The Problem With "I Deserve A Treat"

an Inner Shift

This picture (illustrating the real mental, physical and emotional cost of a box of chocolates) is the perfect metaphor for why the thought I deserve a treat is actually a minefield of self-sabotage

I often hear the words I felt like I deserved a treat come out of a client’s mouth in answer to the question What thoughts triggered your chaotic eating? 

Instead of constructing an argument about why this logic is working against you, I am going to get you to interrogate this thinking through a series of questions.

Q1: What is your relationship with pleasure?

In this episode of The Eating Coach, I talk about the difference between real and fake pleasure. A very common feature of compulsive eating is a difficult relationship with pleasure. The inappropriate shame people feel also creates a feeling that they do not deserve pleasure. But pleasure is an innate basic human drive that will not be denied. Therefore if your conscious mind won’t allow it, Cavebrain will override that censorship and drive you to seek pleasure.

The ‘I deserve a treat’ that leads to chaotic eating and its inevitable pricetag is so powerful because it satisfies the Cavebrain drive for pleasure while still keeping you towing the line. You diminishing yourself with those feelings of guilt and shame that don’t belong to you.

Q2: Why is it you need to treat yourself?

Is it because you have decided - consciously or not - that you have to live in struggle 24/7? If you find it hard to be still, to relax, to be present, if your thinking is polluted by the judgments of your inner critic, then you are choosing to live in struggle.

You may feel this is not a choice. If the world does not feel fundamentally safe, then of course it feels like it must be the default.

We can discuss this issue of safety in your coaching sessions.

Q3: Why must that treat be edible?

Have you trained yourself to only seek pleasure from the dessert aisle of the supermarket? Why can you not get it anywhere else? You have a feelgood factory in your brain, waiting to secrete lots of hits of pleasure. There are many non-edible forms of pleasure and distraction.

No, of course they are not so enjoyable to you - you need to accept that it takes work to retrain your pleasure centre. Are you willing to do that?

Q4: Why must that treat be something with such a huge pricetag?

Chaotic eating has a huge pricetag.

Doesn’t the price tag communicate a different message from “you deserve a treat” ? Surely - because you end up feeling worse - the message you are telling yourself through the ACTION of having the ‘treat’ is that all pleasure must be paid for in spades with pain.

Could a different course of action (instead of having the so-called ‘treat’ and having it backfire on you when you pay the price of mood swigs, shame, fatigue, PMS etc) be to NOT have it?

To choose a treat that doesn’t backfire on you.

And how about calling it a reward - a reward for saying no to the treat with the toxic pricetag?

For reward ideas, see The 5 Minute Reward section on this page:

Is the idea of a reward rankling? Are you saying to yourself: Why should I have to work to feel good, when life is such a struggle anyway? This metaphor might help...


The Well
Imagine you are stuck at the bottom of a well. You wonder if you will ever get out. After a long time feeling sorry for yourself, someone lowers a rope ladder. You have a way to get out!

The only problem is, you have no shoes on. It will probably hurt your feet to climb the rope ladder without shoes.

So, what do you do? You can

(a) stay where you are, because why you should hurt your feet? You didn’t choose to be stuck down this stupid well.


(b) accept that your feet are going to hurt, and that - even though it is not your fault, you also accept the temporary pain because it means freedom from the well.

What do you do?

If you were stuck down a well, then there is no contest: you suffer the temporary pain to get out.

When it comes to suffering the discomfort of NOT having the so-called 'treat', you need to make the effort to see that continuing on the course you have set is in effect staying in the well. You also need to believe me when I say that the discomfort of choosing a different treat IS - in the context of your life - as temporary as climbing that rope ladder.

Action Steps

Identify times you are most likely to tell yourself the deserve-a-treat lie

Brainstorm alternative treats/rewards

Theta affirmations to support the above (we can discuss in session)

Self care