5 Ways to Reward Yourself That Have Nothing to Do With Food

A mini dance party is a nonfood, weight loss-friendly reward that can boost your mood.
Image Credit: kate_sept2004/E+/GettyImages

Wrapping up a big project at work, breaking a new mile time during a run, finally organizing that back closet you've been meaning to tackle for, well, ever. Wins like these probably put you in the mood to celebrate, and for some of us, that means reaching for a reward in the form of food.

While this urge is completely normal, there are healthier ways to honor your accomplishments, Brooke Huminksi, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Offering yourself a nonfood reward on a regular basis to combat emotional eating urges can build self-esteem and lower stress levels over time, she says.

Here are five expert-approved ways to pat yourself on the back that don't involve the snack cabinet.

1. Do a 'Happy Dance'

Listen to something that brings you joy, recommends psychologist Deepika Chopra, PsyD.

Chopra rewards herself with a dance to celebrate small accomplishments throughout the day.

"I put on music and I just dance to a song I love, even if it is for 30 seconds," she says. It's a quick little action that sparks optimism and gets her day moving in a better way, she notes.

Treat yourself to a little happy dance with a song you love — whether you sing the melodious tunes or turn up your favorite playlist. Chemicals induced through dancing spark positive emotions, according to the Greater Good Science Center, so you may get a mood boost to boot.

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2. Create Something

Drawing your favorite things is a simple exercise that can be done from anywhere, and all you'll need are a few materials, like a pen and paper or your phone. Draw something that makes you happy, whether it's a scenic landscape or a cartoon of your loved ones. It may be helpful to save these drawings in a journal to keep track of the rewards celebrating your special accomplishments.

Don't limit yourself to a sketchpad if a different creative activity is calling you: Repaint and revive an old piece of furniture or reorganize a shelf to bring brightness into your space.

"The benefits of engaging in creativity are numerous and include building mastery over an art form as well as simply allowing oneself to have fun," Huminski says.

A November 2016 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who did creative activities one day reported feeling more positive emotions such as enthusiasm, energy and excitement the following day.

3. Chat With People Who Make You Laugh

"Even though we are socially distancing ourselves from physical interaction, it is more important than ever to connect emotionally in creative ways," Chopra says. Reward yourself by hosting a virtual movie-watch party with your inner circle, or surprise family with an impromptu FaceTime.

Better yet, plan a larger event you can look forward to, Chopra says, like a Zoom family reunion.

Maybe these activities won't feel exactly the same as they did pre-pandemic, but they will still be extremely special. Plus, giggling with others has been shown to play a role in motivating you to continue the rewarding behavior, according to a September 2014 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

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4. Put a Dollar in a Jar — for an Ultimate Treat

Celebrate your accomplishments with a physical container or virtual bank account, which will be your "jar." Every time you feel like rewarding yourself for a job well done, add a dollar to the jar.

Over time, the jar will fill up and you'll have enough saved up for an ultimate reward — whether it be a spa day, a piece of clothing or a more luxurious purchase. Set a financial goal and save up until you accomplish it.

It may be helpful to create a list of when you're feeling accomplished so you remember how many dollars to deposit at the end of the week. Chopra recommends keeping track by making a "ta-da" list or an "I did it" list — sort of like the opposite of a "to-do" list.

5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness

"There is no better way to boost your mood and feel a sense of purpose than to do something kind for someone else," Chopra says. When you celebrate your own accomplishment, direct your attention to a cause bigger than yourself to bring that same burst of happiness into someone else's life.

You can do this in many ways, both in person and virtually. Whether it's picking up groceries for your elderly neighbor or volunteering at a food bank, spend some of your time helping others.

This can also be something totally unexpected that you can do in the moment, like checking in on a friend who is going through a hard time, giving a stranger a compliment or bringing a bottle of water to a crossing guard near your home. These altruistic acts will not only cheer you up, but also spread positivity to the larger community around you.

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