One thing I neglected to mention in my last post was that sometimes the difference between a pleasurable reward and the obnoxious thing you have to endure to get a reward is all in how you look at it. For example, there have been a number of studies showing that if someone receives an extrinsic reward for doing something (like getting paid to complete a task or a kid getting points toward a pizza for every book they read), they report enjoying the activity less. Basically, once something becomes a means to an end, the intrinsic reward gets lost. A perfectly cooked and seasoned plate of broccoli isn’t a pleasure–it’s what you have to suffer through to fit into that next smaller jeans size. A book isn’t a relaxing escape–it’s just something you put up with to get pizza.
Which is a huge part of why people actually eat better–more nutrients, more variety–when they give themselves permission to eat whatever they feel like. If broccoli isn’t obligatory, then it ceases to be penance. If a donut is just a donut, not a dreamed-of forbidden luxury, or a reward for an hour on the treadmill, then there’s a lot less temptation to finish the whole box.