The Danger of Rewards–And My New Rules For Treating Myself

Besides exercise, one area of weight loss that I’ve struggled with is rewarding myself. Not that I’m unable to give myself a pat on the back if I exercise consistently, or if I lose 2 lbs. in one week; I have trouble figuring out how to reward myself.

Before Weight Watchers, food was my reward for anything good in my life. A reward could’ve been a candy bar or cookie, a bag of chips or a gargantuan order of fries, or a big dinner at a favorite sit-down restaurant or buffet. Problem is that I seemed to get a lot of rewards, and those rewards were often out of proportion with what I’d done to earn them. (I made it to Friday? Five laps at the buffet!!!) And they didn’t help me in the long run, because they kept me at a high weight and they conditioned me to think of food in a dysfunctional way.

Where my head is at these days is that maybe I should save the rewards for special occasions. And, maybe I should just learn to treat myself better overall.

I’ve recently come out of a year-and-a-half-long rut, in which I was losing and gaining the same 5-7 lbs. During this period, I had times when I rewarded a loss on a given week with something simple, like a bottle of nail polish. Although I could now open a nail salon with the host of bottles I have, I didn’t really get anywhere for long with the weight loss.

This time around, I’ve made my rules for what triggers a reward a little more strict. I’ve given myself 2 rewards in the past couple of months, and both have meaning with the concert I’m going to (next week!!!) that’s been driving my weight loss lately. One is the shirt I intend to wear (pictured here), and the other is a set of $5 earrings that I also plan to wear. Both times, I used these items as motivators when my resolve was sluggish, but I had a good week. In the past, I was more or less rewarding myself with every successful week. Now, I think I’ll focus on congratulating myself through particularly hard times.

Or when I hit a big milestone weight loss. For example, leaving the obesity category, and getting out of the 180s is on the horizon for me. I’ve had this goal on my mind for a year or so. Originally I wanted to get an Adidas or Puma track jacket (something I always wanted, but assumed I couldn’t fit when I was heavier), but now I think I will settle on a nice tote bag. (Here’s a pic of it!) What’s so special about this bag? It’s stylish, but it’s leather, and it’ll last me a long time and remind me of how far I’ve come. (This is a big deal for me, a frugal fashionista who is more likely to buy “pleather” than leather.)

Outside of scenarios like that, I want to focus on treating myself better from day to day by doing the following:

  • Not beating myself up when I make mistakes or handle situations poorly.
  • Confronting problems and seeking resolution, rather than just letting the problems fester in my mind.
  • Adding regular physical activity to the mental activity I get from reading.
  • Making more time for spiritual practice–more Bible reading, more prayer/reflection time, a greater focus on mindfulness and staying in the moment.
  • Finding ways to laugh more, with family and friends.
  • Finding a way to leave work at work when I’m home, and leave home at home when I’m at work.

And many more. My thought is that as I improve the quality of my life, I won’t need the rewards as much, because I won’t need so much external confirmation that I’m doing fine. I look forward to getting to that point.


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