Food Rewards: Not What You Had in Mind at All

Food rewards and non-food rewards can provide great motivation during your weight loss journey. However, the types of rewards you choose make all the difference in creating life-long healthy habits that sustain your weight loss. It's all in your mind.

Alon Laniado
July 17, 2023

You may be surprised to find out that good rewards for weight loss are part of a good weight loss plan. At FitMate Coach, we provide 1:1 weight loss coaches that give you the motivation and accountability to lose weight. Our coaches also provide you with knowledge and tools to make your journey fun and easy and both food rewards and non food rewards for weight loss can help with that. Your weight loss coach can help you implement rewards as well as realistic healthy routines into your day-to-day life. 

So why are good reward ideas for weight loss important? Well, it’s all about celebrating your achievements and when you know you have a fun way to celebrate your weight loss, the reward becomes one of your weight loss incentives. However, for rewards to work, you’ve got to implement them in the right way. What a lot of people do is go on a highly-restrictive diet that makes them crave their beloved comfort foods. And then when they look around for rewards for weight loss milestones, those comfort foods are at the top of the list.

However, using your standard comfort foods as rewards might be slowing down your progress. In this article, we’re going to talk about why rewards are important for sustainable weight loss. We’re also going to show you how to think out of the box when it comes to ways to reward yourself for weight loss.

Why Should You Celebrate Weight Loss Milestones?

When you celebrate weight loss, you do two very important things that will help you to lose weight sustainably. The act of the celebration boosts intrinsic motivation and helps to reinforce positive habits. 

Boost Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the drive you have inside of you to succeed. By celebrating weight loss milestones, you are actively acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small they may seem. This celebration makes you mindful of your successes, and in turn, bolsters your confidence. 

When you see the tangible progress you’re making towards your goals, it assures you that you can carry on, even when the going gets tough. You begin to trust in your abilities to make healthy changes and stick to them, which only strengthens your resolve to continue your weight loss journey.

Reinforce Positive Habits

Secondly, celebrations serve as a form of stimuli that the brain begins to associate with success. This process helps to reinforce the habits that led to that success. Neuroscience has shown us that when we reward ourselves, it releases 'feel good' chemicals in our brain like dopamine. This release creates a kind of craving for that good feeling again, which in turn motivates us to repeat the behavior that led to the reward. 

So, by celebrating when you reach a weight loss milestone, you are training your brain to crave the repetition of the healthy habits that got you there. This, over time, solidifies these habits, making them a more natural part of your daily routines. 

This means celebrating weight loss milestones is not just about reveling in your accomplishments, it’s also about using psychology to your advantage to self-motivate and create sustainable, healthy habits.

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The Psychology Behind Weight Loss Rewards

Food rewards are not a new thing, but the way they are typically incorporated into diets does more harm than good. The traditional diet approach often involves following a rigorous calorie-restrictive diet followed by indulging in comfort foods as a reward. This repeated cycle may work for a few people but is unsustainable for three big reasons.

  1. First, if your diet focuses solely on cutting calories, rather than focusing on nutritious foods that fill you up, your brain can assume it is in starvation mode. That will cause your appetite to increase and your metabolism to decrease. And so, when you get around to the food reward, your body isn’t working optimally and can store all your snacks as fat. It will also increase your appetite, which leads to overindulging.
  2. Secondly, maintaining a strict regime where you aren't enjoying most of your food and instead are constantly craving rewarding comfort foods is challenging to sustain long-term. The best diets are the ones you can easily follow and adapt to your lifestyle so you can see progress over the long term.
  3. Thirdly, if you view rewards strictly as an indulgence in unhealthy foods, you’re limiting your perspective and making the weight loss journey harder on yourself. A weight loss reward can be anything, however, we do acknowledge that it can be difficult to think outside of the box.
Fruits are healthy, but you can't eat a ton of them because they contain a lot of sugar. However, you can use your favorite fruits as a food reward.

The Challenge of Finding Suitable Food Rewards

Yes, double cheeseburgers, large fries, chocolate milkshakes, pizza, nachos, and candy can be a food reward. Having any one of those things once in a while is no big deal. However, when they are your go-to food reward foods every week, it can affect your weight loss plan. When you choose a reward that’s too high in calories and you indulge in it too frequently, you can end up feeling a little guilty.

This guilt can overshadow the rewarding feeling you’re supposed to experience when you celebrate your achievement. The way to get the benefits of the psychology around weight loss rewards is that you’re supposed to feel good about the reward. When you feel good about the reward, your good habits are reinforced and you feel motivated to continue, but your reward is tainted with guilt, you can feel discouragement and defeat. 

When you choose a reward that isn't perceived as indulgent enough, you might feel like your effort wasn’t rewarded. This sense of lack can demotivate you. So instead of doing that, use better reward options that reward your progress and don’t trigger negative emotional responses. Let’s explore those real rewards that are going to help you sustain your weight loss and help you feel good and rewarded in the process.

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Everyday Food as Food Rewards

Rewarding food doesn't have to be bad for your health. Many indulgent foods are healthy and also satisfy your cravings. Let's get into your options.

Dark Chocolate Instead of Milk Chocolate

We live in a day and age when you have access to healthy alternatives for most comfort foods. For example, instead of milk chocolate, go for dark chocolate where you get all the flavor without all of the sugar.  

Sweet Fruit Instead of Candy

There can't be any candy out there as sweet as pineapple or as visually stimulating as a strawberry. Fruits are great, but they're full of sugar, so you shouldn't overindulge, which means that you can totally have a bowl of your favorite sweet fruits as a reward. From mango to orange, kiwi to peach, you get sweet goodness that's also full of vitamins and minerals.

Carb Cousins

If you’re craving carbs - look for their carb cousins in natural foods. How about a cauliflower-crusted pizza or zucchini spaghetti? There are so many ways you can get the comfort foods you crave while being mindful of your health so you don’t have to go and feel guilty about your reward afterward. 

Portions Matter

Also, think about portions, one slice of pizza with your favorite salad is going to make you feel rewarded and also not feel guilty. A single scoop of ice cream after a good dieting week is well-deserved and will make you feel rewarded. A giant bowlful of that ice cream with caramel, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and gummies, will do the opposite. 

Satisfy Yourself With Food Rewards

When giving yourself food rewards, think about satisfaction versus portion versus guilt. If you can enjoy your favorite foods in smaller portion sizes or their alternatives without any guilt, that could be an optimal reward food for you.

A relaxing massage makes for an amazing reward for a week well done. The added bonus is that this reward isn't going to affect your gains.

What are Some Good Non-Food Weight Loss Rewards Ideas?

There is no reason you have to reward yourself with food for a job well done on your diet. You can reward yourself with other things that give you pleasure. Using experiences as rewards can help you reduce that perceived need for food rewards and with that assist you with sustainable weight loss. Here are some ideas.

Relaxation and Self-Care Activities 

Activities like yoga, meditation, and even a calming bath can effectively lower your stress levels, ensuring you aren't reaching out for comfort foods to ease the tension. Create a great experience for yourself as a reward like a bath bomb bath with candles and mood music. Or how about getting a mani and pedi as a reward? Giving yourself a rewarding experience at the end of a great weight-loss week will help you feel rewarded and feel motivated into the next week for a new self-care experience at the end of it.

Music and Entertainment 

How often do you just let yourself go and dance around the house to your favorite tunes? Or when do you allow yourself to just sit back and indulge in a movie or series? You may never get a chance to do it on the regular, but when you promise yourself you’re going to do it as your reward, you get a holistic sense of satisfaction. When you treat yourself to doing things you don’t otherwise get to do often, you stop obsessing about food rewards and become more excited about the different ways you can reward yourself week after week. 

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How to Find Food Rewards in Everyday’s Healthy Food?

Of course, you’re probably not going to want to completely get away from food rewards and no one says you should. So, there are some additional unique ways you can find food rewards without reducing your gains. With the right food choices, you can educate your taste buds into enjoying healthier options, cut down on overeating, and aid weight loss. This strategy involves incorporating proteins in all meals and snacks, fiber-rich foods throughout the day, and moderate quantities of healthy fats, all of which provide ample delicious and rewarding food options.


It’s easy to get tasty with breakfast so you feel like it’s a reward all on its own. There are a ton of breakfast options that not only satisfy your tastebuds but also give you ample fibers and proteins to keep you full. You can make twists on your breakfast favorites. For example, instead of pork bacon and fried eggs, how about turkey bacon and poached eggs? And instead of scrambled eggs, try a tofu scramble with veggies. And let’s not forget about classic avocado toast, but instead of big thick white toast, use a lighter version of bread with whole grains. 

 If you’ve got a sweet tooth, make a vanilla chia pudding or a berry smoothie bowl. Instead of regular pancakes, how about protein pancakes made from old-fashioned oats? There are so many delicious breakfast options that are full of fiber and protein that you won’t miss your old way of eating at all.

Lunches and Dinners

Balancing proteins, fiber, and healthy fats is the secret to a rewarding lunch or dinner. You have so many options when it comes to creating these main meals for a regular day or a rewards day. Go Greek with grilled chicken and Greek Salad for a punch of protein and fiber. If you love carbs, that’s perfectly alright, there are plenty of delicious carb-rich foods that fill you up and are healthy for you. 

Foods like quinoa lentils and beans can satisfy your carb cravings so go for a burrito loaded with beans and veggies. If you’re in the mood for a little Italiano, how about turkey meatballs drenched in a basil tomato sauce and eggplant on the side? You don’t have to deny yourself your comfort foods, just think about jazzing them up a little. 


If you love snacking, fret-not, many snacking options allow you to peck away without reversing your gains. Think about creamy Greek yogurt with berries - the healthier version of ice cream without the guilt. For something salty, go for protein-rich hummus with carrot and celery sticks. Chia seed pudding provides healthy fat and protein and can be made in all sorts of flavors from vanilla to chocolate. 

One of our favorite snacks is slicing a small banana horizontally and slathering some nut butter on each half, and slamming those two pieces together. This snack is so satisfying and filling and healthy.

Occasional Treats

Of course, all of your treats don’t have to be of a healthy variety. It’s alright to give yourself an unhealthy food reward or two each week. However, just think about how you can enjoy that treat without reversing your gains. For example, if your favorite treat is a sundae, you can easily reduce your sugar levels by eliminating toppings or reducing toppings. 

Even a simple thing like controlling your portion size can help. If your favorite treat is cheesecake, just reduce the size of your slice by half. That way you can still enjoy your food reward without all of the extra calories. If you love chocolate, you can always think about trying chocolate with a higher amount of cacao, which is equally satisfying and contains less sugar. Remember, it's not about completely giving up on treats but about being mindful of the way you’re enjoying them. 

When You Are Stressed

Stress can often make you want to reach out for high-calorie comfort food, it’s a normal reaction, and there are ways you can manage that stress-related craving. Doing a simple activity like going for a walk to clear your head can do wonders, but if it’s still the food you crave then think about comfort food alternatives.

These foods can also be comforting, but have more nutritional value and fill you up so you get those calories you need without sabotaging your diet. Think about foods like nuts, blueberries, or dark chocolate, which all provide instant gratification while still benefiting your weight loss goals.

Food rewards are great when you choose food rewards that aren't going to set you back from the goals you have achieved.

The Dark Side of Food Rewards

Yes, food rewards can help you reach the finish line each week, however, if that’s the only thing that’s doing so, it’s dangerous. Additionally, overindulging can do more harm than simply causing you to gain back some weight. The dark side of food rewards is more about how they affect you psychologically and what that can do to your motivation over time. 

Returning to Unhealthy Eating Habits

The overall aim of a diet should be to develop healthy eating habits that stay with you so you can sustain your weight loss. While the occasional unhealthy treat or two is fine, the goal should be to move toward a place where you feel rewarded by healthy treats. A big bowl of sweet fruit is just as much an indulgence as a donut, but your mindset and your palate just haven’t connected that yet. 

By rewarding yourself with healthier things, you start building that performance-reward connection in your brain that will lead to the creation of that habit of healthy food rewards. Overindulging in unhealthy treats makes it hard for you to build that habit. On top of that, if your unhealthy treats are sugary, it causes your body to want more sugar, which means you make it doubly hard on yourself to create the healthy habit you need for sustainable weight loss. 

Undermining Motivation

When you start incorporating healthy rewards into your weekly plan, you feel pretty good about yourself. However, when you give in to an unplanned unhealthy treat, you lose some of the confidence you gained. We all know that when you’re on a streak of doing anything, and you skip doing that thing even once, that can lead to falling out of the whole habit for a long time. So, if you give in to an unhealthy treat, it can undermine your motivation to stay on your chosen diet plan and choose healthy treats as rewards.

Encouraging Negative Emotions

Poor food choices don’t just affect your waistline, they can wreak havoc on your mental health too. That’s because of your gut-brain connection. Neurotransmitters like ‘feel-good’ serotonin are produced in the gut and transported to your brain with the help of good bacteria. When you eat healthy nutritional food, you have more good bacteria to help the process. However, eating unhealthy foods can cause inflammation and prevent the formation of good bacteria. Studies have shown that normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.

Neurotransmitters affect your mood so when you’re not receiving what your brain needs to feel good, you can end up feeling negative. And for many people, comfort food is their therapy of choice. So the more unhealthy food you eat, the worse you feel, the worse you feel, the more unhealthy food you end up eating. This can be a tough cycle, which is why it’s so important to move towards healthy food rewards.

The Bottom Line- Creating Sustainable Life Changes 

Giving yourself food rewards as well as non-food rewards is a great way to celebrate your victories and stay motivated. However, the important part of this rewards system is transforming your view of what rewarding food is. Something along your life’s journey may have prompted you to become satisfied when eating unhealthy foods so you consider them your ‘rewarding’ foods. 

You can change that idea in your brain by changing the way you think about what rewarding food is. A rewarding food can be delicious and healthy at the same time. Once you can make that connection, you can feel just as satisfied with a healthy food reward and become a success story. Making the right food and non-food reward choices to bring you joy along your journey can make it more enjoyable and fulfilling. It can also help you develop healthy habits that you truly love and can continue for a lifetime. 

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