At the dawn of a new year, you may be taking a closer look at what or how you’re eating. Congratulations! Becoming more aware of your eating habits is an important step toward making changes to them. But did you know that what (and how much) we eat is a lot more complicated than logically deciding what (and how much) to put in our mouths?
What we eat is often more than just personal will – it’s also about our surroundings, including what’s available and what’s distracting us. Food choices involve complex decision-making processes and multiple spheres of influence, including family, culture, environmental cues, social situations, government policies, genetics, doctor’s orders — not to mention taste, price, marketing, and availability. It can be hard out there for an aspiring healthy eater.
In fact, many experts call the American food landscape obesigenic – which means that it actually promotes obesity. While we can’t change the world overnight, there are plenty of simple things we can do today to make our personal eating environments more conducive to healthy eating. The best part is, most of these solutions are the fix-it-and-forget-it type. Here are 10 easy ways to change your personal food landscape for better health.
10 Ways to Re-engineer Your Eating Environment for Healthy Eating
- Use your salad plate for dinner: Perhaps blame a sense of balance and aesthetic for this issue: the bigger the plate, the more food we pile on to fill the space. Use this subconscious habit to your advantage by using smaller plates for your main meals; maybe even treat yourself to a set of antique dinner plates – which, like the servings of yesteryear, were smaller.
- Use your dinner plate for salad: See above. No more reminding yourself to eat more salad; by using larger plates, you’ll be more inclined to serve yourself a healthier (pun intended) portion.
- Use tall skinny glasses (vs short, wide ones): Save yourself 25-30% fewer calories. That’s how much more you’ll drink out of short, wide glasses; that’s because our brains tend to pay more attention to the height of a thing rather than the width. And beware of rounded glasses, which hide extra volume in their curves.
- Enjoy meals away from screens (TVs, computers, tablets and phones all count): Screentime is a triple-threat, and that’s not because you can see people sing-act-dance on them. It’s because (1) it distracts you from paying attention to how much you eat (2) is a sedentary activity (people who watch a lot of TV exercise less), and (3) it often holds you as a captive snacker for the duration of the program even if you’re not physically hungry.
- Hide the junk, and get off that “see food” diet: In an interesting study, candy dishes that were opaque were dipped into 71% less than the candy dishes that were transparent. Why? Not because the people with opaque dishes were any less hungry or any stronger willed, but because every time we see (or smell) a food, we have to make a choice as to whether or not to partake. Plus, sometimes just thinking of a food starts the digestive system working: the body secretes insulin, which lowers blood sugar, which makes the body feel hungry. If you’re not ready to toss your treats in the trash, stash them in a drawer or seldom-accessed shelf.
- Show off your goods: fruits and veggies: The idea here is to use what we know about our psychological eating triggers to eat more healthfully. So go ahead – show off the good stuff: keep a fruit bowl on your front table, place pre-cut veggies and low-fat dip at eye-level in the refrigerator, and keep a water bottle on your desk.
- Re-arrange your fridge for fresh fruits and veggies: While it might not make sense for the produce best left in the crisper (a transparent drawer helps there), this rule of thumb works great for snackable fruits and veggies like apples, clementines, pears, baby carrots, matchstick celery and bell peppers, and berries. I know some clever parents who keep healthy snack foods at kids’ eye-level in the refrigerator that their kids are “allowed” to eat anytime; this is especially great for those after-school snack attacks.
- Use 4oz ramekins or 5oz martini glasses for desserts: Servings of ice cream, gelato, and the like are usually a half-cup. It can be easy to over-do it when scooping it out into a cereal bowl, or even eating straight from the pint container. By keeping your treats to 4oz ramekins, or even 5oz martini glasses, you’ve got built in portion control. You’ll have a cup that overfloweth with an indulgent treat, and the empty glass will be a visual cue that you’re done.
- Keep a clear water bottle in eyesight at your desk: Your body can get confused over whether it’s hungry or thirsty. Clearing up this confusion can prevent overeating. Plus, drinking more water also helps the body stay hydrated in the dry winter season (not to mention dehydrating air-conditioned/heated offices).
- Dedicate a high-traffic, easy-access area in your home to a fruit bowl: Use the “see-food diet” concept to your advantage to conveniently work more fruit into the diet. The more you see healthy foods, the more you’ll think about them, and the more you’ll eat them!
I hope these 10 tips help you upgrade your personal food environment so that healthy eating is second nature, and so that you can take it off the to-do list altogether (there’s enough on that list already).
Insider scoop for ERH readers: Healthy Living for Less is featuring its biggest selection of the year with some amazing savings, too! I’ve made sure to cover the bases with nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit, whole grains, heart-healthy seafood, lean proteins, and meal solutions (including some great vegetarian options) – all on sale until January 10th.