JESSICA ESPOSITO — Staff Writer
So the enevitable struggle occurs again: the trouble with losing weight has struck, and of course nothing in the past has seemed to work. A potential solution:
I recently underwent a four-week behavioral treatment plan as a class assignment for my psychology course. The behavior I wanted to improve was to exercise more and eat healthier. My specific goal was to lose 10 pounds by the completion of this four-week period. Here are some tips that I found helpful along my journey, and I hope you find them helpful too.
The first thing I learned was to establish a starting point. I defined exercise as engaging in some sort of physical activity three days a week, for at least 30 minutes each. I increased the days of exercise to a minimum of four days a week, for at least 30 minutes after the initial starting point. Remember, it is OK to start slow, and it is important to set goals that are reasonable. Also, I defined eating healthy as eating three well balanced meals (meals that included protein, vegetables, fruit, some fat and carbohydrates), eliminating eating junk food late at night, and eating fruits and vegetables as snacks between meals. Does this sound pretty typical of what you have done in the past? I’m assuming it does, but did you reward yourself for doing these behaviors each time you performed them?
Positive reinforcement can be a great tool when people are trying to lose weight, but most people don’t use it. Positive reinforcement is the notion that if an individual does something in a given situation that is immediately followed by a reward, or something that the person wants, that behavior will continue.
I used a continuous schedule of reinforcement to motivate myself to exercise and eat healthy. This psychology lingo simply means that I rewarded myself every time I emitted the desired behavior of exercising or eating a healthy meal almost immediately. I know that it is hard to reward yourself instantly after you exercise or eat a healthy meal, but try to do so because it will be extremely motivating.
Rewards that I earned included things such as watching my favorite TV show, going shopping, going to the movie theater, buying something online, taking a relaxing bath, painting my nails and so on. The trick is that you need to find what is rewarding for you. Different things are reinforcing for different people.
You should make a list of things that you really enjoy that you will work for. Try to avoid things like candy or alcohol because those things counteract the behavior due to the high calorie factor. But some people need things like that to motivate them, so ultimately it’s up to you.
As soon as I finished exercising, I rewarded myself with one of the reinforcers mentioned above. I started with small rewards. Since increasing the number of times that I exercised in a week was more difficult than exercising for one day for 30 minutes, I gave myself a larger reward or increased the reinforcer size. The key thing is to consider the difficulty of the behavior and to reward yourself accordingly.
Also, since I associated activities that I enjoy and do often with behaviors I really am not fond of and do not do often, I feel I was more willing to exercise to get the reward of watching E News!, for example, at the end of the workouts.
Other techniques I used included only wearing loose fitting clothing when working out and listening to upbeat music while exercising to get “psyched up,” as well as involving a workout buddy to help and encourage me to exercise and eat properly.
I learned to observe, record and graph my behavior. So I filled in a calendar designated specifically for exercise. Each day I exercised, I wrote down the type of exercise I did and the length of time I exercised. I inserted symbols on the calendar as well. I gave myself a smiley face each day that I worked out and a check mark each day that I ate healthy meals. I know, it sounds silly and childish, but these symbols acted as a motivator for me. I would feel a sense of accomplishment after I put the symbols on my calendar because they helped me notice my progress visually. Also, I weighed myself every week on Tuesday and recorded the weight on the calendar.
Those are just a few tips that I learned during the process of modifying my behavior. Try to remember that while changing a behavior is difficult, it can be done. Positive reinforcement works wonders when you’re trying to change a behavior for the long term. Just think of all the times you punished yourself for not eating healthy or not exercising, and consider if punishing yourself increased your desire to do those things in the future. I’m guessing that punishing yourself made you more frustrated with the process and made you want to give up. Next time, try rewarding yourself and see what happens. After all, what do you have to lose?