Losing weight is a slow process, and it’s not always an easy one. One way to keep yourself motivated is to give yourself rewards for weight loss milestones that you reach along the way – but, there’s is a school of thought that says, it’s best if you don’t reward your weight loss success with food.
We’ll talk a bit about why that is in a minute and then suggest 41 (non-foody) ideas for weight loss rewards that will leave you feeling blooming brilliant! Because, hey, you’ve worked hard – you deserve it.
But first, let’s talk about why rewards are a good thing.
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Why Rewards Help You Meet Goals
It’s said there are three reasons why we do things in life – to avoid something bad happening, to make something good happen- or because we get a reward for doing it!
Rewards feel good. When we plan or deliver a reward, we get a shot of the neurochemical dopamine – and that is the hormone that triggers us to stay motivated and focused on a goal.
One study on super-motivated people found that the big difference between their brains and that of people who were less motivated to do something was dopamine levels and where they were stored. Those motivated to do things had more dopamine in the parts of their brain that spur us into action.
That motivation keeps you focused on your weight loss journey.
When researchers at the US’s Cornell University compared people getting small but regular rewards while completing a task to those getting one big reward at the end, they found that those getting the frequent boosts were more enthusiastic and interested in their task – and more motivated to keep going with the job they had to do.
The same team also found people were more likely to succeed on their New Year’s Resolutions if they gave themselves regular rewards during the process.
In other words, if you want an incentive to lose weight – reward yourself regularly.
You’ll find some other tips on changing habits that could help you stick with your weight loss goal in our piece on how to change a habit. Why not heck that out after you’ve read this?
Why Food Isn’t The Best Reward
We know it’s tempting when you’re probably not eating all the things they normally enjoy, to set your reward for losing some pounds as something like dinner at your favourite restaurant or that dessert you love, but food rewards are not always the best idea.
‘Using food and drink as a reward is something that, for most of us, started many moons ago in childhood,’ explains psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, author of The Shrinkology Solution,. ‘The ice cream for good behaviour, lolly after an injection, even pudding as an incentive for eating our greens, means that we end up with a pretty hardwired association between food and reward by the time we reach adulthood.
The problem with this is that there will always be things we have to do in life that will make us feel the need for some sort of prize or remuneration, and if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a new baseline, turning to food or drink as your weight loss incentives is likely to scupper your best efforts.’
On top of this, there’s something specific that happens with your thinking when you achieve weight loss success. When you’re trying to lose weight over a long period you go into a mindset that’s set on a long-term goal – but, when you hit a milestone, like losing a set amount of weight, even just getting a good result on your weekly weigh in, that bit of your brain takes a step back for a second and the part of your brain that wants gratification NOW kicks in.
A reward satisfies that, but, if you feed it with a food-based reward, this switch to short-term pleasure over long-term results means you might find it harder to get back on track at the next meal. Then, it’s a Friday, so you might as well treat yourself until Monday…. and we all know how that ends.
‘Finding rewards for weight loss that don’t focus on food is a good way to pre-empt these habitual drivers to over-eating behaviour.’ says Dr Arroll.
We’ll get to the examples any second now, but before we do here’s one last bit of advice.
How to Get The Most From Weight Loss Rewards
Set them regularly to meet milestones on the way to reaching your goals.
As you get close to them really start to look forward to the reward you’ve chosen – anticipating a reward switches on dopamine that keeps you focused.
Don’t pick a reward that won’t create joy – so, yes, going to an amazing spa for the weekend is a lovely way to treat yourself after losing half a stone but, if you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for it afterwards, it won’t work.
Rewards don’t have to involve spending money – they just need to involve something you love or that makes you feel good.
Share them with someone – telling other people about your successes usually leads to them congratulating you and that releases dopamine too.
Even better share them with someone else on their weight loss journey – celebrating other people’s successes also releases dopamine.
For extra advice on helping you reach your goals, sign up here for our free cheat sheet You Can Do It!
Right, now it’s time for the main event – the suggestions….
41 (Non-Food) Rewards For Weight Loss To Try
And here you’ll find the perfect mix of big things and small things to use as weightloss rewards.
There are things buy and free rewards for weight loss that will make your heart sing. You’ll get ideas for small ways to reward yourself and some bigger splurges.
There’s a few ideas for weight loss rewards for guys and some weight loss rewards for couples – but every single one of them is guaranteed to make you feel amazing and help keep you motivated to achieve that next step.
When I asked Dr Arroll for the reward she likes to suggest, I wasn’t expecting her to say this – but here’s why she thinks kissing is one of THE best rewards for losing weight.
‘One reason we often turn to food – and particularly energy-dense food – as a reward is that it has an immediate physiological and neurological effect, it can be really hard to find a quick and easy replacement for that – but snogging does it!
Kissing also releases feel-good neurochemicals such as dopamine with the added boost of the love hormone oxytocin.’
And if you don’t have someone to pash, Dr Arroll says that’s okay. ‘Even reading steamy novels has been shown to trigger the pleasure centres in our brains.’
Time to get out Fifty Shades – or, go retro and try Shirley Conran’s Lace.
2. Buy One Thing From a Set
Wine glasses. Fancy plates. Action Figures. A book series.
And set up your mini-goals up so that you know you’re going to complete the set the day you reach your goal.
3. Ride a Rollercoaster
Or another fairground ride. Or get on a swing. Ride in a convertible with the top down. Anything that makes you go wheeeeeeee.
And tap into the buzz – remembering that meeting this part of your goal got you to feel this good. And you can do it again next time you reach another step too.
4. Play Your Favourite Song Really Loudly
And sing along. Or just play Lizzo’s Good as Hell – yes, we know it’s about a break-up but it’s also the ultimate ‘I am awesome’ song.
Looking for some more ideas for positive songs – then you might want to check out this list.
5. Give Something to Charity
Helping others also releases dopamine so you get a double boost.
6. Buy Some KickAss Jewelery
If you’re not afraid of the F word – I’d choose this one for myself!
7. Take a Long Morning Bath Rather than a Shower
Add all the bubbles! And sit in it until everything prunes.
8. Sit in the Sun With a Book (or puzzle)
It actually makes you feel like you’re on holiday. For extra holiday vibes, lie on a towel. Or, head to the local outdoor pool and spend the morning there.
9. Go to the Beach
Yes, even in winter.
10. Read the Book You Loved as a Child
Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin suggests this as an easy way to make yourself happy – and, the cosy feeling it’ll conjure up will feel like a hug.
Gretchen suggests you put this book in a ‘happy bag’ that you pull out whenever you need a mood boost – if you like the sound of that, you’ll fit it, and heaps of other tips like it in out piece on ways to boost your mood – you might want to check that out too.
11. Learn Something New
What have you always wanted to try? Book yourself a session – you might even end up with a new hobby to keep you occupied and spur your weight loss on faster.
If you’re in Australia, we love Class Bento for finding really fun and interesting classes.
If you prefer to learn online, then have a look at Udemy who offer courses you can join from anywhere.
The range of courses they offer is huge – everything from learning Japanese to how to code an app!
12. Paint Your Nails a Colour that Makes You Smile
Not nude or blush, go for blue, flouro yellow or all the glitter.
If you’re not quite brave enough to do your fingers, paint your toes.
Head to the Sephora site for some inspiration or to stock up on new colours
13. Do the One (fun) Thing You Never Have Time For
Give yourself a whole hour, morning or even day and enjoy every second of it.
14. Do the Chore You’ve Been Putting Off
No, not the horrid ones – but there’s always one thing that you know will give you pleasure once you achieve it – like rearranging your bookshelf by colour, or clearing out your wardrobe and sending your ‘old you’ clothes to charity (you don’t need them now right?).
Make time to do it and really enjoy that feeling of achievement once it’s finished
15. Invest in Some Spendy Leggings
While you don’t need to be wearing expensive clothing to workout, there is a theory called enclothed cognition that says you’re more likely to exhibit the traits you associate with clothes.
So, if you associate swanky workout clothing brands like Lululemon with healthy, strong, in-shape people, you also might be more likely to act like them wearing something from the range.
16. Book a Session with a Coach or Personal Trainer
You’ll be more likely to exercise more if you feel like you’re mastering a sport or getting results from your training – so, book a session with someone who can help you improve.
17. Go Somewhere in Your Town You’ve Never Been (but always wanted to visit)
Doing new things also raises dopamine levels in your brain.
18. Get a Gorgeous Journal
Whether you use it to track your goals, or to write down your feelings or your big plans for the future once you reach your goal, it’ll help you stay motivated.
You’ll find heaps of ideas on Amazon – like this one.
19. Wear Your Best Undies
You know the ones! Or, carry your posh handbag or wear your ‘I need to arrive by taxi’ shoes.
Guys, dust off your good suit, your coolest trainers or your pricey watch.
The things you normally keep for special occasions – because today is a special occasion. You got one step nearer to your goal.
20. Watch your Guilty Pleasure TV Show
Mine would include Brandon, Brenda, Dylan, Kelly, Donna and David!
21. Book a Cleaner to Come in
Even if they only just clean your bedroom (and make your bed hotel style) or scrub the bathroom until it gleams.
22. Snuggle in Your Perfect Pyjamas
Would they be fleecy ones that remind you of being little or slinky silky ones that you can wear as daywear?
23. Send Yourself Flowers
And feel free to act all mysterious when they arrive!
24. Get a Picture You Love – and Hang it
It might be a favourite photo of the two of you or your family, a postcard or greeting card that made you smile or a huge five-figure canvas (well, you never know!).
Every time you look at it you’ll be reminded that you’re doing great.
25. Go the Cinema
In the middle of the afternoon! On a Tuesday.
26: Have a Professional Shave
One for the guys, but book yourself in for a proper wet shave.
27. Visit the Friend That Makes You Cry with Laughter
Laughing releases endorphins just like exercise does – and there’s nothing like that feeling that your stomach hurts because you’re laughing so much.
28. Watch Juniper Foxx on Instagram
Animal videos are proven to make us feel good
And Juniper, Fig, Finch and Elmwood (and the other animals like Newt the raccoon and Moose the dog that share their home) will make your day. Find them here.
29. Take a Spa Day
At home, or book a spa – Groupon usually has some great deals for half days or individual treatments.
If you’re in the UK, also look at Spa Breaks who often have some amazing offers on spa days, short stays or weekend breaks.
This is the perfect reward to help you feel more confident in your new shape – treating your body and making it feel good will really spur you on.
30. Book Tickets to an Event
A sports game, concert, night at the theatre.
Experiences give us a greater sense of reward than buying things.
And, if you really want to splurge – pick the good seats! Get a box at the hockey, or the stalls if you normally sit in the nosebleeds.
31. Get Up and Watch the Sunrise
Or go somewhere cool to see a sunset
Both of these create a sense of awe which has all sorts of positive effects on our body.
32. Buy New Towels
The biggest fluffiest ones you can find.
Or new pillows. Or, sheets. Or fluffy sofa cushions.
33: Wear the Item in Your Wardrobe That Fits Now
And head out to a cafe or bar.
Here the motivational reward is not the food, but feeling amazing in that outfit you wouldn’t wear a few weeks ago.
34. Cashmere Socks
35. Walk in the Grass Barefoot
It feels like springtime and childhood – plus grounding, as it’s known, has been shown to improve mood, lower levels of stress hormones in the body and reduce levels of inflammation which can make it harder to lose weight.
36. Go Trampolining with Your Kids
If it’s something you couldn’t do before, then the sense of achievement you’ll get is a reward. Plus – it’s fun!
Don’t have kids – go anyway – or, do something else physical you couldn’t, or wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing before like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding or going to your very first Park Run.
37. Curl Up With a Magazine
A real-life paper one. Not anything on your phone. You’ll be amazed how luxurious it feels.
38. Add to a Collection
If you’ve got something you love to collect – sports cards, Lladro figurines, Pandora charms – buy one.
39. Test Drive Your Dream Car
Just leave the credit card at home.
40. Or Book a Day at a Race Track.
If you’re in the UK, Red Letter Days have a whole load to choose from.
If you’re in Australia, check out Red Balloon who have experiences like driving an F1 car.
In the US, have a look at Adrenaline who offer the chance to drive a whole heap of very pointy cars very fast.
41. Have a Tattoo
Not without thought and careful planning obviously, but it’s a common way for people who have lost a lot of weight to celebrate. Are you going to be one of them?
If you are, you’ll want to read our post on when you can exercise after your tattoo – you don’t want your reward to mess up your workout schedule after all.
So, there you have it – 41 ways to reward yourself for losing weight that will make you feel like the star you are.
So, have you got any rewards or weight loss celebration ideas that you like to use? Let me know in the comments so people can get some other brilliant ideas too.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.