Food Rewards and Punishments

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Don’t be turned off or bored by this title.  This is a monster of a topic that scratches the surface of some ideas so powerful and pervasive that if you were to follow the rabbit hole to their origin, you would be presented with a completely different template for life, love, self-esteem, parenting, business, and human interaction – not just a mended relationship with the things you put in your mouth.    

We’re talking, at the core, about “intrinsic motivation” vs. the false presumptions made by the popular and foolishly-accepted psychological theory of “behaviorism.”  In the model of behaviorism, it is generally believed that people need some kind of incentive, reward, or form of praise to be motivated to do an activity.  And, on the other side of that coin, bad behavior should be punished, and that punishment is a useful tool in fighting unwanted behavior. 

It sounds good in theory.  And yes, we know in the short-term that if you offer someone a great reward or a scary enough punishment, they will comply.  But at what cost?  After all, the human mind is very complex.  We are not rodents who pull levers when we are hungry again and again like mindless drones.  We have dreams, aspirations, beliefs, ideals, memories, imagination, and all kinds of other delusions about reality that make us all unpredictable in ways a more simple-minded creature isn’t.

It’s pretty well-understood, for example, that if you draw a lot of attention to financial compensation for a job well-done, the job will invariably be done more poorly, with less ingenuity and more drudgery on behalf of the person doing it.  In plainer English, pay someone to do something, and they will immediately start liking what they are doing less, and do a crappier job on it.  Why?  Because they are no longer focusing on the activity itself, but have shifted their attention to the reward.  They go from being intrinsically motivated to do the task because it is enjoyable, they like getting better and better at it, or they are working on doing something they perceive as rewarding and important, to doing it solely for the reward.  The end result is that people become increasingly dependent on greater and greater rewards to be motivated to do anything.  The long-term net effect is a draining of spirit, motivation, creativity, and drive – and a resentment for engaging in whatever activity they are being rewarded for (or threatened with punishment for not doing).


 And this doesn’t just seep into people’s workplace, but trickles into all aspects of their lives.    

Rewards, incentives, and punishment are many ways the destroyers of the human spirit.  And worst of all, they make people look at all aspects of life, their relationship with themselves, and their interactions with others through the lens of punishment and reward.  I have personally found no greater destroyer of my own physical and mental self than applying the punishment/reward system to myself – a perfect way to love certain aspects of yourself irrationally, and totally loathe other aspects of yourself.  This trickles down to determine how you interact with others as well…

1)      Having an infatuation with people who have the traits you worship but feel like you don’t have

2)      Looking down on people who do not have the traits that you find so great about yourself   

3)      (Ironically) Hating people who display the characteristics you hate about yourself

4)      Inability to allow another person to love you unconditionally, because you simply cannot accept that they love things that you despise about yourself

5)      Inability to love another person unconditionally – you like certain behaviors of theirs and hate others

6)      Loving people like you, but inability to appreciate those that aren’t like you

7)      And so on…

While there will always be shades of “judgment” going on inside the human psyche regardless of your attempts to transcend that – I by no means am talking about some silly path to enlightenment, which is a human fantasy that doesn’t exist and is fueled by people’s inability to appreciate our true nature (thus seeking to “overcome” it somehow).  You can certainly make these judgments stronger and more polarized and extreme by buying into the pop concept of behaviorism (God I love the word “pop.”  It’s so insulting, conjuring up images of NKOTB in stone-washed denim). 

Before I get too carried away (I’m afraid it’s probably too late), how does this relate to food and health, you know, that stuff I’m intrinsically motivated to learn and write about?

Well, first off we can look at the one and only Matt Stone.  I spent over a decade constantly rewarding myself with food, and punishing myself with hunger and extreme exercise – an increasingly common relationship that people have with food.  And why wouldn’t we?  Our whole society is set up like this.  Virtually everything in life is filed into black and white categories of good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral.  It is good to be lean.  It is bad to be fat.  It is right to be generous.  It is wrong to be selfish.  It is good to eat vegetables.  It is bad to eat doughnuts.  It is virtuous to exercise.  It is bad to be lazy.  And there are countless rewards and punishments that go along with basically any kind of behavior, trait, or activity.  And that’s not even talking about the known detrimental effects of praise, performance evaluation, and competition.    

How did that work out for me?  Well, as it pertains to food and exercise, I dealt with my repeated losses to ‘exercise more and eat less’ (in my big game of Matt vs. Matt) by literally bringing myself to the brink of starvation out in the Wilderness of Wyoming on a 440-mile walk with inadequate food supplies.  That was awesome.  Actually, it was.  Because I literally broke myself.  I took that phase of my life to its absolute and utter completion only to find that it was NOT the way.  This led me to look for alternative ways to live my life besides being at war with myself all the time.

It first led me to what was the single biggest contributor to improved health that I ever experienced.  This experience reduced my chronic back pain, erased my lifelong seasonal allergies, and I have not been what anyone could classify as “sick” ever since other than a few barfing episodes during a foolish low-carb experiment.  And it led me to eat the healthiest diet on a regular basis that I have ever eaten (if you classify a healthy diet as one with mostly nutritious foods and very little processed junk food).  And it was all triggered by my conscious decision to enjoy every bite of food I ate with no other mental baggage attached to it.  In other words, no matter what I ate, I forbade myself from experiencing guilt from eating it or punishing myself with less food and/or extra exercise the following day(s).      

Thus, the biggest improvement in my health did perhaps come from a change in diet, lifestyle, and exercise patterns.  But the change in diet, exercise, and lifestyle came indirectly from a change in my relationship and attitude towards myself – which was the primary factor in making these changes.  While not everyone has these kinds of issues, some do.  And for some, this is the message they need to hear more than any other if they ever expect to get anywhere with their health pursuits, or in mending their disordered eating patterns. 

I also have very strong feelings about how parents deal with their kids.  What is a normal and accepted form of parenting (manipulation via rewards and punishments, layered with undertones of overzealous praise and ‘because I said so’ discipline), has very clear detrimental side effects.  While there’s no need for me to go on any tangents outside of the realm of food, I certainly could.  Not because I’ve raised 7 perfect kids and have a doctorate in Child Psychology, but because I have had some very unique and extraordinary experiences that no Psychologist or parent has experienced – and can offer some insights from those experiences. 

Instead, we’ll stick to food and food only.  When pop behaviorism is applied to kids and food, it fails and backfires.  The most important objectives that a parent can achieve with a kid and food in today’s day and age are:

1)      Creating an intrinsic desire to eat nourishing food

2)      Maintaining a connection to the intuitive needs of one’s body

3)      Forming a casual and socially-acceptable approach to eating

 Things that parents commonly do that take kids farther from strength in these 3 categories…

  • Making kids finish what’s on their plate
  • Stopping kids from eating before they are full – denying them food when they want more
  • Changing the tone of their voice to one of excitement when saying things like “cookies,” “ice cream,” “cake,” or “pizza.” 
  • Demanding that they finish something perceived as healthy, in order to get a “treat” – whether it be something like dessert or some kind of other reward – like extra playtime, tv, etc.  Remember that giving adults rewards for doing something decreases intrinsic motivation to engage in the activity.  I believe this effect is even more pronounced in children.  I talk about this in particular in the following video…

  • Removing things from their diet that they like eating.  The proper thing to do is to allow them to see that “x” food makes them sick, and thus cultivate their own intrinsic motivation to avoid it.  This may be risky when it comes to things that send your kids into anaphylaxis, but regardless of how negative the reaction is, telling them they can’t eat it will make them want to eat it.  The goal is that if they are going to avoid eating something, they will be negatively affected both psychologically and physically if they want to eat it but don’t. 
  • Telling your kids what is and is not healthy – especially if you go to the lengths of praising your kids for eating what you think is healthy for them (which makes them like eating it less, unless your kid is a mindless pleaser, in which case you should REALLY avoid praise), and making them feel bad about or punish them for eating what you perceive as unhealthy.  You probably have no idea what is and is not healthy for them, or yourself.  I have read over 300 books on the subject and written over 5,000 single-spaced pages on the topic and I’m still not sure.  Ideas about diet can be very dangerous even if accurate (which is rare) and diminish the strength of objectives #2 and #3
  • Mentioning their weight, whether too high or too low, in any circumstance as it pertains to their eating and exercise patterns.  The more years a kid spends NOT thinking about how he or she looks the better.
  • Talking about you or other people’s weight in front of your kids   

I could go on for days, but the main theme here is that you want punishment, reward, praise, incentives, coercion, ideas, and all other forms of psychological interference to be as decoupled from your child’s eating as possible.  Neutrality is the operative word here.  With neutrality, a kid is much more empowered to enjoy eating healthfully from sheer intrinsic motivation.  A kid will stop eating when they are full instead of when the container of ice cream is completely empty.  They will eat to fuel and nourish themselves, and not eat for entertainment.  They will not gorge on junk when they have access to it, which is incredibly valuable in today’s day and age because junk is endlessly available.  I believe that wanting to eat junk, whether you actually do it or not, is enough to yield health detriments – particularly of the metabolic variety if you frequently restrain yourself from eating it. 

And kids won’t hate everything that you call “healthy” and praise them for eating, while simultaneously yearning to pig out on what you think is the most unhealthy thing in the world. 

Keep that cookie jar full and in reach.  And don’t ever let them know that they are supposed to eat vegetables.  The result is that they might actually try vegetables and like them, and be able to sit in an ocean of cookies but only want to play Frisbee with them.  I think that is the eating nirvana that most would want to bestow upon our children.  So do it and stop talking about food so damn much.  Soccer moms talking about food obsessively is about the creepiest thing I can think of.             

 

101 Comments

  1. First! Now I’ll go read Matt’s new post. :)

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  2. Wow. That is a lot to think about! Don’t I wish I had been raised like that!?! Thanks for another excellent post!
    tm

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  3. That is one awesome post Matty boy, once awesome post… Cheers to that :)

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  4. Good post Matt — now go have a cookie and chillax…

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  5. But if cookies are so highly palatable, won’t eating them disrupt my kids ability to self regulate?

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    • Amanda. It would be nice if such overly palatable foods did not exist. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have these issues or there wouldn’t be risk. The point here is that you can decrease one’s susceptibility to food addiction in a number of ways. Metabolically, and also psychologically by not living in a dieted mindset, or one of restraint and restriction. I think you’ll find with most kids that giving them free access to any and all foods without psychological interference, that they won’t obsessively eat nothing but cookies at the exclusion of all else. Especially after several weeks or months of unrestrained eating. Even as much as I like cookies, I can’t pig out on them for more than a week before they lose their allure. For reassurance, here is a passage from one of Geneen Roth’s books that I have always found very interesting…

      Roth, Geneen. When Food is Love. Dutton: New York, NY, 1991.
      pp. 91-92
      “My friend Clara told me a story about a client of hers, an eight-year-old child who had been on a diet for two years and had gained fourteen ponds in the process. In desperation, her mother consulted Clara; Clara asked what her daughter’s favorite food was. ‘M&Ms,’ the mother replied.
      ‘Good, I want you to leave here and buy enough M&Ms to fill a pillowcase. After you’ve done that, give the filled pillowcase to your daughter and let her eat the candy whenever she wants. As soon as the supply is diminished, refill it. Make sure she always has a full pillowcase of M&Ms. Take her off the diet, let her eat whatever she wants when she is hungry, and call me in a week.’
      After shrieking with horror and telling Clara that if her daughter gained fifty pounds, she was going to send her to live at Clara’s house, the mother crept out of Clara’s office, into a supermarket, and then home to her linen closet.
      Her daughter carried the pillowcase of M&Ms around with her for eight days. She slept with it, she set it beside the tub when she took a bath, she put it in a chair when she watched television. And, of course, she helped herself to M&Ms whenever she wanted them. Which, the first few days, was very often. In fact, after her mother bought three more pounds of M&Ms on the third day of this sugar-coated experience, she was ready to sue Clara. In a hysterical phone call, she told her that her child was eating more candy than ever before and how the hell was she supposed to lose weight doing this? Clara reassured her that her daughter was reacting to the years of deprivation and that when she believed, really believed, that she could eat whatever she wanted and that her mother was not waiting to snatch her pillowcase away, she would relax and begin eating from stomach hunger.
      On the ninth day, the pillowcase stayed in the bedroom. By the end of five weeks, her daughter had forgotten the M&Ms and had lost six pounds.”

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      • Matt, you know, I have been bothered lately that my 9 yo isn’t eating protein type foods (chicken, beef, eggs) and so I had started pressing her to take a few bites, then backed down to try one bite to make sure how she felt about it. She’s been pushing back, “No, I won’t eat it.” and I have backed off. She likes Amy’s refried beans/basmati/jack cheese in a burrito and sometimes gets that instead of the dinner I’ve made. We usually have ice cream and some kind of chocolate in the house. I don’t interfere at all with the 18 mo old boys eating – Just put a plate of whatever in front of him and supply more, if I can, of what he finishes. I think I have a psychological issue I’m pushing onto my daughter.

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        • I think a lot of kids do much better with a meat-free diet. As long as they get some animal foods in them, like ice cream. And cheese. Which most kids tend to universally prefer over meat.

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      • Matt, forgot to say Thank You for the really interesting citation. :)

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      • i cant tell you how closely that mimics the begining of anorexia recovery. it is hell until you force yourself to understand theres no guilt, the food will ALWAYS be there and you can eat it whenever you want to, M&Ms included! but for me it wasn’t M&M’s, of all things it was wheat thins

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      • I thought I would mention that I try to let my toddler eat what he wants without too much input from me (when it can be done) and several times in the last few weeks he has turned down cookies in favor, of say, olives (which he eats more of these then I like but I let him) and every time he turns down the sugary stuff I want to be like, “why dont you wanta cookie?” and then I remember, oh right, unlike me he only eats when he is hungry :)

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        • Olives? That is so awesome! That is one hardcore toddler! Was his father Chuck Norris by the way?

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    • Hi amanda, to ad to what matt is saying, in my many self regulating experiments calorie density and or palatability was not a factor. like he said the true allure fades quickly. I have achieved steady weight loss even with plenty of cookie experiments as well as all kinds of ultra yummy “stick of butter in a side of mashed potato type dishes” in order to prove the idea wrong. much in the same way a faster car does not mean someone will drive it faster. If someone gains weight it has nothing to do with how yummy it was, perhaps in the ultra short term it might appear to cause an increase over time all humans can self regulate just like any other species. ( pretty much humans and there pets are the exception at the moment )

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  6. Matt,what about sugar speeding up hyperactive kids? Any thoughts on that?

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    • HI. Subcalva
      there was a very interesting experiment of sorts done by someone on the BBC network where they gave kids as much sugar as the wanted at a birthday party and a relaxing mood and then another group of healthy non sugar based snacks and made a very action packed party situation showing that the environment had a lot more to do with hyperactivity than sugar. I’ve done experiments with my nieces and nephews with very similar results.

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  7. Excellent advice!!

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  8. I just finished Daniel Pink’s book entitled Drive, which is on the same subject, although he tends to stick to corporate behaviour, with a sideline of how school should work (easy read, although I’d already read a lot of the books that led up to it, like Alfie Kohn’s Punished By Rewards). Interesting to see the same ideas applied to food.

    I liked Pink’s way of describing the various motivational systems we’ve been through — basic survival was 1.0, carrot-and-stick was 2.0, and now we’re moving to 3.0 with intrinsic drive. So this is the 3.0 eating plan, and is very timely with the trend toward ROWE (results oriented work environment) and its emphasis on intrinsic motivation.

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    • There’s no question that being driven by intrinsic motivation is a higher level of existence. Calling it 3.0 is appropriate. I really appreciate the work of Alfie Kohn and love the tie-ins to food. My favorite from that book is when he quotes some behavioral expert on Pizza Hut’s Book It program. He said that was a good way to create a “bunch of fat kids that hate reading.” So true.

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  9. Matt, good post. Unfortunately you’ve somewhat glossed over the fact that Americans (most Westerners, actually) are fully programmed from a very early age about risk and reward. It’s called subtle programming (not outright “mind control”, but a lesser version of it) and it works very well on anyone with a poor education that highlights learning by rote instead of critical thinking and analysis. Take Santa Claus for example; the first true behaviorism example in the lives on American children. “Do this, and Santa will give you this.” It’s sickening.

    Your post is awesome; however, you’re preaching to the choir of folks who have finally started to break free of the programming. Until Americans can get their minds back (and if you’re a researcher I’m sure you’ve come to the conclusion that our minds have been systematically stolen from us slowly but surely over the past 100 years), the behaviorism and risk-reward mindstates will continue to be more and more pervasive, spreading to every facet of life and eventually to every person on the planet.

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    • Rick: Read Drive, it’s a great book and will answer some of your questions.
      Mattie: Stellar as always. I was jonesing for some Stoney wisdom. Thanks!
      love
      da hag
      xooxxo

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    • Thanks for your comment Rick. There’s no doubt that most minds have been turned into a Velveeta like substance with modern programming. But I kind of like living in a society where most of the people are mind slaves. I mean, there’s no way the Jerry Springer show could exist without it. Feakin love that show. The internet will fortunately be a formidable defense against this tidal wave of risk-reward mindstates that you speak of. At least with the internet there is some semblence of autonomy when it comes to what information you download into your mind.

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    • Rick,
      Agreed. I’ve found that I’ve been innately resistant to this mindset throughout my life, most likely due to the abhorrence it causes me. Characteristics of my contrary mindset that I’ve noticed and have influenced my life since being a teenager:
      -Strong aversion to the notion of guilt. Feeling that this idea is somehow bullshit. Desire to specify exactly how and why this idea is bullshit. Eventually separating the idea of guilt from the idea of regret and finding books such as The Guru Papers which go very in depth into this.
      -Aversion to the idea that good and evil, or good/bad inherently exist or are even useful concepts. Again, The Guru Papers goes into great depth about the goodself/badself split and how it sets us up for addiction, exploitation, etc.
      -Strong aversion to the idea of heaven/hell as external punishment/reward system with my ultimately rejecting Christianity and becoming Buddhist.
      -Identifying the double-meaning in the words Discipline and Responsibility and separating the implied meaning from the way they are used by parents and teachers vs their real meaning.
      Discipline (false meaning): Punitive form of punishment “That boy needs some discipline”
      Discipline (real meaning): Patience and the delay of gratification in the pursuit of a higher purpose “Practicing an instrument is a discipline”
      Responsibility (false meaning): A task that has been assigned to you by an authority figure but without any sense of autonomy or purpose “Taking out the garbage was your responsibility”
      Responsibility (real meaning): To be fully in charge of something in a way that can account for autonomy, mastery, and purpose “Running this business is my responsibility”
      -And the final characteristic I’ve identified is an aversion to authority and finally realizing in my professional career that simply being humble and deferential was not the best tactic either for my professional career or the companies I work for. It took me a few years to get out of that programmed mindset and eventually start taking charge when and where I saw the need.

      That’s another thing about the punishment/reward ideology. It sets people up to be followers and pleasers, but not to be leaders and in the real world, everyone has to be at least part leader. That is they need to know when to lead and when to follow and they need to be able to lead when necessary.

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      • so you’re a sociopath. great.

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  10. Definitely a lot of good points here Matt, as usual. I couldn’t agree more that you have to cultivate an intrinsic motivation in children to seek out healthy foods and not over indulge on “bad” foods. This is so difficult in our modern society though, just looking at the ratio of garbage/nourishing sustenance found in grocery stores, restaurants etc. Also, given the pretty poor state of affairs seen in school lunches, and soda and candy machines in schools, not to mention the constant bombardment of kid-targeted colorful and “fun” advertisements for candy and junk in the media, it probably is important to in some way try to educate children on the detrimental effects of eating such things.

    I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family that emphasized healthy home cooked meals, prepared and enjoyed together- family dinners every weeknight, big breakfasts on weekends, Sunday dinner etc. But my parents also didn’t over-interfere with my eating habits during the day, nor loudly object to my love for candy. Plus we always had things like ice cream, good quality cookies snacks etc at arms reach. Over the years my infatuations with health and nutrition have developed mostly organically in myself, and now I sometimes find myself haranguing my parents about some of their food choices haha. (Oh, the irony)

    I don’t have children yet, but I have my strategy pretty well laid out. I love cooking, and we all know how important cooking and preparing your own home meals with care can be. I will always have delicious, nourishing home-baked goods (and meals) on hand for unbridled access, made with fresh flour, molasses, butter etc. And I guarantee they will be far more delicious and satisfying than anything a few small elves that live in a tree could ever create.

    I think one of the best ways to get kids into food and healthy eating is to get them cooking along side you. Show them what real, healthy food preparation looks like… get dirty, have fun, and finally savor the fruits of the labor.

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    • Totally Daniel. Superb comment. Kids love to engage in things like this if you can artfully find a way to make the home food environment fun. Sure, there is some stiff competition out there. I mean Ronald frickin’ McDonald. That guy is tits. But even tonight I got a 6 year old eating mac and cheese and chocolate milk to stop eating her dinner and grab lettuce leaves out of my hand and start stuffing them into her mouth – no dressing, just plain. Leaf after leaf she devoured. How? Why? Because I made noises like a gorilla, made it funny by shoving them in my mouth and making a lot of crunching sounds, while her mom told her that if she ate them she would be better on the monkey bars (which should be called “ape bars,” as only apes like gorillas can do that whole “brachial locomotion” thing). She made some monkey sounds and then started shoving them into her mouth. There are lots of ways to make simple food fun and create intrinsic motivation. Popeye was good for that.

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  11. I wonder how this punishment/reward method affects relationships. I mean how many men and women use the punishment/reward method on their spouse or significant other?

    Girl says to guy, “if you mow the yard then I’ll give you some nookie, if you paint the back porch then I’ll give you some nookie, if you buy me some jewelry or some type of gift then I’ll give you some more nookie”

    Guy says to girl, “if you give me some nookie then I’ll mow the yard, if you give me some nookie then I will take out the trash and if you give some more nookie then I’ll buy you some jewelry or some type of gift.”

    This method has probably been going on for thousands of years.

    Prehistoric girl says to prehistoric guy, “if you go and club a woolly mammoth over the head for me and and bring some of the meat back to our cave so I will have something to eat then I will give you some nookie.”

    Prehistoric guy says to prehistoric girl, “if you give me some nookie then I will go and club a woolly mammoth over the head for you and bring some of the meat back to our cave so you will have something to eat.”

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    • A lot of it was unspoken Dude. Like when you bring home a wooly mammoth and feed it to your woman, especially if you can find some carbs to go with it, her sex drive will go through the roof. Men didn’t club giant animals to feed themselves. They did it to stoke the fires of their woman’s sex drive.

      In my own life I’ve noticed that people I’ve been in relationships with are very shocked and mystified when they engage in “bad” behavrior only to be met with a barrage of understanding, appreciation, and sympathy. What can I say? I love bitches.

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      • The Dude,

        Nookie is its own incentive!

        If your girl would rather you do the lawn than do her, there’s something seriously wrong. If not lack of sex drive, then she IS a “girl” and clueless yet. Or… you ain’t doin’ it for her! :)

        If a man does do it for her – sexually and otherwise – a woman with a healthy sex drive wouldn’t say, “If you do the lawn, I’ll give you some nookie.” She’d say, “Do me. The lawn can wait.”

        And trust me, a woman who’s man knows he stokes her fire – in and out of bed – would never need to bribe her man to do anything. If he knows he pleases his woman – sexually and otherwise – a man will happily do anything for her without being bribed.

        She’ll even do the lawn with you. That can be fun too! Or… get someone else to do the lawn while you do her in the bedroom. Or in the kitchen. Whatever.

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        • I run with a mix of both Corena and Matts idea,

          that whole I”ll give you nookie I’ll deny the nookie is ass backwards thing that only exits in a sexually repressive society of good and evil Aaron F was talking about earlier.

          I say feed ‘em good and do ‘em good they forget the lawn even exists! …. and don’t treat nookie like a gift that I couldn’t possibly get anywhere else. As an added bonus “the glow” keeps em from engaging in any “bad” behavior that needs any understanding. And a man simply in his quest for mastery of self will either hire someone to do the lawn or do it himself and chalk it up as “his manly duties” or just get rid of the lawn like me :).

          sorry bout the 90’s reference ( I know blasphemy) but its perfect :
          In the immortal words of “old dude” in Boomerang, ” don’t get nookie whipped whip the nookie! “

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          • * nookie aside, I do think people mess up their relationships with thier lovers children and even friend trying to reward or punish behavior with all kinds of things like I’ll let you use my car, I’ll buy you something nice or mommy will take you out for ice cream if you shut up for 5 mins!!!!!

  12. Very true that one difficulty of raising a child is feeding the child – not because of the challenges of feeding but because of how so many others are trying to tell you what to do! My 16 month old daughter only eats twice a day, which drives my relatives and doctor crazy. But when she eats, she eats like a champ and puts away a few meals and snacks worth of food in one sitting. If I wasn’t aware of being in tune with one’s body, I might be concerned, but in her case I am not because she eats plenty and is very healthy.

    Also, you get a lot of crap about food choice. My daughter likes fatty, salty and starchy foods like cheese, eggs, butter, hot dogs, meat, pasta, cereal, tortillas, yogurt and milk. She has absolutely no interest in vegetables and minimal interest in fruits. “She needs to eat more fruits and vegetables and not so much fat!” Shut up and let her eat!

    Eat the food for life!

    Scott

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    • Thanks Swede. Always good to hear an Eat the Food chime in from the 180 Old School. Kids all have different needs at different times. Giving the kid the space to just figure that out for herself is a much better strategy than trying to intervene and control with a bunch of unproven ideas. Keep it up Big Papa

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    • I remember in school we had a nutrition course and in our class our teachers told us that toddlers are one of the best animals at nourishing themselves properly when food is provided. So, to me, this says that people are slowly “un-taught” to do this as they age.

      And aren’t babies supposed to get lots of fat because of their growing brains? People need to mind their own beeswax.

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  13. Matt!

    Love this post. On so many levels. I will be back to re-read and watch the videos again. Sure, I know some of this stuff, but the journey from my brain to integration requires lots of inspiration and fodder like your post.

    Keep ‘em coming…
    SuperFondly,
    KarenE

    Reply
  14. Mateo,

    I immediately thought ‘Drive’ when I read the email. Glad to see that video. One of my very favorites. Super important stuff, in the realm of health and wholeness as broad as it can be imagined.

    On the road agan- miss you cats. be back around these parts sometime soon, I reckon.
    Much love peeps,
    Rob

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    • I will have to read me that “Drive” book. You guys are making me feel like an outcast for not having read it.

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  15. Not real worried about damaging my kids by saying finish
    your veggies or no ice cream.

    As long as we also teach the blessing of veggies and
    how good they make you feel along side with it.

    To me it’s just another way of saying finish your more
    enduring, more meaningful tasks before zoning out for
    a little instant gratification…

    Reply
    • I think the point here Yusuf is that if you educate kids about the importance of unadulterated food, there is a strong chance that they will start to generate their own intrinsic motivation to eat it. Like if you tell your ninja son that veggies will make him kick more butt, he will have motivation to eat them, and will do it without any coercion. Anytime you discipline kids to eat certain things, it decreases their intrinsic motivation to eat those things. It’s just sort a higher or loftier goal you could say to inspire someone to want to do something through their own volition, than it is to have to rely on rules, threats, punishment, rewards, and bribes to do something.

      Reply
  16. Yes yes yes. My parents did this for me. I was never ever forced to eat everything on my plate at dinner time, and when my mum made cookies we could eat as many as we wanted. Food was never a reward for us, and I know that I have benefited from this so much. I have all my life never understood how someone can “not be able to have cookies in the house, or they’ll eat them all”

    A great example of this is thie ski lodge I worked at, there was a huge cookie jar on the counter in the dining room for guests(and staff) to take from whenever they wanted, I would have a cookie once and a while because they were recipes I was unfamiliar with, but otherwise I never really touched the thing, I’ve never been that big into cookies and cakes. I remember about a month after I started working there(because it was a seasonal job all of us started at the same time) a bunch of the girls were talking about how much weight they had gained since starting work, most of them had gained about 10 pounds! So once everyone else had said how much they had gained of course everyone looked at me, I told everyone I had no idea how much I had gained because I didn’t know how much I weighed currently, which of course no one believed me, so we all had to take a trip down to the scale to weigh me, and lo and behold I had lost 12 pounds. Everyone was outraged. I ate dessert every night that the pastry chef made a new one(for example if she had made a chocolate mousse last week I usually wouldn’t have it again, unless I really wanted it) and tried all the cookies. I ate a huge breakfast every morning which always had eggs with some kind of meat and some kind of potatoes, and I rarely had fruit because there wasn’t much left by the time staff was allowed to eat and all the other girls would fight over the last grapefruit half to the death. I’d also fill my plate at lunch and at the afternoon snack and eat accordingly during dinner(some nights I just wasn’t hungry). Exercise wise some days I’d go for a bike ride down the hill for about an hour, but I only went if I was feeling like it. Basically I was the exact opposite of everyone I worked with, which infuriated them, I think it made it worse that I didn’t care much about it either.

    So as someone who was raised without having positive or negative feelings about food, I can say that this post hits the nail on the head and this is how I will be raising my kid once he’s born. Yeah there are outside factors like school and other kids and even other kids parents, but hopefully what your parents do for you is what sticks and not everything else.

    Sorry this is so long winded, I’m on a rant and I can’t stop! :)

    Reply
    • Yeah, that’s awesome Q. I worked at a lodge in Alaska that had a bottomless cookie jar as well. I ate them uncontrollably at first and then forced myself to not touch another cookie the rest of the summer, which I did successfully. But I had serious issues with food, and would do unwanted exercise in my room every night. Yippee! Eat less, exercise more! That was obviously still back in the Matt vs. Matt era.

      That is a classic story though. And pitiful that so few have that type of relationship with food – so rare as to almost make you an outcast from the other people at the lodge.

      Reply
      • I actually was an outcast at that job because of that. The girl I shared a room with hated me and whenever we served dinner together she would constantly whisper things like “you’re going to get fat.” to me whe the guests weren’t listening. My usual response was “at least I’ll be happy and full.”

        Reply
        • “your going to get fat doing that ” lololol that is one of my favorite lil’ whisper things
          if you only heard it as many times as me. I have grown to laugh so hard at that one single statement. I usually reply something like ” thank you your reverse psychology will help me lose a few pounds as i eat like fat ass.”

          this past year my favorite one was a woman telling me “butter is what makes us fat don’t eat it!!.. as i pilled it into a baked potato and she ate a plain potato and a steak the size of an oreo with all the fat trimmed off of it.

          Reply
          • Oh man people are so judgmental, and just moronic. The girl who said that to me didn’t get much respect from me since she took diet pills.

            I don’t trust people that take diet pills. I think those things are made by the devil.

          • Yes, Iovate, inc. is the devil.

  17. I went on a couple tangents and couldn’t stop either! :) Sorry lol. Here goes…

    Reply
  18. Matt,

    An absolute work of art.

    “Rewards, incentives, and punishment are many ways the destroyers of the human spirit.”

    Just felt that that was so worth repeating.

    Reply
  19. Rick,

    Very good points, of which I’m sure you know that many of us 180-minded are quite aware. But Western brainwashing CAN be undone. And it’s time for its undoing. And it’s going to take those of us who already do think for ourselves to do the ‘heavy’ lifting for those who don’t – yet. And that includes writing like this. So… don’t disregard it. Share it! :)

    As Matt pointed out…
    “While not everyone has these kinds of issues, some do. And for some, this is the message they need to hear more than any other if they ever expect to get anywhere with their health pursuits, or in mending their disordered eating patterns.”

    Reply
  20. I have no doubt that Matt is up for the challenge of breaking through the programming and helping even more peeps take their minds back. To think more critically and get to the truths about nutrition, health, and beyond. If just one person at a time.

    And I, for another, am most definitely up for the challenge. In fact, I’m “intrinsically” motivated to do so. I enjoy inspiring people to “think” rather than just mindlessly go with the flow.

    And I know that it IS possible. I have had the great pleasure of helping adults and kids deprogram and think for themselves. And parents to allow their kids to be themselves and think for themselves. And this incidentally fosters a “mended relationship” with themselves individually and with one another – parent and child.

    That’s one of the biggest reasons I love helping people figure out how to not only find but to follow their own path. Search for their own truths. Discover their own dreams. Explore their own bliss. To go wherever their imagination takes them. And to question everything – even your own beliefs – and especially those in positions of authority, wide-spread influence, and financial power.

    Don’t just follow the crowd – unless that’s truly where you want to go. That’s not a bad thing if that’s really what makes you happy. Not me. And if not you, then blaze your own trail. And more importantly, be who you are. And as importantly, don’t just “let” others be who they are, encourage them to be who they are. Cherish who they are and what makes them who they are. Not just your children, but all your peeps in your life.

    One of the most common things people tell me after they meet me is, “I feel like I can tell you anything.” That’s because they can sense that they can just be themselves around me. And that’s because, with me, they can. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I will only be who I am – quirks, flaws, and all. I have no interest in being anyone else. And I love knowing that people feel comfortable being who they are around me – quirks, flaws, and all. What we think are quirks or flaws in ourselves can be endearing to someone else – as people have shown me time and time again – both ways.

    Just be who you are. And don’t just allow – love – for others to be who they are. It feels good – both ways. And it makes a huge difference in your relationships with people in your life – and even with those you interact with in general in daily life.

    Reply
  21. Q,

    I was very lucky to have been raised that way too. And I am so grateful that I was able to raise my son that way as well. His father (my ex), however, was of the “because I said so” parenting mindset (that’s how he himself was raised). So it was tough having such drastically different parenting styles. But luckily, my parenting mindset did get through to my son. And sometimes it even got through to his father lol. But his father’s parenting mindset did also make an impact.

    Although, I look at that as a great advantage to my son. He had the benefit of seeing/feeling both parenting mindsets in practice. Now he can choose for himself which way he wants to parent his own kids someday.

    Interestingly, my son recently received great news of personal accomplishment. From his father he got, “I’m really proud of you Son!” From me, he got a huge hug. And he didn’t let go for the longest time. Yeah I hug him a lot, but he hugged me for longer than I think he’s ever hugged me before. He knew my hug wasn’t to say I was proud of him. I am of course, and he knows that, but he knows it’s not about that.

    Someone once said, “Rewards, incentives, and punishment are many ways the destroyers of the human spirit.” I wholeheartedly agree. Including doing things just to make someone proud of you. And expecting someone to do something because it would make you proud.

    My son knows how strongly I feel about that. He and I have talked about it a lot. And he knew my hug said that I totally understood how that accomplishment made ‘him’ feel about himself. He knew that I was celebrating THAT with him. Not that it made his parents proud. But that he was proud of himself. That he felt good about himself. He knows I “get it.”

    And I can’t tell you how good it feels to know that he knows that about me and about our relationship with each other. Was one of the most amazing feelings, moments in my life.

    I didn’t feel the need to tell everyone I know about his accomplishment. And I personally only shared it with one other person – and not out of pride in my son – but because I know they “get it.”

    Reply
    • I’m so happy it worked for you. Hopefully I can make this all work for me.

      Reply
  22. Lots of very good points here, and I could write a ton, but I’m curious, what are you referring to with this statement:” I have had some very unique and extraordinary experiences that no Psychologist or parent has experienced – and can offer some insights from those experiences.” Which experiences exactly?

    Reply
    • Most speficially starving myself out in the middle of nowhere in the Wilderness for 44 days to overcome weakness and beat myself into submission, etc.

      Reply
  23. I’m almost totally with you on the self-regulation thing…. Our kids go to bed when they want, wear what they want, say what they want to say (or not), eat what they want when they want with the exception of sugar. My parents were militant about sugar, and I have a challenging relationship with it. I vowed that I would be moderate about it so it wouldn’t become precious, but there ain’t no bein’ moderate about sugar unless you live in a bubble.

    And I’ve tried ‘unschooling’ sugar…..in my bolder moments I went weeks letting them have at the bulk candy section in our natural food store, and let them go nuts at home. They still ate plenty of healthy stuff, but I just couldn’t stand to watch it go on. I know. My schizophrenia has only made things worse, but I just couldn’t watch it wear my babies (2&4 at the time) down. My girl had seven cavities filled, and used to get eczema when she ate too much sugar…. And too much of it for me instantly flares up a lot of infections. Letting my kids self-regulate around sugar fits in with my beliefs around raising kids, but living with the reality leaves me with some really difficult questions such as – what is worse -The negative health effects of sugar, or not allowing them to make the choices themselves?
    The best answer for me is to wait until their bodies are bigger and stronger, more developed, and let them have at it… Like you said, Matt, you’ve done all that research and you still don’t know. I’ve looked all over for my own answers, and looked at everyone else’s. It’s torture trying to give them that freedom when you’re worried you could be doing harm. And it’s equally difficult knowing that taking away that freedom could also do harm.

    Reply
  24. I have to say this definitely seems at odds with the food reward hypothesis of obesity which Stephan Guyenet has been going on and on about recently. With the food-reward theory, you specifically try to minimize things that are pleasurable or rewarding: foods that are sweet, fat mixed with your meals, etc. Your take on it feels a lot closer to the truth in my opinion. It makes no sense to me that evolution would have required us to seek out less pleasurable foods even when not confronted with industrially processed foods. I think it more likely it would have to adapt to situations where it would have to seek out all its nutrients in an unknown food environment, and this could possibly still work in an industrially processed food environment. The other thing that feels whack about the food-reward hypothesis of obesity is that it plays into everything you’re arguing against in this article. Once again there are ways you should eat and shouldn’t eat, and now every time you are out anywhere, you’re on guard against all these pleasures out to get you. It implicitly breaks down the trust and biofeedback one has with one’s body. Not good in the long term. It’s for these two reasons I cannot accept the food-reward hypothesis. I’m also with you that for the vast majority of my life, not worrying and not having any guilt at all about food, and simply enjoying what I ate left me in the best health.

    Reply
    • I can tell you Aaron, I eat hella yummy stuff and then I look for more yummy stuff. Weight loss and weight maintenance is nearly effortless with an insane amount of highly yummy rewarding food.

      The food reward method stephan talks about get result but it is almost the same as avoiding carbs in an Atkins style solution only you avoid the reward instead. Atkins gets results, so does total starvation which avoids carbs and any type reward what so ever.

      I do read Stephan Guyenet’s work and he is a very smart guy that has laid a pimp smack down on Gary Taubes. I respect him a lot but from what I have seen and studied the flavor issue is only one of the the mechanism related to obesity just like insulin and thankfully it’s also not the cause because the solution would be far to brutal for most of the population.

      Reply
  25. Amazing. Love it. I have been so worried about my 9 month old and how to handle all aspects of feeding him. I worry about it constantly as I do about what I eat. It seems like the more I read the more I’m confused. Sometimes I wish I knew a lot less than I do.

    As far as statements 1-6, they all apple to me. Made me feel like you were inside my head analyzing me. It’s almost like I can see myself acting that way but can’t do anything about it. What can be done to fix this craziness?

    Reply
    • Roundhouse kicks

      Reply
  26. Alright Matt, at first I was thinking you were WAY off here. I mean, everyone is great at parenting until they have their own kids! Naturally I think, well I am their mom and know more than they do about food, so I need to provide the best I can and help them understand that we don’t eat a lot of junk because it’s not good for us. But then you posted the book excerpt about the little girl eating m&ms- THANK YOU! My third daughter is just like me, which means at the age of 5 she is getting a bit pudgy in her tummy. I sort of felt worried because I don’t want her to have the same body issues I’ve dealt with. Her favorite snack in the world is Goldfish crackers. She can eat a huge amount of them, at least half a box in one sitting, and I regulate her intake when I do buy them occasionally. She does the same thing with cereal. Anyways, it was very helpful for me to read that, because I may try it. She eats generally very well, but she is the most picky of my girls and likes to eat a lot more than they do.

    Anyways, so now I don’t think you’re way off.

    Reply
    • Good. I’ve had a few Goldfish myself this week and lived to tell about it.

      Reply
  27. I’m curious how this fits with RBTI eating “rules.” Not drinking when I’m thirsty at night, or eating meat or fruits or sugars after 2pm is such hard denial for me some days. Plus, there are all the no foods. Most days it is not a big deal, but then there are those restaurant meals when it is really tempting, not to mention inconvenient to avoid them. I am just wondering what this is going to do to my relationship with food long term!

    Reply
    • Doing RBTI didnt have that effect on me. Mostly because it made me even more disinterested in food than I already was after eating to appetite for years and years. But I have put some common sense and attention to biofeedback back into my diet for longer-term sustainability. The only food I avoid is pork, although I have had no shellfish either.

      Reply
      • Hey Matt,
        Curious what you may have learned in regards to pork ? Also if perhaps chocolate was not as much of a NO NO in your RBTI experiments?

        great post I really liked this part
        “I have read over 300 books on the subject and written over 5,000 single-spaced pages on the topic and I’m still not sure. Ideas about diet can be very dangerous even if accurate (which is rare) and diminish the strength of objectives #2 and #3″

        it is definitely a huge rabbit hole is it not ? will anyone on this planet ever makes sense of the entire thing…

        the dangers of “knowing” made me think of this
        http://voraciouseats.com/2010/11/19/a-vegan-no-more/
        her original domain name was voraciousvegan …. if anyone thinks shes alone google “why i am no longer “… and vegan pops right up there with christianity neck and neck … google is scary at times … vegan horror stories even scarier ….for everything else there’s EAT THE FOOD !

        Reply
        • Yeah, chocolate isn’t nearly as bad. I eat small amounts of chocolate regularly. But pork I continue to stay away from after a) Having health improvements during my now 5 months of avoiding it – namely disappearance of chest pain which makes sense in the context of RBTI (pork increases ureas increases pressure on the chest), and b) Seeing what it does to body chemistry (pH’s become very acid, ureas high, salts high, sugars high).

          Reply
  28. My kids are grown. Normal weight.

    I never insisted they finish the food on their plate. They always had to take one bite of each
    different food on their plate. If they didn’t like it, “don’t eat it.” Once the meal was over,
    dessert was served. My husband use to get upset with me about this. He would say
    “If they aren’t hungry for the food on their plate, the can’t be hungry for dessert.” However,
    I would say “Yes they can….everybody has two stomachs!” “One for the meal and, one for
    dessert!” LOL!
    My Mom taught me “If you want to make sure you have room for dessert, eat it first!” LOL!
    Sometimes she would too! :) My Mom has never had a weight problem.

    My Mom taught me to enjoy food, cooking, and baking. I made home cooked meals daily.
    Eating out was a rare treat. My adult children now do the same in their homes. :)

    Reply
    • <3 I think you get the best mom ever award. Haha.

      Reply
  29. Great post, I especially like the video on intrinsic motivation. Looks like the video was based on the Self-determination theory. You might be interested in reading about this theory. A good introductory article would be:
    Deci, E. L. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation,
    development and health. Canadian Psychology, 49, 182-185.

    Reply
  30. Matt, I would love to hear your take on Rewards/Punishment for kids, outside of food. I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old. Our 3 year old is generally well behaved, but I’ve always wanted a sort of “alternative” view on discipline. Could you recommend any reading on the subject or explain how, using this concept, how one would handle a child that is not listening, or acting up?

    I was raised on the eat your dinner or no dessert plan and I definitely have major food issues. ETF has helped me progress, but certain foods I just can’t stop eating. My “full sensor” just doesn’t register. Now that I understand better some of my issues with food, I would love to hear the alternative strategies for raising children.

    Reply
    • Hi Bryan,

      I am reading Hold On to Your Kids at the moment which I would recommend. It is against rewards and punishment as discipline and suggests working on the child parent attachment as well as gentle alternatives.

      You can read the first chapter for free here:

      http://www.gordonneufeld.com/images/books/HOTYK_ChapterOne.pdf

      There are also many videos on youtube if you don’t want to buy the book.

      Jane

      Reply
    • Bryan, I was wondering what your problem foods are.
      you might try actually going overboard with them, most people find out 3 things occur when they truly let go. 1) their “full sensor” does not operate like a gas tank and works a lot better than they thought after the short term honeymoon of unrestraint eating
      2.) letting go and pigging out as matt has mentioned before makes things lose their appeal pretty quick. I’ve done this will all my favorite foods and ended up avoiding then for months and months after a binge out experiment. Just like Matt was saying in his post with the sea of cookies thing only I couldn’t stand to look at em.

      3.) to a large degree “You” are not really supposed to be in charge of how much or what you eat really, your body and subconscious mind are and once you let them do the driving you don’t need to ask for directions any more.

      Reply
      • Chief,

        I haven’t quite pegged down my Problem Foods. I know I have problems after drinking a lot of soda, so it may be highly processed food, but I’m not quite sure. It sounds like I should be cooking a lot more than I already am. I usually eat about 2x what my wife does already. I’ve estimated my calories at around 4000-4500 per day with lots of fruit, rice, potatoes, beef, chicken, eggs, butter and coconut oil, with some veggies thrown in for some “flair”.

        I can lose interest in the amount of food I am eating, but the full sensor still doesn’t work. I guess I’ll need to train like it’s an eating contest…. this could be fun :)

        Reply
        • what sort of activities do you partake in? what sort of job do you do ? and are you stable as far as body temperature goes at 37 c 98.6 f ?
          the reason I ask is if the cellular activity throughout the whole body is low it can throw a serious curve ball.
          the fructose in soda is definitely related somehow to not balancing out with the “calorie meter” in many people. I’m still studying it and experimenting on my “guinea people” as well as myself. I have noticed in repeated experiments that avoiding soda outside of meals has been major factor.
          one to 3 servings once a day within a large meal has no impact what so ever but the same 3 servings spread out all day raises havoc like feeding gremlins after midnight even in single meal cases.
          the other thing I would ask: are you a guzzler by any chance taking large swigs of soda in a single shot ?

          I would not be alarmed with the total number of calories being more than your wife unless you are a particularly small guy. Calorie counts are relative to each person and really does no good focusing on them they change on their own if they need to. in many cases the even increase during a weight loss phase and many stay the same.

          Reply
          • There’s definitely something to the higher meal frequency – or snacking on the sweets and sodas all day long vs. having a lengthy period in which you ingest no food. For me, eating sugary stuff all day long can be quite fattening and increase my appetite without an increase in metabolism. But I can eat insane amounts of sugar with pretty much the opposite effect if I stop at 2pm and don’t consume any sweets after that – eating a light dinner. I suspect Byron Richards would be able to shed some light on this.

          • I’m a huge gulper… interesting you would bring that up. I tend to drink a ton of liquid, not just soda. Relatively speaking I generally down 4oz-6oz gulps at a shot. I’ve consciously tried to change that, but I inevitably fall back into the same groove.

            Currently I have two kids, one 3 years old and one 3 months old, so for activies I’m usually playing with them. We go to the park, ride bikes around the neighborhood. Nothing really intense. I’ve been toying with bringing some sprints back into the equations ala PACE by Al Sears, but I just haven’t made the jump. I have also just purchased a house 6 months ago, so I’m doing a ton of random work around the house. Otherwise I’m a chair sitting accountant that is rather bored an uninspired with my work.

            My body temp rarely makes it above 97.6 and generally in the mornings is around 96.8. I have seen a few days at 98.0 but never any higher. Even when I get sick I don’t run a fever… I get colder like 96.0… strange ehh?

            So if high fructose corn syrup is throwing off my “full sensor” would fructose in fruit respond the same way… I am including lots of fruits in my diet currently. Probably 5-7 servings a day, primarily at breakfast and lunch.

    • With young kids the main thing is to keep them alive and keep from pulling your own hair out. I mean of course you are going to get mad at your kids from time to time, and this is a form of discipline. A little bit is inevitable. But as they get older the main thing is to recognize who they are and support that strongly. Not with praise or telling them how proud you are, but just making sure that if they are interested in something that have absolute supported freedom to follow it.

      I recently spent a day with frequent 180 visitor (Goomama), who has taken this approach. While it’s tough for her sometimes to let her son spend the whole day in front of the computer (she gets those inklings to want to make him eat healthy, socialize, play outside, do some sports), the bottom line is that’s what the kid likes to do. You can’t fight it. He just loves it. And because she supports his interest in the computer, he is 10 years old and has taught himself 7 computer programming languages. The kid is gonna be the next Bill Gates. I don’t think she’ll regret not making him play some lame game of tag with the neighbor’s kid when he instead spends his time fully immersed in his natural passion.

      Reply
      • So really it is a go with the flow thing? Make sure they aren’t going to hurt themselves or others and just let them have free reign? It sounds good to me, but I may definitely have issues in practice. My parents were very strict so it is really the only style I’ve been exposed to per say. Thanks for the input Matt, you always seems to have a fresh perspective.

        Reply
        • Bryan, we parent (4 and 2 year old) similar to how you’re wanting without rewards and punishment. We focus on connecting with our children and taking care of ourself. Sort of a preventive approach to keep us sane and keep our cups full because our children will need to get their fill up from us. I’ve read lots of books but two free resources are:

          Say What you See, has a free ebook, I think it took my 45 minutes to read and it’s awesome. I’ve taken some of her classe too and LOVED them. She does free teleconferences monthly too where you can ask questions:
          http://www.languageoflistening.com/resources/read-swys-book

          And I also love Carrie Contey, she has some awesome videos on youtube, here’s one:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwRqTkqDFUw&feature=g-all-u&context=G29cbea4FAAAAAAAACAA

          Reply
  31. I’ve been doing this type of thing with my toddler, and thus far it works pretty well. He eats when he is hungry and wont he when he not… he often turns down “sweet foods” but other times will eat lots of them. It is hard when he doesnt eat very much at meal times, I want to make him eat his dinner, but I do my best to let him do his thing and I feel like its working pretty well. Sometimes kids just arent hungry for the food we want to eat and need to eat their own thing. We had turkey for dinner the other day and he didnt eat any of it, he’s eaten it before so I t hought he wasnt hungry. After dinner he sees the cottage cheese in the fridge and and then ate three bowls full! I feel like a more “normal” parent would of told him no, dinner is over, if you are hungry eat the turkey. But these things dont accopmplish anything… And yes, sometimes he says no to cookies. But really I wont know how all this really turns out until he is an adult, so I got a long way to go! But I really believe small children know what they should be eating far better than I do (unless per say t hey were raised on HFCS) since they dont know what is healthy or unhealthy or good or bad, they just know food, and what sounds good.

    Reply
  32. THAT IS AWESOME!

    Reply
  33. The body gives a clear signal if someone needs to drink more. A dry mouth / feeling thirsty is a very good indication. Still in RBTI it is best to look at the conductivity and the Brix as well.

    Reply
  34. Great post and interesting comments. What really resonates with me is that I had the same shocking epiphany described in the post: When it comes to food consumption, restriction is not the answer. Restriction is the problem.

    There’s a Greek restaurant nearby that has this incredibly delicious pita bread. I’d like to limit bread, so whenever we go there, all day I think to myself, “Don’t eat the bread; don’t eat the bread.” Then I walk in, sit down, and immediately start eating the bread.

    Huh? What I’ve learned is that if I come to the table with a rigid restriction, the equal and opposite force of desiring to throw off restriction comes to the table with me. That’s the “reward” I get from it: throwing off the shackles of restriction. That’s why the “food reward theory” sounds so circular and completely non-helpful to me. It’s like saying, “Food that makes you want to keep eating it tends to make you keep eating it.” Well, duh.

    The real question is what makes us want to keep eating while some other part of us begs us to stop? This may be different for everyone, and certainly biochemistry and metabolic effects play a role. But each person needs to do their own research on themselves in this regard, including into their mindset and world view.

    Ultimately, what do I want around food? Freedom. The commenters who grew up without restriction describe a freedom around food that is almost incomprehensible to people who like me whose thoughts revolve around trying not to eat candy followed by remorse for eating all that candy. Paradoxical as it is, I’ve discovered that only when being totally “allowed” to eat something is an option, does NOT eating it also become an option.

    Reply
    • This was very well said! Since I RRARF’ed and now ETF I have noticed that my “comfort” foods aren’t all that comforting anymore and I realized that since I’ve given myself permission to eat whatever/whenever a lot of the comfort from those foods actually came from the feeling that I was allowing myself to break my food rules rather than just the foods themselves. The downside of this is they are no longer comforting but I now feel extremely liberated about food/eating which has always seemed to me what “normal” people experience!

      Reply
  35. Great post, Matt. Rewards and punishments are short-sighted. We need to take a hard look at the way we discipline our children, how we model and emote, as well as how justice is done. It would seem that we create destructive deviance though our ignorance of how we ourselves work.

    I’m sorry that you think that enlightenment is a silly path arisen out of the inability to accept ourselves. This neutrality of which you speak is also Buddhist virtue, commonly called equanimity, and refers to a lack of judgment or preference. I’m not sure how greater mental clarity, compassion, empathy, euphoria, and peace could be undesirable consequences. If you have more to say on the subject, I’d like to hear it.

    Reply
    • I place a very high value on pain, suffering, discomfort, disagreement, struggle, conflict, argumentation, and challenge. I have a tremendous appreciation for these things. Without such things there is no growth, no evolution, no adaptation. I think of what most people consider enlightenment as a compulsion to have constant inner peace and happiness, or happily-ever-after. People don’t realize how destructive it would be if we were all happy and sitting around meditating. It would be the death of progress. And I view progress as the superior answer to the insatiable desires of the human mind than trying to use various palliatives (meditation, drugs, entertainment, sex, spirituality) to satisfy those yearnings.

      Reply
      • Without rainy days, sunny days would be nothing special.

        You already know that I cannot agree more, and there’s more I could add, but just gonna leave it at that. Absolutely loved this comment, Matt.

        Reply
        • That’s good. Everything I write is intended to impress you.

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      • I absolutely agree – except that I don’t think meditation is a palliative. In my meditation experience, “pain, suffering, discomfort, disagreement, struggle, conflict, argumentation, and challenge” all take place inside my head… I’ve found it an incredibly powerful tool in training and disciplining(sp?) my brain to be more productive, creative, and inherently happy.

        Reply
        • I’d add that if there is something that meditation might suppress, then it’s suffering – when defined as your response to “pain, —, discomfort, disagreement, struggle, conflict, argumentation, and challenge”, etc. And then you can progress even faster. In other words, equanimity lets you accept reality and act upon it accordingly

          Reply
      • Simply being “happy and sitting around” would not be conducive to progress. Meditating, however, is. Those fifteen minutes I spend meditating every day are incredibly valuable in that they improve everything else I do throughout the day, especially in terms of communication, creativity, productivity, and risk-taking. Meditating helps me live passionately and with focus. It’s not about being happier. It’s absolutely not about avoiding negative emotions. Rather, it’s about facing pain and difficulties head on and responding to these aspects of life more effectively and powerfully. Feeling emotions fully, shining light on them. That’s enlightenment.

        Reply
  36. I definitely agree with you on the dangers of escapism. My issue it seems is with your definition of meditation (and by extension, enlightenment) as an escapist practice or state-of-mind. You claim possession of an understanding of conflict, stress, and pressure as being indicators of and catalysts for growth. This understanding grants you the rare capacity to appreciate the value of uncomfortable circumstances. In fact, your rejection of enlightenment is founded on the basis of the exact type of understanding that meditation promotes.

    It does not seem that we are inborn with this understanding, but rather a more basic one where comfort is a symptom of success and suffering is indicative of a failure to overcome hardship. Fortunately for us ordinary humans, a superior understanding can be learned. Meditation does bring about inner peace, but by directing attention on conflict in a calm, focused way that allows one to observe its inevitability and its function. Meditation is a means by which we obtain the insight to counterintuitively value the forces of tension you praise in your reply and in which we progressively develop our tolerance to bear them without compromising our ability to respond effectively.

    I understand your cynicism and hope that you can respect a direct, focused approach to life.

    I am curious about your ideas on progress. I imagine that you are referring to something more than the blind and frantic pursuit of a cultural fantasy which the word typically conjures to mind. Have you done any writing on this topic? What do you envision to be the means and ends of this process? Are you referring generally to the belief that a better world is something that will be delivered by the future and not something we should be concerned with protecting from it?

    PS: I had rewrite this comment from scratch twice because I didn’t fill out required form fields that aren’t listed as required.

    Reply
  37. So by making it “non-negotiable” that processed foods are strictly prohibited in my home, I am setting my child up to want them more? We get grass-fed meat, raw dairy (before we were found to be allergic), and organic produce; in addition to the gluten-free foods that I make to ensure that my child not feel left out. (I make cookies, breads, cake, etc., with coconut flour and almond flour with unrefined sweetener, or ice cream with coconut milk — trust me, they are “goodies” without the processed ingredients.) I am confused as to what you mean — am I setting my son up for a lifetime of repeated binges of pizza (dairy and gluten) and ice cream (dairy) because I tell him that he is (and I am!) allergic to these foods? We were both tested via blood to be allergic. I want to give my son a sound relationship with food and to develop the love of unprocessed “crap.” Am I actually doing him harm?

    Reply
    • It’s important to remain open to other possibilities. For starters, kids usually do great with some processed foods in their diet. Processed food is much more digestible, and kids have very poor digestive power to begin with. The human digestive tract is extremely small. Our mouths and teeth are tiny for the size of our bodies. The reason is that with cooking, food preparation, and now food processing – human beings have evolved and adapted to allocate time and energy to food preparation instead of making our digestive tracts do all the work. This of course frees up energy in other areas, allocating more to brain growth and cognitive and language skills. In other words, easily-digestible and sometimes even processed foods are a better fit for our digestive equipment, especially when we are really old or really young and digestion is at its weakest. Kids often don’t do well on meat either, for the same reason. Especially grassfed meat which can be even tougher and harder to digest. Don’t even get me started on raw dairy! The easiest milk to digest (and least problematic) is cooked skim milk! And coconut flour and almond flour? I really don’t think that’s a good idea. Nor would I refer to baked goods as “goodies.” This is exactly the type of mental interference I’m talking about in this post. All foods should be kept on an even playing field as much as possible.

      As far as blood tests showing that you are allergic to gluten and dairy, you decide for yourself what to do with that information. Here I try to put more emphasis on building up tolerances to problem foods and break through real barriers by overcoming allergies altogether – instead of avoidance (which is a long, dark tunnel that leads to a lot of social problems and neurosis).

      Having said all that, you are the parent. Do not fork over your power to some punk health writer on the internet. You know the complexities of your children’s health problems, food preferences, and so forth. And you are the one that has to make the best judgment call given all the details. (I don’t have any of the details). All I’m trying to do is open your mind to other possibilities and make you aware of what are quite often unintended consequences of good-intentioned parenting.

      Reply
      • Brilliant!

        Reply
      • Ok, I’m so confused. I thought I was getting it until I read this response. Can you give us an example of how you picture dinner with young children (mine are 4 & 2 for example). If everything is really on the same playing field than I guess the ice cream is out on the table free for the taking at the same time as the rest of dinner? We currently have a dessert time, say dinner is at 6 then dessert is at 6:30. You don’t have to eat your dinner to get dessert but everyone waits until 6:30 for dessert. I guess that’s still putting dessert on a pedistal though since it has a special time and you have to wait for it?

        Reply
  38. How I got my kids to eat beets:

    1. I didn’t expect them to. I like beets, and so I bought some and fixed them with dinner.
    2. Hubby snarled, and so did kids “What is THAT?”
    3. “These are beets. They taste like dirt, and they have a really good texture. You won’t like them. I only made enough for myself.”
    4. “I want to try some!”

    So now, we all like beets. :) I love food, and think it was created for us to enjoy. Same with sex, music, nature, babies…life is meant to be enjoyed!

    I would like to say that manipulating food intake as good/bad is a TOTALLY different thing than training/disciplining kids. For one, I don’t think that food is intrinsically/morally bad. Humans, on the other hand… :)
    Having raised 4 of them, they don’t have to be taught to be selfish, cruel, etc. Not saying they’re all bad, but I believe we all have a ‘fatal flaw’ in some form or fashion, so that loving them will, at some point, mean discipline happens.
    From before they’re a year old, they’re experimenting with manipulating things to their own ends (as we all do.) Unfortunately, they don’t have the life experience to understand that some things can really, really hurt themselves and others. Goldfish crackers are not among those things, though.

    Some friends and I were just chatting about things our boys have done. One of the kids jumped into the pool with no floaties, and nearly drowned. Another one hung a rope up in the tree and jumped out, trying to get his head into the hole, because he wanted to swing by his neck. One of the boys bit into a glass lightbulb today. My not quite 2 year old really, really wants to play with my chef’s knife, and will slide chairs/stools to the counter and dig through drawers looking for it. Sometimes, their own ‘discoveries’ can teach them the big “NO” better than Mama can. But on issues of chef’s knives and electrical outlets, I don’t sit around and wait for the consequences of their experiments. Because I love them. Done right, it helps to create intrinsic motivation. I don’t want to control their personality…just hopefully get them to live through puberty. :)

    Reply
    • Haha. Yes, that’s why in another comment I told a guy that the primary parenting responsibility when your kids are really young is just keeping the little suckers alive – and holding on to your own sanity. It’s later when they start to come of age that it is important that who they are is embraced and encouraged.

      Sweet beet story!

      Reply
  39. great post! dont know if you will read this since the post is so old, but…

    this reminds me of an interesting study done a while ago (like 1950’s or so). they gave babies (i think around one year old) lots of different foods to choose from at every meal and recorded what and how much they ate of each food. they discovered that even though on any one day (or multiple days in a row) the babies might focus on just one or two foods, overall they ate a completely balanced diet. with no help from anyone! they just intrinsically knew. pretty interesting.

    Reply
  40. Matt, I am a fan of a lot of your work however I must say that I get the impression that
    you have a very skewed view of what behaviorism is. While I completely agree with what you have to say about the insanity of how parents try to control their children’s diet I see no parallels with this and how behaviorism is actually applied in real life circumstances. I only feel compelled to comment because I have extensively studied and applied the theories of behaviorism however I do not identify as a behaviorist. Any one who properly followed the theories would not ” punish” a child’s behavior unless is was dangerous to them selves or very disruptive. Further more a true ” reinforcer” increases the frequency of the desired behavior and the examples you labeled as reinforcers were nothing close to that.
    Also just wanted to add that Behavior based approaches are the most empirically supported approaches and interestingly enough are the most effective at treating OCD, anorexia, and phobias.

    Reply
  41. Hi Matt I just stumbled across this post which I think is great. I have a 4 year old son who has always been a terrible eater. Our issue is not really pickiness (he eats a reasonable variety), it’s that he just does not eat unless we basically coax him through his meal. He is a skinny child which is fine, I recognize kids come in all shapes and sizes-the problem is he does not understand hunger cues and essentially becomes hypoglycemic and starts to meltdown when he’s hungry….so as much as I’d like to believe kids are able to eat what they need, there is the exception, which is my son! I am so nervous about creating an unhealthy relationship with food (which I myself have)-this is one of my fears as a parent. But my son does need some rules or discipline around food. If we don’t offer it he will simply not eat!
    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • I hear that. My girlfriend’s daughter is 6 – almost 7. She displays predictable behavior when she’s crashing. I’ve had to pour sugar in her mouth on a couple of occasions, against her will. 30 seconds later her mood was completely reversed and she was happy again. So not as traumatic as it sounds.

      I use a lot of Jedi mind tricks on her. For example, in a week we’ve got her to go from hating reading to begging and whining for us to let her read. She hates going to bed, so we let her stay up as late as she wants if she is reading. Worked great. Worked even better when we told her she wasn’t concentrating hard enough and had to go to bed. No more reading until tomorrow. She woke us up this morning at 7am with a book in hand. I’m sure we could take this even further by “not allowing” her to read.

      So yeah, maybe make food more forbidden. Tell him he’s had enough and cut him off before his appetite is satisfied when he is eating something. Not allow him to eat his favorite foods. Try to make him do something he hates in order to have the privelege of eating. I would also never tell him “good boy” when he does eat. The idea is to make him WANT to eat. Not make him eat. It might be a hard first week, but will get better after that. Then you can balance things out when he becomes more balanced about his eating.

      Reply
  42. Fantastic post matt, i really enjoyed the concept of intrinsic motivation. One thing i would add to your list is to feed kids foods that are both tasty and healthy and avoid feeding them processed foods from a young age. I think one reason that kids hate vegetables is because they become enamoured with hyper-palatable processed foods from a young age. Kids in some non western countries dont have this problem, they are happy to eat rice, meat and vegetables like their parents because they never have access to western junk foods. Altering a child’s food environment and acclimating them to tasty real food from a young age is a powerful tool for teaching good eating habits with “innate motivation”. I think if you give kids pop tarts and fruit loops one day and a bowl of oatmeal the next it should come as no surprise if they throw the oatmeal back in your face!

    Reply

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