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What do you do to reward yourself?

How do you reward yourself? How do you comfort yourself when you are stressed? Think about that for a moment.

Rewarding yourself for your successes, both large and small, is a key part of staying motivated.

We are so time poor that rewarding ourselves with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show ourselves some self-love. And it’s the same for soothing ourselves if we’ve had a bad day.

My experience of running a nutrition clinic is that so little of what or why people eat has to do with nourishing their body. The far greater part is to do with how you feel about yourself and about life in general. Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what you really need, which might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back your heels and even sleep. Many people are almost completely out of touch with their own bodies.

When I’m working with clients, one of the big things we are trying to achieve is to develop a different relationship with food and also a different relationship with rewards.

Building in ways of making yourself feel good are essential for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest among them is that you need to positively reinforce the fantastic healthy changes you are making to encourage you to maintain them long term.

You need to build in more appropriate ways of making yourself feel better: far better to automatically choose to spend five minutes relaxing in the sunshine in the garden to recharge your batteries than to grab a handful of biscuits.

Most of our rewards are habit. They are conditioning. Chances are, you have been conditioned to reward yourself with food, often from early childhood.

Normal ‘rewards’ are short lived and usually followed by recriminations. If you truly want lasting change, you need to find ways of regularly getting that feel-good feeling from other things. You’ll want to build in more appropriate ways of making yourself feel better and look forward to non-food related treats.

I encourage my clients to build up a list of non-food treats to avoid any feelings of deprivation. After a while, you will prefer these rewards and benefit from them far more than food treats that simply create other problems for you later.

Regular ‘me time’ is important here as our lives are very busy and many of us have got into the habit of relying on food to give us a quick pleasure fix. But, as we know, this ‘reward’ is short lived and usually followed by disappointment plus a large serving of guilt! If you truly want lasting change, you need to find ways of regularly getting that feel good feeling from other things. We all deserve and need time to do positive things for ourselves - without feelings of guilt.

Improving our relationship with food is all about changing behaviours. We know that the carrot is more effective than the stick for long term, self motivated change. So, as well as deciding on your big rewards for achieving long term goals, think of a few quick and easy things you can do at least 3 times every week.

So, as an example, you might be better to CHOOSE to spend 5 minutes relaxing in the sunshine in the garden to recharge your batteries than to grab a handful of biscuits.

It can be a really empowering exercise to take a look at what you might normally do to reward yourself and think, are these appropriate now or do I need to replace them.

Most of the time it’s a simple as putting in a new habit to replace the old one. And, even better when the new habit is one that you really enjoy! All this is good for your physical and mental health.

Spend some time to identify some activities that you can build into your daily life that you enjoy and can use as your reward / de­stressor / way of taking a break / or just to have 5 minutes of indulgence or peace!

What would you like to spend more time doing? What would make you feel good?

What would help you relax or de-stress?

A few examples:

  • A soak in the bath

  • Listening to calming music

  • Yoga

  • A gentle walk in peaceful surroundings

  • Reading a favourite magazine

  • Sitting quietly in the garden

  • Phoning a good friend

  • 10 minutes quiet relaxation

  • Add your own: think of at least 5 things that relax you...


Bored vs reward?

Most people can identify with eating when they were really bored. This often leads to mindless eating just to experience that sugar rush to give you a temporary high. Or it may simply be that you need something to occupy your mind and hands as a distraction technique. If you recognise yourself doing these things, then this is a great opportunity for you. It actually means that you are looking for something fun / exciting / interesting to add into your life. Use this as an opportunity to improve the quality of your life and build in new ways of enjoying yourself and enriching your experience of life.


Simple steps to better rewards

1. Identify when you are using food as a reward or to make yourself feel better.

2. Choose a few alternative things you can do instead to make yourself feel good (that don’t involve food).

3. Test it: try out the new choices to start breaking the pattern - see what works well.

4. Change it: if something doesn’t work, change it or add to it until you find the right solution.

5. Practise! Keep practising it until it becomes automatic: a new habit.


What are your personal interests? What activities do you enjoy?

  • Creative: eg. music, cooking, cinema, theatre, photography

  • Physical: e.g. gardening, sport, dancing

  • Social: eg. family, friends, games, volunteering

Intellectual: eg. reading, learning a language, writing poetry / stories

What do you enjoy? What would you like to try? If you know this is something you want to improve on, it's worth spending a little time writing a list (in a notepad or on a phone rather than keeping it conceptually in your head). Choose one and have it as one of your goals for this week.

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