Being involved in fitness my entire life while also holding a Masters Degree in School Psychology, I tend to view the worlds of fitness and behavior change as one. After all, trying to lose weight is as much as a behavioral change as it is a dietary change. They are both playing a role in one’s weight problems.
As parents and as children we have been acculturated to believe that punishing others as well as ourselves will change ones behavior. However, this is simply not the case and has been proven so time and time again. Punishment does little in increasing the wanted or “target” behavior which is what we are really after. When it comes to losing weight we always focus on the negative. We focus on reducing the unwanted behavior through punishment, rather than increasing the desired behavior through rewards.
This may play itself out in a vicious cycle for those trying to lose weight. The unwanted behavior occurs which is usually overeating and/or making poor dietary choices. Then, in order to make things right again we punish ourselves through exercise by trying to lose the weight. Initially, the wanted behavior (exercise) may increase but this won’t last for long. As the emotions build and the cycle repeats itself you find yourself resenting the exercise while giving in more and more to the unwanted behavior (over-eating/poor dietary choices).
An alternative way to approach this dilemma is to focus on the wanted or “target” behavior you want to increase. In this case it might be two behaviors, healthy dietary choices and increased exercise. In order for this to work there must be an immediate reward which YOU value. It doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary either. The reward can be small and in the form of taking time out for yourself to read a book, making more positive self-statements, and/or writing down a new weekly goal that includes something that you consider to be rewarding. Again, avoid extravagant rewards. Many times the smaller the reward the bigger the behavior change.
It is all about creating positive forward momentum. It is inevitable that you will stumble. However, when you do be sure to stop yourself before you punish yourself for stumbling. This is a very hard thing to do but if you are aware that all of us have a tendency to resort to punishment first you might stand a better chance at picking yourself up after you make a dietary mistake and moving forward in a positive direction.