Isn't it great when all your favourite things come together. I love reading research studies, especially psychology ones. See the The BPS Research Digest (http://www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog). It's definitely worth a read and covers reseach on almost anything you can think of. I found something that made me think.
There's a body of research on licensed self indulgence. This is a well kent phenomenon to runners, triathletes, walkers. After a session of hard work in the gym or on the road, you're quite likely to feel you've earned the right to a treat. Often that treat happens to have one or two calories attached. Often that treat is cake, or beer. Using all that energy and getting healthy gives you permission to self indulge a bit. Fair enough!
Even though running is, of course, a massive treat in itself, there are times when I have to admit that the running shoes go on because I'm on a promise of pizza or cake. Treats can sometimes be a motivator and a bit more solid than hoping to have a long, happy and healthy life! But they only count as a treat if you've earnt them. That's the whole point for me.
But what counts as earning your treat? In a research study, people who thought they'd taken a vitamin pill were more likely to agree that 'nothing can harm me' and this led them to some unhealthy attitudes and some unhealthy behaviours. They were more likely to choose a free coupon for an 'eat all you like' meal rather than a healthy organic one. Taking that vitamin pill also meant they walked shorter distances. It was like the vitamin pill had done all the hard work, so they could just relax. Taking a vitamin pill counted as justifying (I cannot say earning!) a treat, the pill licensed their self indulgence.
I don't know about you, but my treats are best earned. That post run cake tastes miles better than any other cake you'll ever eat. You know that you've earned every crumb and that licenses you to choose the perfect reward and savour it, guilt free, knowing that your body can process it. One of my favourite memories is the cake stop in Fife on the Edinburgh to St Andrews Cycle Run. We walked into a church hall full of the finest cakes and buns you have ever seen. We'd cycled about 60 miles, walked like John Wayne after a long day in the saddle, and no one was counting calories, it was pure indulgence, no holding back. I remember every mouthful (oops, just drooled over the key board).
Treats are great, but they're not the main reason for running. I don't run to eat cake, I run to get fit, to feel good, to be the best I can be, to challenge myself. Being able to have that slice of cake or glass of wine is part of the package, an enjoyable perk, but not the reason for pounding the pavements. Apart from anything else, eating too much cake would undermine the important things I want to achieve.
Of course you can earn treats in other ways. For a brilliant or rubbish day at work; for caring for the people you love; for playing nicely and not punching folk. But they deserve a different treat. Cake just doesn't taste as good without that physical effort After physical exercise, eating cake feels good because you've looked after your body. Eating cake after a brain scrambling evening with Mum trying to explain Deal or No Deal, feels a bit sad. I feel guilty, knowing that cake without the exercise has in the past made me fat and ill. It's like having more than a run's worth of treats,you just don't feel right. Don't ask me how it works, that's just how it is. I can't imagine enjoying cake after popping that vitamin pill, it would definitely feel like cheating!
Cake tastes better without a side order of guilt, and that includes the guilt from not taking care of ourselves and our bodies. So license yourself to self indulge and do it properly. Get out your running shoes, pump up the tyres on your bike, get that cossie on and get out there and earn your cake: you know you're worth it!