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“Treat Yourself” Mentality Destroyed My Self-Control. Here’s How I’m Getting It Back.

I love treating myself. There’s no other way to say it. I love ordering a new dress from Amazon after a hard week — or any week, honestly — and getting my favorite cookies delivered as a Monday pick-me-up. I love massages and going to the movies, dining on dishes full of cheeses and creams and spices. I love impulse buys, like the hallway table that fits perfectly in our little nook and the duvet cover that makes our king-sized bed feel like it’s made of clouds. I love rich dishes, spending money, and everyday indulgences.

This is probably how I’ve managed to gain 40 pounds and acquire a whole bunch of unnecessary clutter covering the surfaces of my 1000 square foot home over the past year. Which brings me face-to-face with the question that’s haunted me for years: How can I accept that sometimes self-care means telling myself “no”?

The solution seems so simple: Just stop. Stop getting those gooey, salted chocolate chip cookies on random Mondays and stop perusing Amazon when you’re bored. Stop pouring glasses of wine Tuesday after work and stop ordering those empanadas from the place nearby when you got groceries delivered just last week.

Getting Stuck In The “Treat Yourself” Cycle

It’s privileged and insufferably spoiled, but I can’t help it. In a society that rewards treating yourself and views restrictions as rigid, it sounds reasonable. You’re allowed to buy that new skirt and Girl, you totally deserve the home facial kit. Life is hard. You earned it.

And it’s true. Life is hard. And honestly? However it may sound, I do deserve it. We all do. Hell, being a person in 2020 isn’t easy, so any little joys we can accrue in the search of feeling normal is to be respected. But the thing is, treating myself, while occasionally important, has also proven to be my downfall. The pile of still-tagged clothes in my closet with no place to wear them in the near future. The skipped workouts in exchange for pizza orders. The hours spent adding items to my online shopping cart, hoping if I find the perfect print for the living room or the most magnificent mirror or the hallway, I’ll be able to move forward, happier than ever. Maybe if I treat myself this one time, everything else will fall into place. It’s a quick fix for a problem that is never solved.

As someone who struggles with an extremely addictive personality and a long history of eating disorders, boundaries are necessary but have also been my downfall. Eating too much junk food? Fine, I’ll never have another bite. Spending too much money? It’s okay, we’ll go without. Drank too much one weekend? We’re giving up alcohol altogether. It’s led me down a vicious journey of restrictions and relapses, guilt and gluttony — a cycle that’s been tough to break.

It’s exhausting, and as much as I’d like to wallow and think I’m alone in my suffering, I know I’m not. Whether it’s how much you let your family be involved with your personal life, how you spend your money, what you put in your body, or how you utilize your time, finding balance in anything is exhausting. 

So how can we have both? How can we set boundaries that keep our money, health, and wellbeing in check while also allowing for well-deserved rewards and indulgences? For those of us who need personal boundaries to say “no” to ourselves, how can we remove the guilt around occasionally treating ourselves? How can we accept that sometimes self-care means not getting what you want?

How I’m Breaking The Cycle

I’ve spent many years and thousands of dollars in therapy trying to figure out the balance: The magic place in-between rewarding myself and living a happy life and restricting myself for the sake of health and monetary longevity. It’s not easy, and I’m no pro. But as our days get stranger and our time more fluid, it’s important to remember sometimes the nicest thing you can do is not continue on the guilt-riddled cycle of self-sabotage, whatever it might look like for you.

My downfall usually starts with setting too high expectations for myself. As someone who grew up with the mentality of “anything less than an ‘A’ is a fail,” finding balance is the key. While I’m firmly on team Therapy Forever, between social distancing and lessened paychecks for most of us (myself included), that’s just not as viable of an option. If you have the means for teletherapy, great! If not, there are still ways to strategize coping with this cycle of indulging and restricting, especially when there’s no one to help keep you accountable. 

Utilize timeframes with milestone goals.

While I’d like to say, “I’m going to avoid alcohol and fat-heavy food until July,” as soon as the first weekend hits, the goal will seem too far away to matter and I’ll slip. I mean, what’s one more weekend of wine when July is so far away? Make your timeframes more manageable so your goals seem more reachable. Maybe avoid alcohol or sugar on weekdays or try to go for a month. Any longer than that and you might start feeling restricted which may lead to a binge. 

Make a compromise with yourself.

If you can’t get the idea of that extra cheese pizza out of your head and you need it now, not tomorrow, compromise with yourself. Sometimes an exchange is all it takes to keep you in check or stop the cycle in its tracks. If I say I can have pizza for dinner tonight but that will be in exchange for my weekend ordering out, I have to decide if that’s worth it for me. Just like with any relationship, hear yourself out and decide if you’re willing to meet in the middle. 

Substitute your treats.

If you’ve compromised but still feel the need to treat yourself, consider rewarding the compromise with a different treat. You decided to wait to order pizza until the weekend? Well done! Take an extra-long lunch break to read. You held off on ordering that new dress to see how you feel about it next week? Awesome! Take a bath or snuggle up for a midday nap. A little harmless pampering will still make you feel special without setting off your triggers. 

Give yourself an inch so you don’t take a foot.

Whether it’s buying new clothes, eating lots of chocolatey and cheesy goods, or taking a break from your seemingly endless to-do list, treating yourself smartly is the key to stop the overindulgence cycle. Give yourself a meal, a price limit, or a timeframe to work with, and then have fun, guilt-free. Instead of recklessly ordering in all weekend, pick a meal or a day to get your favorite dish delivered or pick out a new outfit instead of five. It’s okay to give yourself what you want, in fact, that’s one of the joys of being an adult. Do it wisely, and you’ll be able to keep doing it for years to come. 

Remove the guilt.

So, you gave in and got the treat, whether you meant to or not. In the grand scheme of life, this isn’t the end of the world. You’ll survive. Instead of trying to shame yourself over something lovely, enjoy it! Remove the guilt and be there for yourself the next time compulsion tries to take over. 

Finally, be forgiving and use kind self-talk. At the end of the day, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to talk to myself as I would to my best friend. I never realize just how often I’d say cruel things in an attempt to guilt my mind into doing what I thought was best. In the end, I’d often slip up just as much but I felt even worse about it. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be your own biggest cheerleader and coach. Whether it’s pushing yourself to reach your goals or rewarding a job well done, a simple “it’s okay, you’re doing great” can make all the difference, especially when it’s coming from your own biggest critic: Yourself. 

Rachel Varina is a social media, digital marketing, and editorial expert living in sunny Tampa, Florida. When she’s not creating content or collaborating with brands, you can catch her devouring thriller novels and supporting pineapple in the great pizza debate with her husband and two rescue pups by her side. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Image via Pexels

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