How to stop food rewards for fitness motivation

Healthy milestones offer a moment to celebrate victories, no matter how small.

Stephanie Mansour in a blue shirt: PBS host Stephanie Mansour, of "Step It Up With Steph," shares ways to treat yourself with positive reinforcement when it comes to achieving healthy goals.

© Provided by CNN
PBS host Stephanie Mansour, of “Step It Up With Steph,” shares ways to treat yourself with positive reinforcement when it comes to achieving healthy goals.

Positive reinforcement, such as rewarding yourself with a treat, plays an important role in maintaining motivation and perseverance when it comes to reaching your ultimate goals. These small wins can help you stay on track, research has shown. By dividing one large goal into various smaller ones, each step becomes an achievement.

However, it’s easy to go overboard with rewards that can undermine our goals. Let’s face it, we all want to give into our junk food cravings, and what better a time to indulge than after you’ve just accomplished something healthy? You don’t have to cut out junk food entirely, but knowing how to reward yourself in a way that aligns with your health goals can completely change your approach.

There are plenty of nonfood rewards that will get you pumped about achieving that next step in your plan. So the next time you find yourself leaning toward sugary or salty cravings, consider celebrating with these healthy rewards instead.

Take a nap

When was the last time you’ve set aside time for a quick power nap? Because it can be tricky prioritizing a nap in a busy schedule, try making this a reward for your next achievement.

Brief naps have been shown to improve cognitive performance in some cases. So by giving in to sleep, you may actually be benefiting your work life. Allowing yourself to feel refreshed and energized after a workout aligns with health-related goals, unlike giving into sugary or fatty foods.

Buy a piece of workout gear

Have you been eyeing a certain pair of workout leggings? How about a new workout-style fanny pack? Set an attainable goal for yourself and preselect an affordable piece of gear, and once you reach your target, hit the internet to shop.

Having that new item on your mind while working out may help you stay motivated longer.

Looking good for your next workout also can help you feel better about yourself as you work toward your ultimate goal. Knowing that you’ve earned that piece of clothing or equipment that you’re using will only help you strive for more, taking you one step closer to your next milestone. This reward is a win-win.

Light a candle and read a book

Lighting a candle is a simple act, yet it can be super relaxing and rewarding. After a long day of work and exercise, letting yourself simply sit down with a book and a candle by your side could be just what you need to unwind.

“Me time” usually isn’t prioritized, but it’s a great way to reenergize our minds and bodies.

Mindfulness, which is usually improved during times of relaxation, has been shown to reduce stress and improve quality of life. As part of this reward, try ridding yourself of any negative thoughts and focus only on relaxing. You’ve earned it. (Just be sure to fully extinguish the candle when you’re done.)

Give yourself a free pass to say no

Put yourself first. Is there a chore, errand or social engagement that you’ve been dreading? Allow yourself to say no if you’re truly not feeling up to it. So many of us end up giving into plans due to guilt rather than actual desire. Instead, commit to using this time to exercise.

Get some bath salts and relax

What better way to reward a healthy accomplishment than with a relaxing bath?

There is a strong link between physical and mental health, studies have suggested. Physical activity produces those feel-good chemicals in our brains called endorphins that in turn could help you develop a positive mindset. Regular workouts strengthen that mind-body connection. So by promoting one, it’s likely that you’re promoting the other.

Mental health rewards can motivate you to get in a workout because you’ll be able to relax afterward — which is well needed after a strenuous workout. Rest is essential in helping your body recover from strength training and cardiovascular exercises and can even help future performance.

Incorporating these five rewards can help you ease away from a food-based reward system. Allowing yourself to indulge in too many processed foods can hurt your progress, leaving you more unmotivated than before.

Instead, celebrate your wins with rewards that help strengthen your mind, body or both.

Stephanie Mansour sitting at a table using a laptop: Reading a book is a fulfilling reward.

© Courtesy Stephanie Mansour
Reading a book is a fulfilling reward.

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