Poor eating habits can quickly add up to the pounds on the scale. Making healthier food choices can be a struggle for someone who might not know where to begin.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, ovarian and other types of cancers – study finds.

Cornell University conducted a study called “McHealthy,” revealing that small incentives make you feel rewarded and motivate you to make more nutritious selections continually. Let’s explore some guidelines that may help you find the right path to a healthier diet.

About the Research Study

When focused on letting go of those excess pounds, many of us have tracked calories and kept a food log to make healthier selections. The research found that giving people points that can be redeemed later when choosing healthier food had a significant impact.

Data revealed that behavioral rewards increased salad sales more than marketing incentives  (28.5% vs. 5.5%). Also, behavioral rewards yielded 2 pounds more weight loss for people with less healthy eating patterns.

Providing behavioral rewards versus outcome rewards for making more nutritious food options seems to have the most significant impact. The research showed that getting an immediate reward for choosing a more nutritional food coincides with long-term healthier goals.

What does this mean for you?

Develop a behavioral reward system for yourself instead of just focusing on outcome rewards. We have outcome rewards of feeling good, getting on the scale, seeing a smaller number, fitting in more petite pants, etc. What happens when you have worked hard all week or for the day, and then you get on the scale and do not see a change? Instant discouragement. Once the feelings of discouragement set in, many of us open ourselves up for losing focus and letting go of our goals at that moment.

Creating your Behavior Reward Program

At times, we all get in a mental rut and need assistance in re-focusing. Look at certain foods you want to incorporate more, like drinking water versus crystal light, choosing specific food items when stopping at fast food for lunch, or eating foods high in protein versus simple sugars. Decide first what foods you want to eat more of; make an actual list. Then add an immediate point system or monetary value each time you make the healthier option. You can use a point system to track your progress, such as adding coins to a jar. Be sure you only measure and reward behaviors instead of the actual outcome.

The key to creating a reward system is that it needs to be immediate and have value to you. Another example may be that if you take a twenty-minute walk, you get twenty minutes of TV time. You can build up to more significant rewards like coins for the day at a spa or buy a specific item you want.

Setting up a reward or incentive program is essential for maintaining certain behaviors, so be creative. If you notice you are starting to slip or go back into your patterns or behaviors, initiate a reward system in that area.