we often celebrate with food. But our mindset is not: “We will finish this race so that we can get the reward of food.” And this seemed to be exactly what the professional runner was suggesting is normal by asking the question. And perhaps it is normal. But it shouldn’t be.

When we see associate food with reward, we are actually making two mistakes.

Our first mistake is that we are making it possible to only see certain foods as able to be eaten only after exerting ourselves and “earning” that food…because we rewards are supposed to be earned, aren’t they? Many runners often eat certain comfort foods after exercise. Many long-distance runners such as ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek often resort to pancakes after a long run. But these runners don’t associate the food as a reward. The food (pancakes, smoothie blend, peanut butter and banana, oatmeal, cereal, burrito, whatever!) is just food or food-as-fuel. It is an, “I will eat this because my body needs it, I want to recover well, and I am freaking hungry!” attitude, versus the, “I will eat these pancakes because (and only because) I earned it from that run. Otherwise: Hunny, where’s the yogurt?” mindset.

It’s completely fine to eat lighter, often healthier foods when regular exercise is lacking from your able-to-do list. But in my non-medical and non-psychology backed opinion, I think putting certain, often our favorite foods on a reward list is not the greatest practice. Food is nourishment. Part of living a happy and healthy life is to nourish ourselves in various ways and being able to enjoy a meal without having to have earned it seems to be the most appropriate way to build a healthy relationship with food. Plus, it’s generally not encouraged to use food as a reward (or punishment) when it comes to children, so why would we do it with ourselves?

  

Now, on to the second mistake with associating food as a reward for exercise. Simply put: exercise is the reward; Better health is your reward; the positive feeling of endorphins rushing throughout your body is the reward.  Running is not something you should see as a means to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, dinner, or those drinks with colleagues on a Friday night. Connecting with the outdoors is a positive thing and will make you feel great in so many ways.

If you aren’t of this mindset. I ask that you try to adopt it and see where it gets you. When you go for a run, enjoy your surroundings. Try a new route and learn something new about your town or your favorite state park. On run, stop for a minute to take in the views. If you try this out, I can almost promise that you will start to see exercise as something more than just a necessary task to enjoy whatever would come next.

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When Val and I go hiking, the views are our reward.

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Food is what makes us happy. We see food as a way to energize our bodies and, for Val and me, it brings us a lot closer together, too!

So, professional runner, how do I reward myself after a run? By taking care of my body so that I can remain healthy and happy and be able to do it again. If you were expecting me to respond with beer (wine or cider in my case), (veggie) burger, pancakes, french fries, sleep, shower, or anything else, well, quite frankly, I’m going to enjoy those things whether or not I run. I will enjoy the heck out of peanut butter and banana on toast or pancakes smothered in maple syrup with or without a run…and there’s no reason You shouldn’t be able to as well!

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