Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice
We are surrounded by food designed to make eating inexpensive, convenient, and extremely tasty and addicting. Fat, salt, and sugar have been added to even some of the most basic foods in the American diet to make them tastier and more appealing, from the plethora of fast food options in shopping centers, airports, gas stations, and even large chain stores, to the food we bring home and put in our kitchen, like highly processed snacks (chips, soda, sweets) and convenience meals. These foods have been around for decades and have become a natural part of our food culture. But there is something we can do to make the healthier choice the easier choice.
When we try to make changes to our diet, we often overlook the important role our environment plays. We focus on our own resolve, grit, and willpower (or perhaps lack thereof) as the reason why we give into chips, soda, and sweets after a long, stressful day.
“I wish I could change, but I guess I’m just lazy”….“I have a sweet tooth”….“I don’t have the willpower” …“I am not motivated”...
These are very common messages that we tell ourselves and others after giving in to temptation to eat these foods. But adding shame and guilt to our unhealthy choice only holds us back from moving forward to better health. Instead, we can develop strategies to help us more easily make healthy decisions.
A recent review of the literature on self-control broke it down into not only how we think about a given situation, but also how we rearrange the environment around us to be successful. Many factors impact our decisions about food, but reducing temptation in our personal environment can be a powerful tool to help us achieve our health goals. When we remove tempting, unhealthy foods from our everyday surroundings and instead make enticing, healthy foods easily available, we actually reduce the need to constantly exercise self-control. The healthy choice becomes the easy choice.
We can’t control every environment, but there are plenty of tricks to make healthier choices, both at home and on the go.
Healthy Choice Tips:
Tidy up and organize your kitchen to maximize workable counter space for easier prep and cooking (store cooking utensils and spices in a drawer or container close to the stove for easy use).
When possible, remove unhealthy food choices from the house entirely.
When it’s not possible, (special occasion, or family member or roommate’s food) move it out of sight to a hard-to-reach spot, or put it in containers that take extra effort to open. Adding a bit more effort may be just the pause you need to fully consider the choice you are making. Have a talk with the owner and ask for their support to keep it out of sight.
Place healthier food options in visible spots. Think, fruit in a bowl on the counter, or veggies and hummus at eye level in the front of the fridge.
Organize your fridge and food cabinets so that healthy options are easy to grab.
Prep healthy fruit and veggie snacks by pre-washing and chopping, so they are ready to grab and eat. Portion out some of these healthy snacks to grab-and-go when you’re in a rush.
Use clear storage containers that are easy to open and increase the visibility of the healthy contents.
Batch cook/prep your meals and snacks for the week ahead so it is possible to eat healthy even when you are busy or when your schedule doesn’t go according to plan.
Portion out foods that are more energy dense, like nuts and sweets, in snack size baggies or small reusable containers to limit the quantity.
Use measuring cups and spoons that will help you understand the amount that you are consuming.
Post pictures, written goals, and other sources of inspiration as a reminder of why you want to make healthy choices. Keep them in a place that you see frequently.
Set aside time to revamp your kitchen. Tackle it all at once, or over a couple of days. If you live with others, enlist their help and support to do this together and maintain the organized, health-focused kitchen you create.
Take inventory. Look around your kitchen and notice what you see. Is it organized or cluttered? What foods are in plain sight? Notice any foods that may trigger you to make unhealthy food choices (cookie jar on the counter, a bag of pretzels at eye level in the pantry); or even non-food cues that signal unhealthy choices (a baking cookbook that reminds you of the brownies you have on the shelf).