Need to shed some extra pounds? Or maybe you’re looking for a total body transformation?

Either way, losing weight is not the hardest thing about your weight loss journey. It’s not putting it back on.

A meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies sheds light on this common problem. 

The analysis found that within 2 years, more than half of the participants had put all the weight back on. Within 5 years, 80% of people who had lost weight regained it.

Findings from the DIETFITS study suggest that healthy and sustainable eating and lifestyle habits can help keep weight off better than any specific diet.

In the study, 609 overweight participants followed either a low-fat or low-carb diet for 8 weeks. After this period, they slowly added back fat and carbs to a level they felt they could maintain for the rest of their lives.

They were also instructed on how to eat healthily and encouraged to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Both groups lost around 12lbs (5.4kg) a year.

Losing weight without being on a strict diet can be liberating. Weight loss rewards can help support healthy lifestyle changes.

In this post, we look at the value of SMART goals, share weight loss reward ideas, and show you how to stay motivated and on track to reach your goals.

How SMART Weight Loss Goals Keep You Accountable?

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. More than giving you a specific goal to pursue, they enable you to track your progress with ease.

Effective weight loss is a process, not a simple strategy. And it requires a long-term commitment. Without this commitment, you can put the weight you lose back on in no time.

With SMART weight goals, you give your weight loss journey structure. You know where you are heading and what you have to do to achieve it.

At the same time, you’re not bound to any specific diet or weight loss program. But you can track your progress every step of the way as you implement healthy lifestyle changes.

Set SMART Weight Loss Goals

Setting SMART weight loss goals isn’t hard. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Or write down your goals in a document on your computer.

  1. S is for specific. Write down how much weight you want to lose and why you want to lose it.
  2. M is for measurable. Weigh yourself and measure your waist and arm circumference. You’ll be tracking your progress against these measurements.
  3. A is for achievable. Break your goal into manageable mini goals. Want to lose 15 pounds? Aim to lose 5 pounds each month for 3 months.
  4. R is for realistic. Review your goals to make sure they are realistic. Aiming to lose 5 pounds a week is not realistic. But you can lose 5 pounds a month.
  5. T is for timely. Set a deadline for your weight loss goal. Set dates for your mini goals, too.

How Can Rewards Incentivize Lifestyle Changes Essential for Weight Loss?

Rewards are an important component of many applied behavioral science strategies. A large-scale study on physical exercise highlights the power of micro rewards. 

Researchers found that a small 9% financial reward given to members of a fitness club for returning to the gym after skipping a workout increased gym visits by 16%.

A report published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology tracked participants in a 12-week weight loss program. 

It found that those who focused on their weight loss goals were more committed to their targets and lost more weight than those who focused on their accomplishments. Rewards can help remind you that you can reach your weight loss goals.

But should you reward yourself frequently or rather defer rewards? 

A 2018 study found that people getting small but regular rewards while completing a task were more enthusiastic and interested in the task than those who received a big reward at the end. They were also more motivated to work toward completing the task.

The motivation to lose weight and keep it off isn’t only a question of willpower. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a crucial role in reward motivation. But it may also reduce the desire to work.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that individuals motivated to work hard and do things had higher levels of dopamine in areas of the brain associated with reward and motivation.

Slackers, meanwhile, had more dopamine in a part of the brain associated with emotion and risk perception.

When you expect to receive a reward, the brain activates neurons that release dopamine.

Why Is Food Not the Best Reward?

A small chocolaty treat? Or at least a banana? Better not.

When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re limiting your food intake in one way or another. So food rewards can be very tempting.

But they can sabotage your weight loss goals. It’s not just about the calories. When given as a reward, food can consolidate the wrong eating habits. They are not healthy weight loss incentives.

Let’s be frank. It’s so much easier to reward yourself with a glass of orange juice than by eating a whole orange, right? But that whole orange has fiber and more nutrients. It’s hands down a healthier choice.

Rewarding yourself with food can lead to “just this once” exceptions. “I’ll just have some extra chocolate, just this evening.” Before you know it, these can become “just this weekend” or “just this week” excuses.

So, are cheat meals okay? Not really.

The bottom line is that good food you enjoy should be part of your weight loss journey. That way, you won’t be craving it. And you won’t have to reward yourself with food.

Some Effective Non-Food Rewards for Weight Loss

From getting a massage to enjoying your favorite hobby, there are many ways to reward yourself for sticking to your weight loss goals. And no, they don’t have to involve food. Check out some of the best rewards for weight loss.

Get a massage

It’s not just relaxing, but it can help you lose more weight. A randomized clinical trial found that massage therapy, together with acupuncture, helped reduce body weight and BMI significantly after 21 days.

Go for a walk

Walking combines time outdoors with a healthy and pleasant activity. So it’s a great weight loss reward. Here’s why walking is good for your overall health:

  • Lowers blood pressure and helps reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Burns calories
  • Can reduce the risk of hip fractures in women
  • Improves sleep
  • Boosts mood
  • Lowers risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease

Walking regularly can help contribute to a better body mass index. Research has associated a high BMI with lower cognitive scores and higher cognitive decline.

Get a journal (and write in it)

A study found that participants who kept a daily weight loss journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Tracking your caloric intake through a weight loss journal seems to be an effective strategy for losing weight in the short term.

Another 2-year study also found that participants who tracked their weight daily lost more pounds. What’s more, they were better able to keep weight off.

Journals are great weight loss trackers. Despite their simplicity, they can be very motivating.

Do things you enjoy (other than eating)

Here are some other weight loss reward ideas other than the food you may want to try. They can be effective weight loss incentives.

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As you can see from the examples below, weight loss rewards don’t have to cost money. There are plenty of cost-free weight loss rewards to choose from.

1. Ride your bike

2. Go for a run with friends

3. Meditate

4. Buy some flowers to put in a vase

5. Take a bath or shower (not because you have to, but simply to enjoy it)

6. Call a friend

7. Take a nap

8. Buy tickets to a concert or sporting event

9. Read a new book

10. Watch a film (or at least a YouTube video)

11. Listen to some music or a podcast

12. Get your nails done

13. Buy yourself an item of clothing

14. Play with your pet for a few minutes

15. Enjoy a coloring book

16. Take a class

17. Enjoy your favorite hobby

Tip: Create a simple weight loss reward chart to keep track of the rewards you give yourself. Write down the date and accomplishment for each reward.

Motivational Tips for Your Weight Loss Journey

Like any journey, your weight loss journey will have good days and bad days. Here are some tips that can help keep you motivated when the going gets tough.

  • Track your accomplishments. Keep checking those healthy meals and workouts off your list to get a measure of your progress.
  • Don’t weigh yourself every day. Focus on the journey instead. Enjoy the lifestyle changes and the workouts.
  • Find a weight loss buddy you can talk with and train.
  • Join an online community of other people with similar goals. Follow their stories and let them inspire you. Share your progress with them.
  • Look beyond your body image. Enjoy the health and ease that come with a healthy BMI.
  • Practice mindfulness every day.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing your weight loss goals.
  • Don’t talk yourself down, not even on bad days. Keep the voice in your head positive.


Rewards can help you complete your weight loss journey. Here are the things to remember.

  • Lifestyle changes can be more sustainable than specific weight loss diets.
  • Rewards can help you reinforce lifestyle changes.
  • Use weight loss rewards to mark SMART goals you accomplish.
  • Food rewards can undermine your weight loss journey – avoid them!
  • Good rewards for weight loss include walking, getting a massage, and enjoying a hobby.
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Written by

Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis is the Head Running Coach and founder of Joggo – that one person on earth who loves interval runs.  He holds a degree from Copenhagen Business School and is an avid runner – having participated in numerous marathons and triathlons, Chris brings substantial fitness and running experience to the Joggo team.