Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Wausau, WI
There's nothing wrong with short term rewards for behavior that naturally provides a reward, but only in the long-term.
Yes, weight loss is a reward (for the behaviors that led to it), but it's a long-term reward. The benefits of the behavior may not be seen for weeks or even months. Unhealthy habits, provide an instant reward - a candybar gives you pleasure NOW.
I have a masters' degree in developmental psychology, and a bachelor's degree in primarily behavioral psychology, and I could cite research, but that's rather boring (and available in any intro to psychology textbook) - it boils down to short-term rewards tend to be more powerful than long-term rewards. Most people succeed by creating short-term rewards (which may just be a sense of gratification, reminding oneself that the benefits will eventually be tangible).
You can give yourself a pat on the back, every once in a while, and call it good - or you can create short-term rewards that you find meaningful (whether that's something tangible like money, or symbolic like stickers).
I would agree though that you don't want to make food a reward. As it is, with all the cultural and family messages we get about food, it's too easy to see "bad" food as a reward, and "good" food as punishment, which sets you up to see a healthy diet as a punishment rather than as a way to take care of yourself.
I'm not a teenager, but you would think I was if you looked at my weight loss binder (ironically a tool I had given up, because I didn't think I needed it). Yesterday, I realized that I was far more successful when I was keeping my weight loss binder (with it's sticker charts and rewards) so I dusted off the binder, and have committed to using it again.
Actually it's more of a "lifestyle" binder, because some of the behaviors I keep track of aren't really weight loss related. For example, I even have a sticker chart for writing on my novel (another behavior that if it earns any reward at all, it's in the long haul).
I have sheets in my binder that look like empty bingo cards, but each box represents a pound lost. Every time I reach a new lowest weight, I put stickers in the corresponding boxes. If I gain, I don't remove the sticker - but I can't "earn" the next sticker until I reach the new lower weight (that's why each box has two numbers in it. The # of pounds lost, and the weight I would be at that pound. For example. My "next" box has 310 written in one corner, and 84 lbs in another (because it's the weight I'll be at, when I lose 84 lbs). The following box would be 309/85.
For every 5 lbs (completing a "row" of stickers), I would write in a little reward (most of them cost very little money, because hubby and I are on a fixed income and we have to be careful with money). The "rule" is that once I write it down, I can't buy or get "that thing" until I lose the weight. Sometimes, when money was really tight, that reward was something free like a specific book from the library. However, for really big milestones, I'd choose something bigger. For my 50 lb loss, my reward was an MP3 player to use when exercising (we bought an older model, at pawn shop or second-hand store).
My best advice is to focus on rewards, not punishments. Unless you're a very unusual woman, you punish yourself enough for failure - you don't have to pile on more. Besides, tons of research has proven that rewards are generally more powerful modifiers of behavior than punishment. A college professor of mine once said that "punishment rarely permanently changes behavior, it only temporarily represses it."
You want permanent change, not termporary ones, so stay away from the punishment.
Personally, I find the sillier and more childish rewards the most successful. I think for a couple reasons. One being that I find most weight loss skills rather tedious. Injecting fun into a boring subject has always helped me be more enthusiastic about it. The other being that it's a serious subject for me, becuase I have health problems. When I start to realize how serious it is, I get very sad and overwhelmed, when I keep it fun and even silly, it feels more doable. If you looked at my silly binder, you'd think "anyone can do this," creating something that is "so easy a five year old could do it," I don't dwell on how hard weight loss really is (it's so hard, most people don't ever do it - but it doesn't have to be as hard as we tend to make it).
I have my binder divided into different subjects. In one section I keep my weigh-in data (I started using a calendar, and just wrote my weigh-ins down on the days in the calendar boxes). In another section, I keep my "bingo" cards with the stickers. It helps me to pick the reward before I lose the 5 lbs that will earn it. Then it's something I look forward to, to motivate the weight loss (Even before I abandoned my binder, I had been getting lazy - and didn't decide on the reward until after I lost the weight. For me, it was more motivationg to have the reward in mind ahead of time).
Another section is my food diary pages. I have another section for meal planning - but I've never been very good at doing that ahead of time (I'd probably be more successful if I did - something I need to work on).
Another section is for exercise. It includes a new set of "bingo" cards for exercise (I don't currently give any rewards for exercise, other than the sticker in the box). Each box symbolizing at least 20 minutes of fast exercise or 40 minutes of slow exercise. I also have a folder in this section for articles on exercise or motivating stories on exercise....
Another section is for recipes I find that I want to try (I have a folder in that section for clipped recipes).
Another section is for inspirational stuff and interesting articles I've read (I have a folder in that section too for magazine clippings).
There's nothing special about how I put my binder together. I just picked stuff that had meaning to me. I have to fight to keep it simple. And I think that's important. If it gets too complicated, you won't do it, or it won't be fun, and you won't do it for long.
When I started my binder it didn't have an exercise section, because I didn't worry about exercise until I'd already lost quite a few pounds.
My system isn't right for anyone, but it works for me, when I use it. In designing your own, I only have some really basic advice. Keep it simple. Keep it specific (your rewards and the behavior you're rewarding, should be specific. Something that is judged objectively, not based on how well you think you're doing, so that your perception of success or failure doesn't cloud your judgement. If you're feeling lousy, no matter how well you do, you won't count it as reward-worthy success.), and keep it fun. If it isn't fun to do, it won't work as a reward.
Last edited by kaplods : 05-17-2010 at 03:03 PM.