Sunday, November 11, 2012

Non-Food Rewards

Far too often I hear (or, okay, I hear myself say):
  • "I went running today, so I can eat a second (third? fourth?) serving of dinner."
  • "If I work out now, I can eat whatever I want later."
  • "I'll eat a big dinner tonight, but only if I get a 'good' workout in first."
The trouble here is that this mentality of rewarding our exercise efforts with food--or depriving ourselves of food if we don't work out--becomes a dangerous and unhealthy cycle. When I make the subconscious connection between working out and getting to eat, the results typically go like this:
  • Even if it's not a great or long workout, I call it a workout and eat more food or less healthy than usual.
  • I make myself feel guilty on days that I don't work out and try to eat less.
  • If I eat unhealthy foods and/or eat more than I "should," I convince myself I'll work out "extra" tomorrow.
These kinds of bargains and feelings of guilt are generally unhealthy mindsets. If food is our only motivation for working out, we risk gorging ourselves on excessive amounts of food or on unhealthy choices of food. And what does that mean for days we can't or shouldn't work out, like when we are sick or healing from an injury?

Of course, there are days when food does motivate me in a more positive way: Today, for lunch, I know I'm having leftovers of that delicious soup from last night.

Aaaaand I'm drooling.

So knowing that lunch is going to be so delectable, I'm motivated to get my workout done sooner rather than later so that I can eat the soup sooner. But I'm avoiding that mindset that if I run an extra mile I can have an extra serving of soup. I can have more if--and only if--I'm still hungry!

We should eat until we are satisfied and then stop.

(I feel like I can do a whole separate post on this idea, and perhaps someday I will, because I struggle with listening to my hunger cues and stopping when I'm satisfied as opposed to when I feel like I'll need a forklift to get me to my bed. But for now, check out Lisa's awesome post on the subject.)

So today I thought about different post-workout rewards that have nothing to do with food.

  1. Shopping. What better way to reward yourself from a great workout than with new clothes to show off your toned arms?
  2. Reading a book, watching TV, or going to a movie. 
  3. Get a massage. Spring for the 90-minute rub-down.
  4. Video games (this idea sponsored by my nerdy husband).
  5. A good stretch or foam roll session.
  6. Time with friends. Better yet, get your friends to join you during your workout!
  7. Mani/pedi or a hair appointment. Your body feels more beautiful after a workout, so why not add pretty nails and soft hands and feet?
  8. Enjoy a special outing. Go see a play, check out a local concert, or try a new restaurant.
  9. Take a trip. This one could be more of a long-term motivation: If you hit your target number of workouts or achieve your exercise goals, you get to go on that weekend trip you've wanted to go to!
  10. Make a deal. Set up an arrangement with a friend/spouse/roommate/family member. If you reach your exercise goals, he/she has to ____________________. Make sure it's something you really want (your husband has to clean the bathroom for an entire year). You could even make it a team effort; if you both reach your goals, you get to treat yourselves to one of the treats listed above!
How do you reward yourself after reaching your workout goals for the day, month, or year? What other non-food rewards are out there?


  1. Yes yes yes! Girl, you deserve way more than to let yourself be burdened with guilt over workouts or food. Those are meant to be enjoyed! I hope you remember that. Have a wonderful Sunday!

  2. I am definitely guilty of food rewards. Thanks for the reminder on this and all the good ideas for non food rewards.

  3. i really really love this post! it's been something i've really been struggling with lately and i'm doing my best to get over it and all of your ideas on other types of rewards are awesome! plus, sometimes the workout of a reward is just feeling like a badass for working out :) no cookies necessary...well, cookies are maybe necessary but not JUST because i worked out.

  4. Excellent post! I have the same issues, and I have even noticed it on the scale lately. I was doing so great but started a new workout plan and gave myself an excuse to eat ALL the time. Thank you for your awesome list, I am going to have to steal a few of them!

  5. I'm ALL about non-food rewards but have to remind myself of that sometimes. I'm all about allowing myself time to relax, stretching or reading (non-study materials of course). ;)

  6. Hi Julie,

    Great post. There's a quote on pinterest I like, "Do not reward yourself with food, you're not a dog." It's a good reminder that I'm strong enough and capable enough to make healthy decisions regardless of what "good" thing I've done.

    I'm also going to try out the cleaning the bathroom for a year thing with the husband... that's a good one! :)