Eating Disorder Prevention Tips: Food Bribes

Julie Dillon

(In conjunction with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I’m posting tips each day to prevent disordered eating.)
Did you know M&Ms cure parental potty training headaches? At least that’s the way it seems to me. I hesitate to let many know my almost-3-year-old is not potty trained. When I do, I usually “learn” my daughter would be trained by the time she got through a bag of M&Ms in exchange for sitting on that potty.
As I explain why I choose to not bribe my child with food the parent rationally shrugs: “Well, it works.” Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s right.
Food bribes come in many forms besides potty-side. “Eat your veggies if you want dessert” and “I’ll take you out for ice cream if you get all A’s” are food bribes in another dialect. 
Using food to manipulate behavior promotes these unhealthy food rules for our children:
  • succeed at a task = eat 
  • fail at a task = do not deserve to eat
  • food is the only way to feel better after a tough day
  • screw intrinsic motivation, I do things for food!
  • eat because you earned it!
  • we can only eat bad food once we eat good food
  • it’s ok to eat past fullness in order to get what we want to eat and what we have to eat
  • don’t trust your body cues
Keep food for fueling at meal and snack time. If you need a reward for positive behavior changes, I encourage you to seek out non-food rewards. At least save the food bribes for when you REALLY need them: cross country flights or when you are stuck on the couch with the week long flu. Use them sparingly and cautiously
Rigid food rules like the ones listed above pave the way for disordered eating including bingeing, hoarding, emotional eating, and restricting. To promote healthy ways of relating to food, I encourage you to keep reading this week’s posts. What a parent can do to prevent eating problems is on deck.

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