Unfat and Healthy: Rewards and Punishment


Right now I’m trying to train Bugaboo to make her bed each morning– without being asked.  It wasn’t going well, so I threatened her,  “If your bed isn’t made, you can’t have any TV time in the morning.”  Typically she watches a cartoon while I fix breakfast, so I thought the loss would motivate her to do the chore quickly and hurry out for her show.

It did.  For two days.

Then she decided,  in a whining, crying, tantrumy way, she didn’t want to make her bed, but she did want to watch TV.  A showdown ensued; I won, but no one was happy.  This pattern repeated for another two days until I decided something had to be done; the punishment wasn’t motivating her, so I upped the stakes.

“If your bed isn’t made, you can’t have any TV time, and you’re grounded in your room until it is made.”  My declaration was followed by whining, complaining, crying– no one was happy.

But it worked.  For two days.  Then she decided, in a whining, crying, tantrumy way, she didn’t want…

You get the picture.  The outcome is predictable.  It took me a little over a week to decide my plan to create a new habit wasn’t working.

Oh, it would have worked, eventually.  I could have upped the punishment, fought in the fights, worn her down.  I could have accomplished my goal (getting her to make her bed), but my use of punishment to motivate was not helping Bug develop a healthy relationship with her new habit.  No, instead, she developed a deep resentment toward bed making and me, the punisher.

So I scrapped the punishment and tried a reward.  I set up a sticker chart, “Make your bed every day, get a sticker.  Get 7 stickers, earn a movie and popcorn.”

It works so much better!  It isn’t perfect; sometimes she still whines, complains, and refuses, but the girl REALLY wants to watch Frozen, so the stickers matter, and she feels good when she gets one– it’s a visual reminder that she’s on the path to making her goal.  So making her bed is no longer a tedious chore required to avoid punishment, it is a tedious chore that leads to great reward.  Her association is better, and my hope is the good association will linger, long after the sticker chart is removed.

But I don’t tell this story to illustrate a parenting strategy; I tell it because I think it represents the relationship many women have between their body goals and food/exercise.  Tell the truth, do you ever skip breakfast because of an indulgent dinner?  Do you ever eat a second helping or skip a workout and then think of yourself as, “pig” or “lazy”.  Do you “confess” food/exercise indiscretions to friends to alleviate guilt? Do you dread returning from vacation because you now “HAVE” to workout double to fix the “damage” you did on the trip?

If you do, you’re using punishment to motivate yourself to action.  It might work; it might get you to lace up those sneakers or choose a healthy food, but it also makes your healthy habit really unhealthy.  Not physically, but emotionally.  I mean, look, I love bananas, but if I’m eating one for breakfast as a punishment for last night’s dinner, it tastes a lot less sweet.  I enjoy it less.  I resent it more.

It might be an “unfat” choice, but it is far from healthy.

When I started my Unfat and Healthy journey last March, I set out to be healthy in body and mind.  I’m not great at it, but I’m working hard to banish punishment and to focus on reward- internal and external.

Which brings me to Hunter boots.  Hunter rain boots are way too expensive for a pair of rubber, puddle splashers; here in Seattle, good rain boots are essential, but Hunter’s are desirable because they are as much about fashion as they are function.  For years I have coveted Hunter rain boots.  I’d walk through the department store and stare longingly at the colorful display, and a few times I even dared to try them on.  But, sadly, they have never fit over my calves.

Then last March I made myself a promise:  If they ever fit, I could buy them.  For months I’ve thought about that promise.  In August, as summer was winding down and fall clothes were appearing, I tried them on again.  I was crushed when they didn’t fit.

But I kept going.  I kept running (literally and figuratively).

Last week, I bought my first pair of Hunter rain boots!

From a quality standpoint, I’m not sure if they’re really worth the expense, but for me, they’re everything I hoped.  Not because they are cute or fashionable, but because they represent meeting a goal.  They represent success.  I feel that success every time I put them on.

And that, that, is way more motivating then any punishment could ever be!

So, no matter where you are in your Unfat and Healthy journey, remember to be kind to yourself.  You aren’t perfect; your journey won’t be perfect, but no matter what, you don’t deserve your own spite!


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