“I’ve been so good about eating Paleo today; I totally deserve a brownie.”
That kind of “reward” would make perfect sense if eating healthy were some kind of horrible drudgery imposed on you for no actual reason. But if you have a reason to want to eat healthy food, then it doesn’t work: why would you reward yourself for healthy eating with unhealthy food? Having an occasional less-healthy treat because you want it and it looks good is one thing, but bribing yourself to eat vegetables with the promise of sugary desserts as a “reward” is not the way to making healthy habits in the long run.
For one thing, “rewards” like this deprive you of the biggest reward of eating Paleo: how incredibly good it feels to run on healthy food!
For some people, just that feeling is plenty. But for some of us, it also helps to have other rewards along the way, for meeting a particular goal, or just as a “thank you” from you to you for sticking with it for a given length of time. So here’s a guide to 6 ways of rewarding yourself without any food involved, so your rewards actually help your progress instead of holding it back.
1. Guilt-free “You Time.”
How often do any of us take that kind of time for ourselves? Probably much more rarely than we should. “You time” that you schedule isn’t the same thing as procrastination or slacking off – it’s so much better. You don’t have to sneak in something you can pretend will be “just for 5 minutes;” you can really take the time to enjoy what you actually want to do, without that nagging voice of guilt in the back of your head.
If that sounds like fun, try rewarding yourself with half an hour to do absolutely anything you want (sleep, read a book, watch dumb TV, stare at the wall, whatever). Heck, take a whole day off, sleep in till noon, and refuse to feel guilty about it. It’s a great way to recharge, de-stress, and get your groove back.
It’s true that eating well does make you feel good (and that’s a reward in and of itself), but there’s also something to be said for a completely self-indulgent pleasure that you do just because you like the way it feels.
- A massage (especially good for athletes who might not even realize how sore they really are until they aren’t).
- A fancy new body scrub, bubble bath, bath salts, or other bath toys for grown-ups.
- A really sharp-looking haircut (go to a place where the hairdresser gives you a scalp massage under the warm water as part of the process).
- A manicure or pedicure.
3. New Experiences
You’ve probably heard the advice to give people experiences instead of physical gifts. Well, the same can just as easily apply to you – try rewarding yourself with something that adds excitement or interest to your life.
- Experiment with new type of workout (have you ever tried Zumba? Pilates? Swimming?)
- Explore a new park or beach that you’ve always driven past.
- Go to a museum or gallery that you’ve never visited and look around.
- Try an architecture tour or some other “tourist” type thing in your own city.
- Take a weekend trip to somewhere nearby and explore the local attractions.
4. Something that builds momentum.
Have you ever used a tool that was just so well-designed that it was a pleasure to use? Or driven a car so nice it made you wish your trip was twice as long, just so you could keep driving it? Having nice things to go along with a behavior makes that behavior so much more fun – why not get yourself something nice that makes healthy eating more pleasant, so your reward just keeps on motivating you to do better?
If you’re rewarding yourself for exercising, try…
- A punch card to yoga classes, a rock climbing gym, personal training, or something else “fun” that you wouldn’t otherwise do.
- Really nice new workout clothes or shoes (go for shoes if you’re still losing weight – you’ll just shrink out of the clothes!).
If you’re rewarding yourself for healthy eating, try…
- Nice new knives. A good knife makes a difference in everything you cook.
- A book of “coupons” to yourself: each coupon justifies the purchase of one healthy-but-expensive grocery item that you otherwise wouldn’t buy.
- A replacement for your most annoying kitchen tool. Rusty can opener? Uneven vegetable peeler? Cracked cutting board? Ugly napkins? Replace it!
- A new cookbook.
5. Something you couldn’t do before.
What can you do now that you couldn’t do pre-Paleo? Fit into a rollercoaster seat? Fly without a seatbelt extender? Hike all morning? Run a 5k without stopping? Shop in regular-sized clothing stores instead of special plus-sized stores? Do it, and do it in style. The feeling of pride and accomplishment is great!
6. Mini luxury services.
What’s a chore you absolutely hate doing? Is it grocery shopping? Mowing the lawn? Shoveling snow? Laundry? Cleaning the bathroom? Wouldn’t it feel so nice to sit back and have someone else do it for a change?
You might not be able to afford that all the time, but as a treat to yourself once in a while, it can be perfect. Some ideas to get you started:
- If it’s related to shopping, do a search for grocery delivery services in your area (often delivery fees are under $10 – if that saves you two hours of running around, it’s a bargain!).
- If it’s cooking that you hate, do a search for Paleo meal delivery services near you.
- For most low-skill yard work like raking leaves and shoveling snow, you’ll be able to find a teenager to do it with very little difficulty.
- For miscellaneous chores, services like TaskRabbit will almost always turn up someone who can take care of whatever it is.
Summing it Up
Don’t use unhealthy food to reward yourself for making healthy choices – that doesn’t make sense anyway, and it encourages you to think of healthy food as boring or a punishment. Instead, reward yourself with something that actually adds to your life – like a trip, an hour to yourself, or just freedom from an obnoxious chore that you can’t stand doing. That kind of reward will actually get you closer to being the person you want to be, and it feels better in the long run anyway.