Throughout the course of my 20-plus years in clinical practice, I have come to realize that motivation is an interesting thing – because it’s a bit different for everyone. Today, I want to explore the topic of “goal shopping.” If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a trend that seems to have become more popular recently – purchasing a coveted piece of clothing in a size that you plan on reaching once you’ve hit a particular weight-loss goal. Some people, when they set out to lose weight, will buy a pair of jeans or a dress that’s just a little bit too small. They’ll save it until they’ve been engaged in their chosen weight-loss plan for a while and when they think they’ve lost some weight and made enough progress, they’ll pull those jeans or that dress back out and try it on again. If it fits, they’ve met that particular goal. But is it a good idea?

The Pros of Goal Clothes

If you’ve been engaged in weight loss for a while, and you go shopping, you may find that you’re in between sizes. You don’t want to buy your old size, which is now a little bit too big for you, but the smaller size creates just enough tightness to be uncomfortable or unattractive to you when you look in the mirror. You could leave the store empty-handed, or you could buy the smaller size and put it away for a few more weeks as motivation for you to keep working towards your weight-loss goal.

If you make do with your old jeans for a few weeks and stick to your program, you’ll probably meet your goal. Before you know it, you’ll be slipping into those new, smaller jeans, and you’ll feel accomplished. Achieving any goal feels great, but when you can physically see and realize the difference in clothing size, it can be an incredible motivator for some people to continue losing weight.

However, I have seen more than once, this well-intentioned effort completely backfire.

Goal Clothes Gone Wrong

If you’ve always wanted to be a size 8, you could buy your ultimate goal jeans when you’re wearing a size 14 or 16. But should you? Depending on your bone structure and how your body weight will be distributed once you’ve reached your goal, you may still have trouble getting certain types or sizes of clothing to “fit.” Herein lies the biggest con of buying goal clothes. Until you get “There,” you really won’t know what your body shape will be. Your bone structure and body composition may not work with certain clothing which can be true of anyone, at any size.

For example, if you have muscular legs, some skinny jeans may fit you, while others won’t. If you buy the wrong jeans while you’re larger, you won’t feel good about yourself when they still don’t fit you after you’ve lost weight. You may look amazing to others, but you still may not feel like it yourself. This can be really bad for your mental and physical health, as it can lead to obsessive behavior.

Reward Yourself Instead

Instead of buying clothing for the size you want to get to, why not wait to buy clothing until you’ve reached certain milestones? When you feel good about your body, go shopping. Buy clothes that fit you and make you feel even better. You’ll be inspired to keep working toward your goals.

As you likely know already, guilt is a terrible motivator for losing weight. It may work for a while, but if you feel bad about yourself, you’ll be less likely to keep at it. But, when you reward your good behavior in the moment, you may find that you’re more motivated to stick to your plan. Whichever way you choose, I’m glad you’re making the effort!