Starting a new nutrition and/or exercise regimen is one thing, but adhering to said program over time is arguably the most challenging part of the process. It is so difficult that more than 50% of people who start a new [exercise] program will drop out within the first six months.1 I am a firm believer in the idea that every victory, regardless of size, deserves and needs a reward. Everyone has felt frustration at some point during their health journey, particularly if they feel like they’re not making progress. This is why we need to celebrate every little victory. Tracking your progress through a fitness journal and celebrating your victories will help improve your self-efficacy, inspire you to develop and work towards new goals, and help you through frustrating plateaus.
Losing weight, building muscle, and reaping the health benefits of exercise take time. For this reason, the health & fitness journey entails a very similar process as learning to sing. Just as you won’t end up singing with the Metropolitan Opera overnight, you certainly won’t lose 20+ pounds overnight either. Breaking down long-term goals into smaller, more easily achievable ones keeps both performers and athletes inspired and driven to achieve more. Every step you take toward your long-term goal deserves a reward, whether it be completing your first week of exercise or completing your first half marathon!
Today’s article is about creating a reward system that does not–I repeat, does not–include food-based rewards. Food-based reward systems can be dangerous for a myriad of reasons. The first is that it encourages an addiction to unhealthy foods, such as those that are high in sugar. In addition to stunting your progress or potentially causing relapse back into unhealthy habits, food-based reward systems also support the idea that exercise and healthy eating are forms of punishment. Exercising solely for extrinsic reasons, such as to lose weight or to “earn” unhealthy eating options, is a recipe for long-term disaster. Instead, individuals should aim to exercise and eat well for intrinsic reasons, such as to feel better and because exercise is fun! Celebrating your victories, both big and small, can help affirm that your hard work is paying off, give you something to look forward too, and improve intrinsic motivation.
Here are some of my favorite non-food rewards for exercise & nutrition adherence! Although these are my favorites, get creative and find something that will help you keep working toward your goals. Yes, you can! 🙂
1. Fitness Tracker: My personal favorite is the Fitbit Charge HR. It tracks your sleep, daily step count, workouts of any kind, calories burned, calorie intake, and daily stair count. It also calculates your resting heart rate and determines fat-burning, cardio, and peak heart rate zones. At $150, it’s a bit of a splurge, but anyone with a fitness tracker will tell you it was one of the best purchases of their life.
2. Wireless Headphones: One of my biggest pet peeves at the gym is feeling tied down by my headphones. I HATE when the wires get caught on something and pull my earbuds out in the middle of an intense workout, so recently I decided to buy a pair of wireless headphones. Bluedio wireless headphones are reasonably priced at $30, but a pair of Beats by Dre can exceed $300 – ouch! If you don’t mind the price, then the Beats may be a great splurge idea for you.
3. Health-related Box Subscription: When I could finally run a 10k without stopping to walk, I bought myself a subscription to FabFitFun. Click here to get $10 off your first FabFitFun box! Aimed at women, it’s filled with everything from makeup to workout gear, and everything is full size — no sample sizes! Men and women looking to build muscle would probably love JackedPack, and tea lovers will love Steepster.
4. A “Real” Bike: No, I’m not talking about your childhood bike. I’m talking about a bike that you get at a real bicycle store. They’re great for getting around town, but are also an amazing piece of exercise equipment!
5. A New Score: The first time I went into the Juilliard School’s Store, I almost spent my entire checking AND savings accounts on scores. I only needed to pick up one that day, but the devil on my shoulder kept telling me that I should buy more so I could independently learn some roles for fun. Now, I use a new score as motivation to kick my goals out of the park! Hopefully you aren’t as nerdy as I am in this way, but if you are, the idea of getting a new score is some great motivation to pump a few extra reps.
1. An OPERATHLETIC Tank: Shameless self-promotion, I know, but these tanks are too cute to deny! Show off your OPERATHLETIC pride with either a men’s or women’s tank, perfect for a trip to the gym, yoga studio, or an outdoor run. Purchase yours TODAY at OPERATHLETIC Gear.
2. New Workout Gear: This can be anything from new workout clothes (such as the OPERATHLETIC tanks), to a nice new pair of running shoes purchased with care from your local running store, etc. Notable clothing brands include VSX, LuluLemon, Tracksmith, Fabletics (another monthly subscription option), and Under Armour. For running shoes, visit your local running store to make sure you get the right brand and fit for your individual foot shape and gait!
3. Exercise Type-Specific Accessories: Yes, I did come up with that term myself. This includes everything from indoor cycling shoes with cleats, yoga mats, ankle weights, jump ropes, sport equipment, resistance bands, etc.
4. Lifting Gloves: I am absolutely in love with my G-Loves, and wouldn’t go back to life without them. I love to lift heavy, but now I don’t have the calluses and blisters that go along with heavy lifting. Men can find decent lifting gloves anywhere, but women who want to stay stylish at the gym should get a pair of G-Loves!
5. A Massage: With all the exercising you’ve been doing, you deserve a nice, relaxing massage! Depending on where you go, this can either be a major splurge or not so bad price-wise. Don’t forget to let your masseuse know what’s feeling tight so they can help you relax out those muscles!
6. A Gym Membership: You may be thinking, “how is this not a splurge?!” Depending on where you go, a gym membership doesn’t have to break the bank. Keep an eye out for deals to reduce your price, and look for a gym that offers equipment and/or classes that will push your limits and challenge your body in new ways.
1 American Council on Exercise ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual, Third edition