There are generally two sides to maintaining (or reaching) a healthy weight. On the one side is exercise, which increases how many calories you burn in a given day. On the other is nutrition and diet, which decrease and (when done right) optimize the calories you take in.
Perhaps more relevant for many of us is that exercise is generally more fun than watching your nutrition. Compare an hour of spin class or racking up a new one-rep max to not eating that ice cream bowl and carefully measuring portions of unseasoned chicken breast.
That’s why fad diets are popular, despite being proven again and again to be ineffective and often harmful. They make nutrition (or dieting) novel. At best, they’re an imperfect solution.
A better solution is to make the nutrition part of your wellness goals fun. Gamification is one of the best ways to do that, no matter what kind of eating plan you opt to go with.
GAMIFYING YOUR NUTRITION: HOW IT WORKS
ver notice how good it feels to check off a box or cross out an item on your to-do list? That’s gamification in a nutshell. Essentially, gamifying your nutrition is a matter of keeping score and tracking progress, which is something your brain is hardwired to enjoy.
When you accomplish a goal, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin. That’s why crossing that item off feels so good. It’s also why some people get addicted to video games: It’s the same neurochemical cocktail responsible for drug addiction.
It’s powerful stuff. When harnessed to do you some good, it makes for an excellent ally to reach your goals.
Gamification in this context means keeping score in a way that’s meaningful to you. Whenever you score some points (however you structure them), you get a small hit of those feel-good hormones.
You can choose to have the work done for you by downloading an app or signing up for an immersive service. Or you can build your own nutrition game in five steps:
- CHOOSE YOUR NUTRITION GOAL
Whether it’s simple calorie counting, cutting out certain foods, or increasing your intake of key nutrients, select how you’ll keep track of the changes to your diet.
- SELECT YOUR NUTRITION METRICS
Choose the numbers you’ll judge for your success or failure. Some people might choose calories taken in or grams of a specific nutrient. Others might be less granular, just measuring the number of days without cheating.
- BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE
Create the system that will measure your progress toward your goals. Apps do this automatically, but you can do it by hand with a journal, stickers on a calendar, or hash marks on your bathroom mirror. Just make it easy to access.
- ESTABLISH ACCOUNTABILITY
Choose how you’ll reward yourself for progress. Whatever motivates you is up to you, though you probably want to avoid food-based rewards, which can be counterproductive to your goals. You may end up overeating more than you’d like.
- REAP REWARDS
Work your program, and let psychology and neurochemistry do some of the hardest work for you.
Living a healthy lifestyle day in and day out is something we all have to work at. Some days it feels easy, while other days may be challenging. But the good news is that gamifying the process can be incredibly effective — and make the work part a lot more fun!