But I'm worth it NOW!
December 18, 2014 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble finding system for rewarding weight loss that doesn't mess with my head. This is possibly a question about goal-setting, too.

I want to reward myself to celebrate small weight-loss and healthy-living accomplishments, and I struggle with issues of whether I'm worth it or not.

I'm worth nice things even though I'm chubby, could stand to eat more veggies, and need to be more active. ...Right?...

It seems destructive to say "Hah! You only deserve this [nice body wash, cute top, box of hair dye, etc.] when you weigh X amount!" or "When you eat 5 vegetables a day!" or "When you exercise 30 minutes a day!" Otherwise you are worth nothing!

I struggle with goals and perfectionism. 100% or 0%. If I don't make a goal, even if it's as benign as walking for 30 minutes a day, I get into negative thought patterns. "Quit now. You can't even manage THAT? Might as well quit now and be a couchlump. You're clearly not an adult, you can't even get your shit together. This is why you don't have friends, because you are immature and fat and can't take initiative." What loaded thought spiral just from wanting to stick with something! Maybe it's time for a therapist? Yikes.

As a person, I'm worthwhile even with flaws. Rewards and goals without 100% success 100% of the time seem to enforce that I'm "not good enough" and results in failure and negativity and general gross-ness.

What's a healthier way for me to mentally frame small rewards?
posted by Guess What to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Situations like yours are the reason defiance is a virtue. You need to face the negativity inside you and say, "Your opinion's noted, and now you can go to Hell." Your self-hatred is only make it harder for you to do things that will eventually make your life better. Instead of indulging yourself with food or things that encourage you to be a couchlump, indulge yourself with nice soaps, clothes, hair dyes, etc. That way you can tell yourself that you've already had your treats, and don't need sweets.
posted by starbreaker at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2014

I try to have the reward built into the healthy activity, like:
- take time off to go for a long walk/run in nice scenery
-splurge on expensive ingredients that happen to be good for you, like fancy mushrooms, fancy fruit
-engage in physical activity that I enjoy for its own sake, like swimming
posted by The Toad at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Reward yourself anyway. Focus on what you accomplish, rather than how you fell short. For example:

I walked on the treadmill for 15 minutes! Yay!

Note how frequently you did it.

Positive reinforcement is a strong force in your life.

A goal isn't realistic if you have to be 100% perfect to reach it. So rather than say, "I will eat only vegetables for lunch," say, "I will add an extra serving of vegetables to lunch."

Also, a box of hair color isn't a reward, it's part of a beauty routine, which is ALWAYS worth doing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might check out SarahJenks.com (I have no affiliation, just like her approach). I think her advice would be -- treat yourself and take care of yourself now, and that will make you want to naturally do nice things for your body like moving and eating lots of vegetables. Sort of turning it around and saying, I'm worth the cute shirt and the luxurious body wash RIGHT NOW, and I'm also worth getting fit and eating healthy, etc. Her approach does not work 100% for me, but I do like some aspects so you might see if there's something useful there for you. (Fair warning...her website is HUGELY ANNOYING, but you can put in a throwaway email address and get a free PDF outlining her approach for free, withough paying for her larger program, and I think that might be enough to give you some good ideas.)

I also like to reward myself with meaningless things like stickers rather than something material like a little gift. Otherwise I also get into the "but I want the cute top now! And I'm worth it! I will buy it! Oh, now I bought it without meeting my goal and I feel worse." For example, I have a wall calendar in my office and I put a little star sticker onto it each day I get in a workout. Yes, it is silly and kindergarden-y, but it actually really works. It's its own reward to see the month fill up with colorful stars, and I can look back at the end of the month and feel happy about what I accomplished. And, I have a little mental reminder if it's been blank for the last 3 days that I should get my butt to the gym. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Toad- eating healthily and exercising *are* the way you show yourself that you're worth it.

One thing that I used to do to motivate myself to run was that I'd put aside $1 for every mile that I ran. I could spend that money on anything I wanted, although I usually spent it on workout gear. The nice thing about that is that there's no punishment for less effort- just *more* reward for *more* effort.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also one thing I have found is that it's better to reward myself for taking action that I have control over, instead of results that I don't have complete control over. So for instance, choosing to work out at all; choosing a food that is low in sugar or high in fiber or whatever; choosing to take a walk break at work; choosing to step aside from a stressful situation and take a few deep breaths; that sort of thing.
posted by oblique red at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

2nd making it 100% about the process and throwing yourself into that. When I lost 50 lbs, I did set an initial weight loss goal (initially 20 pounds), but the main thing for me was finding fitness exciting and looking at food in a new way. I met my original goal easily and passed it, because I got so into the stuff I was doing. I had performance goals (e.g. 20 burpees) and calorie and nutrition goals (how am I going to get enough protein today with a little less fat than yesterday; what can I do with mackerel). Attaching yourself to the outcome, which may or may not happen that week for any number of reasons (water weight, your period, whatever), is a recipe for disappointment, imo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yes and agree with Ruthless Bunny - track your work with one of the calorie counting websites. A because yes, you can see your successes, but B because you can also clearly see where and why things went wonky, so you can correct for them. (Not guilt over them. Correct for them.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2014

Remember that you're living your life right now. It's not a dress rehearsal for when you lose all the extra weight. This is it, this is all you get.
posted by halogen at 9:13 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I had to stop looking at weight loss goals and focus on smaller, daily stuff. My favorite fancy soap and lotion only get used after exercising, and I only watch movies or listen to podcasts while exercising. The best thing has been when rude people comment on how much weight I've lost and how much "better" I look, I fake being all confused and tell them I haven't lost weight and get to enjoy their embarrassment, because I'm a terrible person.
posted by shazaam at 9:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

Whether you buy things for yourself or not neither changes nor reflects your self worth. I'm pretty sure that buying things "because you're worth it" is a lesson invented by an advertiser, not a particularly logical argument. Perhaps adjusting this attitude will help you see rewards as merely that, rewards, and not a representation of your value as a human.
posted by telegraph at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to get a little bit philosophical here, but I think it will be a helpful note. As a culture, we've moved away from notions of essentialism, namely that human persons are valuable and worthy inherently by virtue of being alive and participating in the human race, even before they make contributions to society and culture. More and more, we have moved towards a notion of functionalism, that people are valuable based on what they contribute. I'm going to suggest that this latter move has been very harmful to society, and also to how we see our worth as human beings. The reason being, we often have high standards that are arbitrarily decided, both by culture and also by family histories. Family histories especially can make deep wounds in the way that we see our self-worth, and we spend much of our lives trying find value for ourselves despite some of these negative imprintings.

I can relate, by the way, to putting the "cart before the horse." The cart being what we contribute, the horse being who we innately are. It's not that we don't ever make judgments based on contributions, but when it trumps our inherent value as individuals, it is not only misplaced, but it lacks an engine to move us towards worthy contributions. Being secure in who we are is an essential ingredient to a healthier and more beautiful culture. One thing that helped me immensely was to surround myself with people who valued me as a person before I made contributions. You need a place that can do this as well; where your contributions are valued and affirmed, but they would love you regardless. For me, that was within my religious tradition; but you can find that in other places, as well. (For example, communities that are built around healthy living, which in part includes questions of self worth. Many see this as an essential component to healthy-living success.) If you can internalize this, reward setting feels pretty good, because you are worth it, and not simply a manipulation of the system towards something.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

What loaded thought spiral just from wanting to stick with something! Maybe it's time for a therapist?

This sounds like the kind of cascade of illogical negative thoughts I fall prey to when I am experiencing a bout of depression. Black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking is a frequent symptom of depression. I would get evaluated by a doctor for this.
posted by Librarypt at 9:31 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Exercise is its own reward. Look for stuff you actually enjoy doing. If you lift weights, do crunches or go for a jog, focus on how physically good it feels to just get out there and move your muscles and breathe hard. Maybe it is something unconventional, like archery or rock climbing. When you decouple the activity from the "reward" (weight loss or buying yourself stuff) then it is just plain fun.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:56 AM on December 18, 2014

I'd try to detach food from rewards/emotions entirely. "Bad" food isn't a reward for being good in another area of life; "good" food isn't something to be rewarded. Maybe read up on mindfulness and eating (but be aware that some readings in this area tend to stray into the unhealthy pro-ana territory).

Maybe it's time for a therapist?
I think this is a good idea. They can help with ending the downward spiral of thoughts that you're experiencing. They can also help you not swing too far in the other direction. When I've dealt with depression in the past (thanks depo provera), I found it difficult to strike a healthy balance with respect to food (eating junk, stressing about it constantly vs. must control and count every calorie, no cheat days, etc); now that I'm not depressed it's amazing how little I think about food. I love cooking, I love eating, but it's about the experience of doing so (the smells, the tastes, the company) rather than the emotions I feel as a result (guilt/pride).
posted by melissasaurus at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rewarding yourself when the scale shows a lower number -- that's never worked for me, and eventually I figured out why. I can do a great job of eating healthy for a month, and the reading on the scale might stay the same. Or maybe I eat a bunch of wrong stuff for a week, and still lose a pound.

Success is doing what you say you're going to do. You need to make promises that you know you can keep. Don't set standards according to "how it ought to be done" -- that can only make you feel inadequate. And besides, it truly ought to be done according to how able you are right now, physically and emotionally. That makes it actually possible to succeed. You can adjust your standards as you make new habits.
posted by wryly at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not rewards, reminders.
I have a bracelet that I bought myself and wear to remind me that the me who wears this bracelet, makes good, healthy food choices. That lovely scented soap can remind you, that the you that uses it, gets to take a shower with it after you exercise and wash away all that excellent, purifying sweat you've made. When I go into the room that I meditate in the smell of the incence I use reminds me to meditate or congratulates me because I did.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't tried this yet, but am about to myself - HabitRPG. I'm a gamer, though, so I guess it depends how much you like digital rewards to symbolize actual ones.
posted by ikahime at 11:13 AM on December 18, 2014

Yes, I think you should be evaluated to see if therapy is appropriate. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) might help with the negative thought spirals.

I recently joined Weight Watchers (not plugging, but it's the only thing that's ever worked for me) and for me, the weight loss IS the reward. I do it online and you can generate progress reports and in general, it's just a very positive program.

Also, just go ahead and get the nice stuff now. I don't know if it's the mental lift from having new stuff, or the Universe confounding me, but as soon as I had my first professional bra fitting and bought new expensive bras, I got motivated to join WW and subsequently, starting losing weight (and cup size).

Best wishes!
posted by auntie maim at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2014

Yeah, it might be good to work on these attributions.

But you're also lacking information and maybe comparing yourself to inappropriate standards. You're maybe comparing yourself to people who exercise regularly. Ok, but the first month of any exercise program hurts. It's hard, because your connective tissues haven't adapted to those movements yet, neither has your CV system. It's basically all pain and no reward for a while - I don't remember feeling any kind of intrinsic reward from working out until month 2, other than ticking off the box that I did something (and there were many days I didn't, because I was recovering from some activity or other. And that's ok, but I didn't know that, so I did judge myself a little.) Also, it's disruptive and awkward, like any new habit - you've got your own groove now, and here are new adaptations you have to get used to. (E.g. with swimming - oh wait, you need goggles. Oh wait, that's how the lockers and showers work at this gym. Hey, the schedule at this place doesn't suit me that well, maybe I'll have to try another gym).

But once you get over the hump (and the learning curve, for new activities), the activities themselves start feeling better and easier, and then, you're in a position to benefit from their intrinsic rewards. Your mood improves, and you start to feel energized and competent, instead of awkward and hurty and wobbly. You just need rules, or a mantra, or a game, to motivate you to get over that hump.

And agree with others - separate your value from your fitness and eating activities. Try to figure out why e.g. you didn't work out, and then address it, and don't take it personally or internalize guilt. Just solve the problem. (E.g. you felt too tired to work out. Maybe you didn't sleep well enough, or you didn't eat enough at lunch, or your gym is too far away and the distance adds a disincentive to go. Solution: improve sleep, eat more calories at lunch with a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, find a gym closer to work.) Look at your 'moral' problem in practical terms.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been using beeminder to track progressive work, and part of that is rewarding myself with small gifts when I hit a percentage of work done. It was great and very motivating at first but then became just stuff. Then I started using it for Amazon gift vouchers to randomly surprise friends of mine who I knew had a tough time, or to buy occasional presents for my kids or as a donation to a charity I liked - all little amounts, but so much happier in motivating me. I can't remember the feeling about the cute mug I bought, but saving up five goal rewards to get a friend in hospital a kindle? That's a great memory and motivation. It makes for a positive spiral - taking care of myself in my health and personal goals means I can take care of other people better.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:16 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe instead of it being a reward that you earn, it would help to think of it as a celebration?
Also, I strongly suggest that you set goals that you can achieve even if you aren't perfect. So, a celebration for five days of exercise - even if they aren't in a row, even if there are LOTS of gaps. So if you miss one day, all you have to do is get it the next day to be back on track. And as people said, it should be for things that you control - not for what the scale says. I find it also helps to make them as positive as possible - eat more vegetables, drink more water, exercise, get sleep is better than making the reward for things I don't do so I don't have to focus on the depriving myself but rather on what I am adding to my life.
posted by metahawk at 11:30 PM on December 18, 2014

« Older Is my car going to ruin Christmas?   |   Rebalancing file folders? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.