Food For Thought

Ice cream being weighed in a food scale

Use the Task/Reward Technique to Gain Self-control with Food

Coach Caroline, 02/09/2016

I’m assuming you found this blog because you’re interested in learning about or adopting a nutrient-dense healthy diet. And if you’re like most of us, making the switch from typical health-degrading fare to foods that support your body’s efforts to live hasn’t been (or won’t be) easy. As much as I love turning people onto the power of fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seed, I like teaching them how to go about sticking to a healthy diet even more. After all, it doesn’t matter how convincing decades of nutritional research is if you can’t keep your hands off the French fries, cheese pizza, and bonbons.

Therefore, what follows is yet another strategy which, when employed repeatedly and over time, will make the switch to healthy eating much easier and long lasting. I call it the task/reward technique.

This approach is for you if:

  1. There are things to be done that you don’t want to do.

  2. There are foods to be eaten that you want to eat.

As with all my strategies, this one doesn’t require that you restrict what you eat—only that you eat it within the guidelines outlined by the strategy. Controlling what you eat is way harder than controlling how you eat it, and exercising control over behaviors surrounding eating builds self-control.

The gist of the task/reward technique is this: you can have such and such after working on this or that for X minutes.

For Example

Let’s imagine that the cream cheese everything bagels at yesterday’s staff meeting—the ones you so bravely resisted—have yet to leave your mind. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, the date is April 1, and you haven’t even begun sorting receipts for your taxes. Herein lies a perfect scenario for the task/reward technique: I can have a cream cheese bagel after working on my taxes for two hours.

Important Points to Note

  1. “After” means “following” or “subsequent to”, not “before”.

  2. The time frame is negotiable, but set it ahead of time so you’ll know exactly when you’ve “earned” your bagel.

How about this one: It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re feeling restless and unmotivated. You really should be pulling weeds for an upcoming garden party, but you’d much rather curl up on the couch with the cat, the latest Harry Potter, and an endless bag of malted peanut butter milk balls. Ah ha! Another opportunity to implement the task/reward strategy! After gardening for an hour, I can have two ounces of milk balls.

Important points

  1. This will work much better for you in the long run if you enjoy your milk balls without distraction. In other words, no Harry Potter while savoring the goods. (See my post Enjoy Bad Food for more on this.)

  2. If you notice some internal resistance (as in, what, only two ounces?), allow yourself unlimited milk balls, that is, IF you keep track of how much you’re eating. Ideally, weigh out an ounce, sit down at the table to enjoy them slowly, and if you still want more, weigh out another ounce.

  3. Finally, if the chocolate is not already in your possession, wait until you finish your chore before procuring it.

Ok, that’s it folks. Please let me know how it goes in the comments below! Guten Appetit!


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